| Junoon performing in New Delhi
London, June 19: The world saw a different side of General Pervez Musharraf last night — the man of culture.
The Pakistani President, who is on an official visit to the UK, attended a spectacular evening “celebrating the cultural diversity of Pakistan” at the Royal Albert Hall, billed as Rhythms of the Indus.
At the conclusion, the general, in his shirtsleeves, stood up and clapped along with thousands of fellow Pakistanis as the band Junoon played out with a rousing rendition of Pakistan Hamara Hai, Pakistan Tumhara Hai (Pakistan is Mine, Pakistan is Yours).
Given that Junoon, possibly Pakistan’s most popular band, has been in trouble in the past with the authorities back home, the general’s enthusiastic endorsement must have been welcome. Earlier, Junoon had brought the house down with their trademark number, Saiyonee.
The general did not simply dip in and out of the evening’s many acts, which included pop music, dance, fashion shows — the mullahs back in Pakistan might have had a thing or two to say about the revealing off-the-shoulder numbers — tribal drums and the heavenly Abida Parveen.
Musharraf stayed for the whole evening, which began at 7.30 pm and ended at midnight. It was a multimedia event, with a large screen used very effectively as a backdrop for films depicting the art and culture of the Indus.
This was a Pakistan that India and the rest of the world could easily live with, one revealing the face of the liberal arts.
Rhythms of the Indus, almost certainly the best organised Pakistani cultural event that Britain or the world has ever seen, was sponsored by the Pakistani high commission and the Bestway business group.
The latter’s chairman, Sir Anwar Pervez, the most successful Pakistani businessman in Britain with a company with over a billion pound turnover — tomorrow he offers hospitality at Royal Ascot in his top hat and tails — sat in a box with Musharraf and the Pakistani High Commissioner in London, Abdul Kader Jaffer.
The thousands of Pakistanis in the massive auditorium probably had no idea that Musharraf would be attending, not even when the evening’s co-presenter, the actor Art (Athar) Malik asked: “Is there a General sitting next to you'”
But there was Musharraf acknowledging the applause from his box. Although he was wearing a suit, he forgot himself and kept saluting his audience as though he was back at staff college, Rawalpindi. After the 20-minute interval, he was back but this time his jacket was off and he kept fanning himself with the programme for London is currently enjoying an exceptionally warm Pakistani/Indian summer.
Musharraf got up for the finale and clapped with the rest of the audience as Abida Parveen finished. Earlier, he enjoyed performances by a Kathak dancer; music and some pretty spectacular fashion featuring beautiful Pakistani models on high heels. Together they reflected the kind of Pakistan the fundamentalist clergy back in Pakistan would do everything to quash. But it was clear this was the Pakistan that the audience wanted.
There were some hejabs in the audience but none on stage. In the expensive boxes, wine and champagne flowed more freely than the waters of the Indus.
Art Malik made so bold as to urge the General to “come down and shake a leg”.
His co-presenter, Atiqa Odho, said to be one of Pakistan’s most glamourous stars, got carried away and said: “I hope you come down and dance a little with me.”
Atal Bihari Vajpayee would be hoping so, too.