National Geographic : 2010 Jul
• inconstant but vital partner in the war on terror- ism, could be heading toward collapse. e Punjab I knew in the years a er 9/11, when I covered Pakistan as a foreign correspon- dent, was relatively undisturbed. To be sure, it su ered from a myriad of social ills and had its share of homegrown Islamist militants. But the guardians of the status quo---generals, feu- dal landlords, industrialists---remained deeply entrenched, as did Su sm, the tolerant, mys- tical, music-and-poetry-saturated brand of Islam that is anathema to many Muslim hard- liners. Could the fabric of society here really come unraveled? A few days a er the art show I tracked down Imran Qureshi, head of the college's miniatures department, at the modern, two-story home he shares with his wife and two young children. A boyish 38-year-old in corduroys and a zippered sweater, he showed me into a living room dec- orated with tribal rugs and Scandinavian-style wood furniture. Qureshi and his wife, Aisha Khalid, both renowned artists, could easily migrate to London or New York, where they o en show their work. But they have no inten- tion of leaving. "I think it's getting more liberal here," Qureshi said, his voice swelling with enthusiasm. "People are talking about politics, sexuality, all kinds of issues. It was not like this ten years ago." Qureshi's commitment to his country and his art was impressive, and so was his apparently sturdy faith in Punjab's civility and resilience. On the other hand, perhaps he was simply in denial. , there are few better examples than Punjab. Wedged between Cen- tral Asia and the subcontinent, the region was squarely in the path of invaders---Macedonians, Turks, Mongols, Persians, Afghans---as well as trade caravans traveling between the subconti- nent and points west. Lahore became the capi- tal of a succession of imperial dynasties, and a focal point of surprising diversity. In the late 16th century, the Mogul emperor Akbar infuriat- ed orthodox Muslims by irting with Hinduism and Christianity. e Sikhs who later ran the city and its environs paid for the upkeep of mosques and Hindu temples, along with their own gur- dwaras. e British added universities and stone churches, and Punjabis learned to love cricket and the queen's English, if not the queen herself. All was torn asunder by the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947. Punjab was the richest and most bitterly con- tested prize, and the largest share, an area the size of Wyoming, was awarded to Pakistan amid a spasm of communal bloodletting that killed up to a million people. Five million Hindus and Sikhs ed to India, and eight million Muslims streamed the other way. Punjab now accounts for almost 60 percent of Pakistan's economy and is slightly more popu- lous than Germany, with about 90 million of Pakistan's 173 million people. In terms of in- come it is roughly on a par with Sindh, which includes the sprawling nancial and industrial capital of Karachi. e national capital was shi ed from Karachi to newly built Islamabad, near the army head- quarters in Rawalpindi, in 1967. But Lahore, a frenetic and timeworn city of eight million, is arguably Pakistan's cultural capital and a living expression of the history of its people. The Sikhs once ran the city. The British added universities and stone churches. The Punjabis learned to love the queen's English, if not the queen herself. John Lancaster was South Asia bureau chief for the Washington Post. Ed Kashi's coverage of Syria was published in the November 2009 issue.