ABU DHABI // Pakistanis, too, have been celebrating National Day, notably with a festive gathering yesterday to promote UAE-Pakistani friendship. About 500 people, including some Emiratis, attended the event at the capital's Pakistani cultural centre, which has recently been used for events after being closed for a more than a decade.
Highlights included a two-hour theatrical performance by children from Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Arab Pakistani School. Fatima Ijaz, a 23-year-old dentist whose family is from Karachi, was born and raised in Abu Dhabi. As a child, she attended bazaars at the centre with her family, she said. "This is so important," she said. "We need events like this so people come together. There is a culture of ours and it needs to be shown to the world. We need to organise more functions and promote our culture like this."
Speaking after the show, she said she particularly enjoyed watching traditional Pakistani dances. Her sister, Ayesha Noor, 25, said festive events were necessary to combat the world's negative image of Pakistan. "People have a different image of Pakistan all over the world," she said. "They just think of terrorism. But we have to show the lighter side; we are open-minded, warm people. We need to promote our culture."
The Pakistani Embassy announced a plan last month to hold a 12-day festival, intended to celebrate Pakistan-UAE relations during the holidays. Proceeds from tickets and a bazaar would go to the three community schools in the capital and the Red Crescent. But a lack of sponsorship and time limits shelved the plan, at least for now, and the students at Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Arab Pakistani School, one of the facilities that would have received donations, were given a week to organise yesterday's show.
Qamar Zaman, a supervisor at the school, said he felt let down by the lack of support. "I feel slightly disappointed when it was announced that the original plan had been postponed because we are a school facing financial difficulties," he said Monthly fees at the school, which has about 1,800 students, range from Dh300 (US$82) to Dh500. "This is still a very special occasion, though. Sheikh Zayed donated this centre to us back in the '70s, and while this is a limited-capacity function, it is still a lot of fun," said Mr Zaman, who is originally from Rawalpindi.
Like many other Pakistanis in Abu Dhabi, he yearns for more cultural events. The students performed Arabic dances, recited Pakistani poems, re-enacted an Emirati wedding and acted in a play warning children against littering in the city. The male students' dance performance was also well received, with Pathans in the audience clapping and jumping up from their seats. "The centre should be open for all activities," said Sameena Aftar, a retired teacher who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 23 years. "But this event itself is great news for Pakistanis. We should have our functions here."
In the 1980s and early 1990s, tens of thousands of Pakistanis from across the country flocked regularly to Abu Dhabi to participate in spiritual, cultural, educational, sporting and patriotic functions. In 1996, however, community members became involved in a series of power struggles and unauthorised elections, and UAE authorities closed the centre. Now, every time the embassy wishes to use the halls, it must seek permission from the UAE ministries. In June, it was allowed to hold a charity event to raise money for the refugees in the Swat Valley, where the government has been battling a Taliban fighters.
Sohaib Nasiri, the 13-year-old host of yesterday's celebration, was too young to remember the centre's heyday. "It means a lot for people to come and gather. I want it to be open again," said Sohaib, who is originally from Multan and has spent four years in the UAE. "It's a great opportunity for Pakistanis to come together." Sundus Mubashir, an 18-year-old student who was born in Abu Dhabi, was the co-host.
"It is with functions like these that Pakistanis get to decide their own future," she said. "They show the rest of the world what stage we are at. There is a strong sense of community spirit here and it has been a great chance for us to show other countries what we are about." Faisal Niaz Tirmizi, a counsellor at the Pakistani Embassy, said: "The UAE has been with us through thick and thin. Pakistanis have love for the Government and people of the UAE, which is the largest foreign investor in Pakistan.
"The UAE also supported us through devastating times like in October 2005, when we had an earthquake. There are Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Khalifa hospitals in Lahore and Muzzafarabad. Sheikh Zayed used to refer to Pakistan as his second home." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org