Not Even Bombs Can Silence Lahore's Arts

This was supposed to be a story about music.

It was supposed to be about foreign artists willing to perform in Pakistan, about the Pakistani brothers spending their own money to throw an international arts festival, about Pakistanis showing up in large crowds to defy the extremists who have helped push their country toward economic ruin.

But instead, this is a story about terrorism in Pakistan, and, perhaps, about the people trying to live full lives in spite of it.

It was about 10 p.m. Saturday when three small bombs exploded outside the Qaddafi Stadium Cultural Complex in Lahore, where the World Arts Festival was in its second to last day.

For the previous nine nights, some 300 foreign and 600 Pakistani artists had performed theater, puppet shows, comedy, dance and long music sets to mostly crowded halls and stadiums. Kids ran around, families ate outside under colorful lights, couples shopped at local vendors' booths. The increased security had worked, and for the 25th time, the Rafi Peer Theater group had presented a "softer side of Pakistan," one that celebrated the country's artistic talents in this city, the cultural capital of Pakistan.

But after the bombs went off, and after police found an additional four bombs that hadn't exploded, the festival and this normally peaceful city had once again become a victim.

"This was definitely a threat by the Islamists to the festival that it must be discontinued," Faizaan Peerzada, the festival's president, told ABC News.

He had, in an interview before the explosions, spoken eloquently about how the festival was a desperately needed antidote to the daily drumbeat of news about suicide attacks and military strikes.

The festival is "a statement in itself. It stands against whatever the Islamist forces are trying to achieve. It stands against fear," he said. "And it stands for those still living. This country is living, this nation is living."

But after the bombs, after the four injured had been rushed to the hospital, after the foreigners had been whisked away in a bus with blinds covering its windows, after all that Peerzada thought the festival had taken on even more significance.

'I'm Giving You a Warning'

Because on Sunday afternoon, the day after the explosions and the final day of the festival, a few hundred people came to listen to the music and to light some candles. Foreign artists released a statement thanking Lahore for its "love and warmth" and promising to return next year.

It was a show of solidarity against the scene of fear and confusion of the night before.

"You saw plenty of families coming with their children," Peerzada said. "This is the allegiance given by the civil society to stand beside us, that we took a bold stand not to cancel the final day. I think the bold stand in itself has brought the value of the festival much higher."

Police have arrested an Afghan man who had a crude map of the stadium, Peerzada said.

And one day after the festival ended, Peerzada himself received a threat by phone.

"I'm giving you a warning. We warned you three times," Peerzada said the man told him, referring to the three bombs. "He said, 'I am making this call to you because once your security is taken out of your life, you will be an easy target."

It is a sign that even in Lahore, nobody is immune. It is a sign that the balance between modernism and extremism in the country's most modern city is uneasy.

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