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Destruction Of Historic Building Sparks Debate About Pakistan's History

The Ziarat residency before the attack...

The Ziarat residency before the attack...

A new debate has unfolded in Pakistan after a residence of the founder of the country was bombed and burned in a picturesque valley in southwestern Pakistan on June 15.

Some saw the blowing up of the summer retreat of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the midst of juniper forests in Ziarat as a great loss because it was symbol of national heritage.

They viewed the attack on the Ziarat residency, as it is known, as an attack on the very foundation of Pakistan by Baloch separatists who are fighting for a homeland in the vast, resource-rich region that borders Afghanistan and Iran.

Others brushed it aside as the destruction of a colonial-era building favored by British administrators. They pointed out that it is more important to protect the restive province's beleaguered communities from terrorist violence rather than lament the loss of an historic building favored by British colonial rulers.

A Pashtun leader in Balochistan said that they viewed the building as a "symbol of slavery."

Akram Shah, a former lawmaker from the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, told "The Express Tribune" newspaper that the Ziarat residency "always reminded the Baloch and Pashtuns of the long period when they were the slaves" of the British Empire on the Indian subcontinent.

... and after

... and after

He added that they viewed it as nothing more than the former residence of the 19th-century British colonial ruler Sir Robert Sandeman.

Shah also criticized allies in the governing coalition for visiting the burned-out building while ignoring the victims of terrorist attacks in the provincial capital, Quetta. Those attacks killed some 25 people and were claimed by a Sunni extremist faction.

Firefighters extinguish the fire that gutted the Ziarat residency.

Firefighters extinguish the fire that gutted the Ziarat residency.

Author Rasul Baksh Rais said he was "shocked" by Shah's statement. He wrote that, despite being built by the British, the Ziarat residency is part of the national heritage and a "symbol of honor" for many Pakistanis.

He questioned Shah's understanding of history and argued that the British essentially built the system that still sustains Pakistan.

"This [statement] really shows how our contemporary political leaders and representatives are ignorant of history, society, and even politics, which they practice more for power than any principle or public interest," he wrote.

"The New York Times" concluded that the attack on the Ziarat residency signified "the deep rifts in Pakistan where ethnic and nationalistic tensions are straining the national fabric."

-- Abubakar Siddique