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Wednesday December 08, 2021

Culture heritage of Abbottabad needs protection

January 11, 2021

PESHAWAR: The world famous hill station of Pakistan and summer capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Abbottabad, is fast losing its beauty and rich cultural heritage due to demolition of the splendid British-era monumental structures.

This small but scenic city has been a place of attraction for tourists. They included visitors from inland but foreigners as well since the British colonial era. However, during the last couple of decades, the city became congested and with the passage of time the thick forest in the hill station was eradicated due to new construction, particularly commercial buildings.

The historic cultural heritage of the city is also facing threat as already buildings like the black stone-built Victorian cantonment office has been demolished for constructing a commercial plaza in its place. Next in the line is the centuries-old Station Headquarters building adjacent to MES Dak Bungalow and opposite Saint Luke’s Church to be demolished for constructing yet another commercial plaza, informed sources told The News.

After receiving a letter from a Canada-based Pakistani engineer and environmentalist Mahmood Ahmad Aslam, the director of Archaeology and Museums, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa wrote a letter to the deputy commissioner and district police officer Abbottabad for stopping demolition of the Station Headquarters building situated on Jinnah Road. However, the sources said there is a plan to demolish the building probably by mid-January if the concerned quarters did not take concrete steps to stop it.

Though Military Land Rules 1956 does not allow use of A-1 category land for other than military purposes and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as well as Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA) are also needed for construction of such plazas, there is a proposed plan of erecting a mega commercial building on 15 to 20 kanal land on the said site. Besides damage to the environment and cultural heritage, the proposed plaza might pose a security threat to the Saint Luke’s Church, Mona Lisa Restaurant and Lady Garden.

Abbottabad has already lost many heritage buildings and sites due to negligence of the quarters concerned, especially the archaeology department. Last year one such building, the Victoria cantonment office, was demolished for construction of a commercial plaza. The archaeology department had failed to officially notify it as a protected monument, though the cantonment authorities had delayed the demolition plan for one year.

According to sources, now there is a plan to demolish the old Station Headquarters building and adjacent MES Dak Bungalow located amid massive trees.

Pakistan is bound to protect its heritage buildings as a signatory to the UNESCO and other international charters, but many such buildings are facing threat of demolition. Not only the KP archaeology department but the Army Heritage Foundation have to play a role in protecting the rich cultural heritage of Abbottabad.

The heritage buildings of Abbottabad which need to be protected include Victoria High School (No 1 High School), Town Hall, Stone Fort of the Cantonment Police Station, Old Tehsil building, Government owned Allama Iqbal’s Bala Khana, MES office, Garrison Engineer Bungalow and other staff bungalows, Victoria Library inside Lady Garden, Civil surgeon’s bungalow and office next to Commissioner House, Saint Luke’s Church, Abbottabad Club, Old Palace Hotel (now Commissioner office), Islamia High School (No 2 Boys High School), two British era bungalows inside FG Boys High School and the black chiseled stone buildings of the DHQ Hospital.

These heritage buildings are contributing to promoting tourism nationally and internationally. This is the reason these buildings need the attention of the authorities concerned for protection and proper maintenance.