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RFE's Khattak In "Foreign Policy" On The Importance Of Names

In a recent "Foreign Policy" article, RFE's Daud Khattak looks at landmarks in Pakistan with questionable namesakes. Khattak discusses the effects that history can have on a particular pedigree.

Pakistan's Famous Landmarks: What's In A Name?

Daud Khattak | Foreign Policy

March 17, 2011

As Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi finds himself in a pitched battle to maintain his over 40-year rule, like the final man in a cricket match, some Pakistanis are thinking about what to do with about Qaddafi Stadium, a cricket ground named after the Libyan leader in 1974.

Originally named Lahore Stadium, the structure, which can hold 40,000 people, was renamed Qaddafi Stadium to express gratitude to the Libyan leader for his speech that year supporting Pakistan's desire to pursue its nuclear weapons program on the occasion of the meeting of Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

In the 1970s, Pakistan's then-Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto dispatched thousands of mostly unskilled Pakistanis to Libya and other Arab countries, freshly introduced to the taste of black gold, so that they would bring back hard currency for his cash-strapped Pakistan - and more importantly for its nuclear program.

Owing to Pakistan's cricket hysteria, Qaddafi has thus become almost a household name in the country of 185 million people. This is not because the people are fond of Qaddafi or his rule, but rather because of the spacious and spectacular ground that bears his name. However, the stadium's luster and appeal have diminished in the past several years, as international cricket has not returned to Pakistan since the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team that killed six policemen and wounded seven athletes. That vicious operation, followed by several others, deprived Pakistani cricket lovers of the chance to see a glimpse of the Cricket World Cup, presently being played in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India.

Interestingly, Qaddafi stadium is not the only Pakistani landmark to carry the name of a foreign leader. But the current conditions of these sites varies greatly depending on the fate of their namesakes.

A road named in the 1950s after Iranian Shah Reza Pahlavi in Pakistan's port city of Karachi lost its charm (and its name) following the overthrow of the monarch in 1979. Soekarno square in Peshawar, once planned as a memorial for the Indonesian president, who ruled from 1949 to 1966, is now a filthy few yards of space covered by vendors and largely ignored by the city's population. In contrast, the famous King Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, named for one-time Saudi King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, is still intact and likely to remain so, mainly because the Saudi Kingdom is still in place. And like hundreds of Wahhabi mosques and madrassas in Pakistan, the construction of the spacious mosque, the fourth largest in the world, was financed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

From this we can conclude that if Qaddafi falls, Pakistan's most hallowed cricket ground could get a new name. However, due to the prevailing security climate in the country, it will likely take many years and even decades to bring back international cricket to Pakistan.

If so, perhaps the stadium, which is now the headquarters of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), will be converted into the headquarters of some security agency or military bureaucracy; after all, many of Pakistan's historical forts and beautiful structures today house cantonments or administrative offices for security forces.

The 18th-century Balahisar Fort in Peshawar, a wonderful and historic complex which would undoubtedly be a prime tourist attraction, has since 1949 served as the headquarters for Pakistan's Frontier Corps. Lahore's 16th-century Shahi Fort was once used as a prison and secret torture cell for political opponents and "traitors." The tourist and hill resort cities of Murree and Abbotabad both host spacious cantonments. And now another large army cantonment is reportedly being planned in the Swat Valley, once known as the Switzerland of Asia and more recently the base for militant violence less than 100 miles from Islamabad.

So we shall see if Pakistanis end up renaming or its government re-appropriating this symbol of dictatorship, as it seems that for the present Pakistan's security forces remain in control and ubiquitous, and average Pakistanis seem unready to imitate Tunisians, Egyptians or Libyan rebels in working against those that have ruled, and misruled, their country for so long.