Dr Maleeha Lodhi as Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN since 2014, has not missed any opportunity to project Pakistan’s case, whether on official or unofficial fora. Pakistani expat community and New Yorkers have been treated to a cultural feast at regular intervals. If last year Rahat Fateh Ali had rocked the hall of the UN General Assembly, this time she had arranged for the Sachal Orchestra from Lahore to entertain and celebrate Pakistan’s 70th birth anniversary.
The entrepreneur Izzat Majeed founded the Sachal Orchestra in 2008, and brought together masters of traditional musical instruments to play cool jazz. The band had performed at the Lincoln Centre in November 2013, but Dr Lodhi brought them back for the August 14 celebrations, and they sent the audience into a nostalgic trip with such classic numbers as Nur Jehan’s Sanu Nehar Walay Pul te Bula Kay and Lal Meri, amongst others.
The UN General Assembly Hall had come alive with archival videos of the Quaid in action, gaunt but moved by an iron will; Pakistani cricket and polo teams in action, fashion models walking the ramp, a celebration of Pakistan’s culture and sports in all its richly layered depth and complexity. Not to leave any stone unturned, all aisle seats were lit with the sign of “Pakistan at 70”! Pakistanis turned up in colourful clothes and were happy to satisfy the yearning for their homeland. At intervals someone would shout Pakistan and the Hall would resonate with the crowd responding with “Zindabad” (long may it live).
Dr Lodhi, with her fingers on the pulse of the nation, had set the tone for the evening by talking about the “robust democracy, an improved security environment” and the “upward trajectory of stable growth”. Explaining the richness of Pakistan’s culture, she said, “At the cross-roads of cultures and civilizations, the infusion of ideas, thought and intellect, have enriched the tapestry of our identity and national soul”. It was her mention of cultural renaissance and “the confidence of a new generation of Pakistanis”, which set her speech apart from the usual platitudes. Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General, who hails from Nigeria, also spoke on the occasion and graced the celebrations.
As this nation of almost 200 million people struggles towards a better future, battling setback and vicissitudes, the indomitable spirit of its people was manifest not just in the UNGA in New York, but also on the streets, as people celebrated the country’s 70th birth anniversary with joy and a ferocious affirmation. Pakistan Zindabad!
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