UNESCO recommended that a boundary wall be built around the majestic Makli necropolis. It could not materialise as votes are dearer to the Pakistan Peoples Party, says the World Heritage Watch Report 2018.
World Heritage Watch is a Berlin-based independent body overlooking conservation activities at UNESCO-listed heritage sites. In its 2018 report, anthropologist Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro writes about Makli, the largest necropolis of the world in Thatta that contains the tombs and graves of kings, queens, poets and religious scholars.
“I have been writing about these issues since forever but nobody listens,” Dr Kalhoro tells SAMAA Digital. “You see, big money is involved.”
His report says that local elites, who have occupied Makli land, resisted building a boundary wall. “The local Shirazi family is creating problems and influencing the State Party [Sindh, Pakistan] not to complete the boundary wall – it would appear that political parties listen more to local elites who are also their voters,” says the report. “They don’t want to lose their votebank, and this is one of the reasons the boundary wall has been stopped.”
[caption id="attachment_1439867" align="alignright" width="144"] A man displaced by floods, rests next to a grave at The Makli Graveyard in Thatta district on August 27, 2010. Photo: AFP[/caption]
“Those who resisted building the boundary wall are their own MNAs and voters.” Dr Kalhoro says the party, which holds sway over most parts of rural Sindh, does not want to offend its voters.
A former MPA from the Shirazi clan, Amir Haider Shah Sheerazi, says that his family is not against a boundary wall to protect the graveyard. However, he says, they are against preventing people from burying their dead at the site.
“People from across the province come here to bury their dead,” he says. “There is no alternative graveyard. Where would our people go then? Many dervishes lie in Makli, which is why people want to bury their loved ones here.”
The locals are also upset at the fee being charged for entry. “They have put up this huge gate and demand Rs30 for a ticket,” says the former MPA. “This never happened but is happening now.”
The former lawmaker says his family members contest elections independently, after which they form alliances with mainstream parties. He allied with the PML-N. “We don’t mind a boundary wall,” he says. “But we want PPP-backed encroachments to be removed.” He says PPP’s district council chairman in Thatta is involved in the encroachment business.
On the other hand, four influential members of the Shirazi family, Syed Aijaz Ali Shah Shirazi, Syed Shafqat Ali Shah Shirazi, Syed Ayaz Shah Shirazi and Syed Syed Riaz Ali Shah Shirazi formally joined the PPP on Sunday.
UNESCO gave recommendations to conserve Makli at its 41st session at Krakow, Poland. Dr Kalhoro lists some recommendations that the culture department responded to. According to his report, 20 site attendants are taking care of the monuments. However, he says, the government should hire security guards to prevent people from stealing valuable stone slabs and other items from the monuments.
The government has banned vehicles on Makli land. Instead, it introduced a shuttle service for tourists and visitors to protect the environment of the site. It has also installed three weather stations and crack monitors at different tombs. Litter has been removed.
Dr Kalhoro writes that more damages and vandalism happen at Makli monuments during festivals at shrines. He calls for banning the entry of “beggars and entertainers” as “they sometimes vandalize and place their belongings and other things inside the tomb or tomb wall enclosures.” New burials at the graveyard should also stop, he says.
He also recommends more private-public partnerships, especially with Aga Khan Foundation that has successfully been conserving the monuments in Hunza, Skardu and Lahore.