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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.

Dizzy Gillespie playing with a Sindhi snake charmer at a public park
Dizzy Gillespie playing with a Sindhi snake charmer at a public park in Karachi in 1954.

"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.