Dying Before the Birth: The Sorry Tale of Lasbela Literature Festival

Ayaz Khan
In 2020, Zaheer Zarf, a literary figure and poet made his mind to arrange a literature festival in Hub, one of the urbanized and industrial cities of Balochistan. But he prioritized the safety of people and his colleagues soon after the Covid-19 saga started echoing in Pakistan. Zarf postponed the festival before the government imposed a complete lockdown in all provinces. However, Zarf saw a silver lining following ease in increasing cases which led governments to lift lockdowns in respective provinces in January 2021. Team Lasbela Literature Festival, headed by Zaheer Zarf, jumped to the driving seat and announced Last month (March 2021) to hold the LLF on April 4.  To be fateful once again, the team LLF abruptly canceled the festival just four days before holding it on April 4.
“With a heavy heart, the team Lasbela Literature Festival announces to cancel the event given the growing issues and controversies surrounding the festival since the announcement of holding the event,” read the social media post uploaded by the team.
“We decided to hold the festival in Lasbela Industrial Estate and Development Authority (LIEDA) Auditorium. But our permission was turned down just before two days holding the festival. Complying with the decision, we decided to hold the event at a private venue which we booked after we were denied access to the auditorium. Unfortunately, I received a call from Assistant Commissioner insisting on canceling the event. I inquired about the reasons for the cancellation of the event and AC referred it to DC saying he had pressure from the ‘government’.
“To consolidate the ground, the government imposed section 144 on April 1st making it difficult for us to hold the festival. We decided not to defy any decision implemented by the government. However, the imposition of 144 at a crucial time (close to holding the event) remains ambiguous,” explains Fareed Dulari, one of the leading members of the LLF team.
Religious controversy
Like most of the literature festivals in Pakistan, LLF landed in hot waters following the announcement of the schedule for holding the event. Moulana Yaqoob Sasoli, an influential religious and political figure, raised objections to hold LLF. Responding to some rumors, Moulana Yaqoob posted on social media terms the content of the festival against religious norms.
“We are in a religious province. People follow and revere religious injunctions here. I had come to know that the organizers were inviting some controversial figures like Amar Jalil and other ‘open-minded’ people. I showed my reservation on this. Following showing reservations, team LLF met with me and removed my reservations,” says Moulana Yaqoob Sasoli.
“When we heard about the reservations of Moulana sahib, we visited him in order to listen to his reservations. We explained to him that Amar Jalil had already been controversial and we did not have any access to him to bring him for the event. Later on, on the demand of Moulana Sahib, we agreed to exclude the musical programs as well. This led to clarification of all reservations Moulana Sahib had expressed,” explains Zaheer Zarf to Balochistan Voices. Zaheer Zarf has been heading the LLF team.
The political issue
The political pendulum in the district (Lasbela) has been hitting the two ends for decades. Two political dynasties, Bhootanis, and Jams have been having sway on politics. Subsequently, after the cancellation of LLF, social media started spilling over with posts that indicated that LLF had fallen prey to the district’s political tug of war.
“There could be obvious political reasons behind the cancellation of LLF. Perhaps the LLF team didn’t contact CM, who belongs to Bela, and this led to dwarfing the political status of CM in the district. Because of this the LLF team might have faced problems,” believes an independent analyst who wishes not to be named, for his comments might be taken wrong.
“We reached sitting Senator (minorities), other political figures, and supporters of CM but they didn’t even agree to support us while making a promotional video in support of LLF,” Zarf adds.
“Though few of us, who are part of LLF team, have some political affiliations yet it was an apolitical event,” Fareed Dulari insists while refuting all claims which indicate that the event has been politicized.
Holding LLF would have been beneficial
Khalil Roonjha, who leads an educational campaign ‘Padhega Lasbela Badhega Lasbela’, believes that the event could have proved far beneficial for the students of the district if it was held. According to Roonjha, all districts have been arranging literature festivals. However, district Lasbela has never experienced such educational events.
“Most of the times we have seen cycling and bike-racing events arranged in Lasbela but holding a literary festival has never been a priority. Through our forum, we have tried to arrange such events but our efforts have not been materialized,” regrets Kahlil Roonjha.
“In big cities such as Gwadar, Panjgur, Turbat, Khuzdar, and Quetta literary events are held. The cultural department of the province reserves funds for different events but we have only camel racing and other events in Lasbela. Unfortunately, literary events have never been the fate of this district,” concludes Khalil Roonjha.
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