The Islamabad Literature Festival is in its fourth year, and the speakers this weekend include Quaisra Shahraz and Anatol Lieven.
The Islamabad Literature Festival – like its sister festivals in Karachi and Lahore – is a celebration of literature, of art and of culture. Literature shows the depth and variety and colour and texture that anyone visiting this country can see, but is too often invisible to those outside.
You might say that I could make comments like this at arts festivals in many countries. Perhaps. But, to an outsider at least, literature seems here to have a special place in the national psyche. Back in the UK, we are this year celebrating 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare. But we don’t have a public holiday around it; and we certainly have no literary figure playing such a prominent role in the national consciousness as Allama Iqbal.
As British High Commissioner, I should also mention the many joint British and Pakistani authors or British authors of Pakistani descent – from Tariq Ali and Mohsin Hamid to Qaisra Shahraz. Qaisra too will also be appearing at the Festival. They are making a mark in both of our countries.
Finally… I should add that this is one of those areas of my work that is as pleasurable as it is critical to our interests. Some of you will know about the British Government’s education work in Pakistan: this is the biggest single element of the biggest development programme we have in any country in the world. There is no literature without literacy. But we are doing a lot more too.
This year alone we are re-opening the British Council Libraries in Lahore and Karachi – with brand new modern buildings, facilities – and books. For those who can’t reach them, the British Council is also launching a Digital Library, which will offer access to over 5,000 journals, 30,000 books, films, discussions as well as a poem of the day, book of the week and film of the month. And, of course, we are delighted to support this weekend’s activities.