Rock 'n’ roll and flowery shirts

Pakistan, before it was overtaken by General Zia’s Islamisation programme, had a swinging, chilling vibe and a vibrant intellectual scene.

"Good and bad, this too will pass" is the way that so much is accommodated in the subcontinent. Columnist Nadeem Paracha is Pakistan’s walking, blogging archive of the country’s ups and downs – also its coolest dude - and has composed a brilliant pictoral series for Dawn online entitled "Also Pakistan". Here is Ava Gardner filming Bhowani Junction in Lahore, the Queen in a rather beautiful and stylish dress visiting Karachi in 1961, adverts for whisky and cabaret, adoring screaming fans as the Beatles land at Karachi airport, the entire crew of NASA’s Apollo 17 given a welcome motorcade procession, promotional material to encourage the hippy trail and buses that proclamed "Enjoy the love".

Freer than India, which was struggling against Soviet repression and prohibition, Pakistan was a country that was swinging and chilling in equal measure. Dizzie Gillespie played sax with a snake charmer in a public park in Karachi in the 50s. Imran Khan went shirtless in a post-match celebration in Sydney in 1977 as batsman and captain of the winning Pakistan team happily and deservedly share a beer.

There is also a reminder of one of the world’s great particle physicists Abdus Salam, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1979 with Steve Weinberg, and whose joint works in electromagnetic fields predicted the Higgs Bosun. Dr Salam belonged to the long harassed Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan which was declared non-Muslim by decree of the state in 1973.

Worth remembering that there was a vibrant intellectual scene in the late 60s and 70s in Pakistan, not unlike Calcutta’s fiery Marxist and literary addas (coffee-house society). Quickly the reactionary military junta of General Zia which was backed and funded by Saudi Arabia silenced discussion and dissent and closed down clubs, cinemas, social meeting places and bars up and down the country. The pictures finish with a headline from Dawn about the military takeover of General Ziaul Haq in July 1977. “The elections did not take place ‘next October’,” Paracha writes. “Zia ruled for 11 years. Pakistan was never the same again.”

In the west, the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by the military regime marked the end of Pakistan’s international reputation. The rise of the oil-rich Gulf and Wahhabism would change the geo-political landscape of the region. In Iran the revolution of 1979 and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets brought America into the frame.

Thirty years on, as these pieces show, Pakistan is yet to recover its economic prosperity. But in an age of social media, it is to be hoped that there is still an opportunity for a diverse and talented younger generation to lead the country back to normality.

 

Dizzy Gillespie playing with a Sindhi snake charmer at a public park in Karachi in 1954.
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"We are not going to change": Barcelona defies terror with a return to normality

After a attack which killed 14 and injured scores more, shock gives way to defiance and unity.

A perfect summer afternoon in Barcelona suddenly turned into a nightmare on Thursday evening, a nightmare that has become far too common in Europe in recent years. 

“I was having a coffee here [in Plaça Catalunya] and was about to go and walk down there like everyday, because I live just off the Ramblas”, says 26-year-old Eneko de Marcos, pointing down the promenade. “I stayed because I was waiting for a friend, and when she came we heard a big noise and then everyone was running."

Thousands of people, most of them tourists, had been ambling casually along the Ramblas, the most iconic of Barcelona boulevards, which descends from Plaça Catalunya to the old port and the sea, when a white van had mounted the pedestrianised centre of the walk and began driving into people. 

Even after the van came to a stop, leaving a trail of dead and injured in its wake, De Marcos and hundreds of others were trapped for hours inside bars, shops and hotels while the police cordoned off the area and investigated the scene.

Seeing the Ramblas and the surrounding areas completely empty of people following the attack is, for anyone used to the area, unreal and the first reaction for most has been shock. Barcelona had felt safe both to locals and tourists, which had been coming to the city in increasing numbers since last year, many perhaps trying to avoid other destinations in Europe seen as more at risk of attack. 

Shock gave way to confusion and fear during the evening. The van driver was still at large and a series of ugly images, videos and unconfirmed rumours about other attacks spread across social media and the news. The number of victims increased steadily to 13 dead and more than 80 injured of many different nationalities.

At 11pm the city centre and its surroundings were eerily quiet and dark. Few people were venturing on to the streets, and the bar terraces which would normally be packed with people enjoying the late dinners Spaniards are famous for were half empty.

The next morning Barcelona woke up to the news that after 1am that night the Police had stopped a second attack in the touristic beach town of Cambrils, an hour and a half away to the south. What was going on? The streets of Barcelona were still quiet, far too quiet in a city usually noisy and crowded, and again the terraces, so symptomatic of the Barcelona’s mood, were unusually empty.

“I always said something like this would never happen in Barcelona”, says Joaquín Alegre, 76, walking through Plaça de Catalunya the morning after with his friend, Juan Pastor, 74, who nods and agrees: “I always felt safe.”

But slowly fear had given way to defiance. “Afraid? No, no, no”, insists Joaquín. “We’re going to carry on like normal, respecting the victims and condemning the attack, but we are not going to change”, says Juan.

Little by little the Ramblas and the whole area started to fill up during the day. People came from all directions, all kinds of people, speaking all kinds of language. The day was beautiful, the sky was blue, there are no clouds in sight and it got hotter by the minute. It began to look like Barcelona again.

“It’s important not to show fear, that’s what (the terrorists) want”, says Emily, an 18-year-old from Dresden, in Germany, who landed yesterday at Barcelona airport with her mother a few minutes after the attack. She says people were checking their phones while still on the plane and then one girl said aloud there’d been a terrorist attack in Barcelona. “It’s important to come here (to Plaça Catalunya) at this time”, says her mother, Anna, 42, both of them sitting on a low wall at the square.

Next to them, where the Ramblas begins, people once again filled the boulevard full of shops and hotels, which many locals also see as a symbol of how tourism has gone wrong in Barcelona. But Catalans, Spaniards from elsewhere and foreigners mingled happily, feeling united against a common enemy. Many left flowers and lit candles at the feet of a big ornamental lamppost on top of the Ramblas, many others did the same next to the famous Canaletes fountain a little down the promenade. 

“We the people have to respond to this by getting out and taking the streets”, says Albert Roca, a 54 year old publicist, who’s decided to come against the wishes of his girlfriend, who told him he was crazy. “I took a picture of the Ramblas and sent it to her and wrote, ‘Look how many crazy people there are’.”

Just before noon the Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau visited the Plaça Catalunya with her retinue. She is a very popular figure who comes from civil society in a country where many citizens don’t feel properly represented by traditional politicians. Many people followed her carrying roses, a symbol of Barcelona, while they made their way into the square.

Shortly after, around 100,000 people packed Plaça Catalunya and its adjacent streets for a minute of silence begins for the victims. Only the flapping of pigeon’s wings overhead can be heard. And then an applause and a loud chant break the silence: “I am not afraid! I am not afraid!”, sang the people in Catalan.

Along with Colau in the centre of the square there was Carles Puigdemont, the head of the Catalan regional government and leader of the independence movement that has called for a referendum on 1 October, and along side them, King Felipe as the head of State, and Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister of Spain and a bitter political rival of Puigdemont. Seeing them standing together presents an image that until yesterday afternoon would’ve seemed impossible.

Very slowly people start emptying the square, where many still remain singing defiantly. “The attacks yesterday were a disgrace”, says a doorman just outside the city centre as Barcelona began returning to normality, “but we are going to carry on, what else can we do?”