Islamabad’s Hyde Park

November 7, 2021

Kohsar Market has long played host to politicians, newsmakers and activists

Islamabad’s Hyde Park

The martyrdom of Governor Salmaan Taseer put this place on the map. Prime Minister Imran Khan would have dinners here during his dharna days. The journalists sitting at their coffee tables keep their ears cocked for bits of news and clues. Welcome to the Kohsar Market.

Tuscany Courtyard in the market is where Imran Khan would regularly have dinners during his landmark dharna at D-Chowk. Chair No 44 on the rooftop is permanently reserved for him. It even bears his initials.

Tuscany is one of the many restaurants in Kohsar Market, nestled in the upscale Sector F-6 which also houses the Parliament House, the Ministers’ Enclave, the Diplomatic Enclave and the Presidency.

“The place is a fair representation of Pakistan - educated and open-minded,” Nael Asad, the Tuscany Courtyard general manager tells The News on Sunday.

Kohsar Market is a rather compact shopping and dining area on the periphery of the bigger Super Market. A smaller place next to a big and popular market would ordinarily be at a disadvantage. However, the very fact appears to have worked for Kohsar Market and given it its air of exclusivity. Those in influential positions, it is said, prefer it as this allows them to put some distance between themselves and the rest.

According to Prof. Dr. Tahir Malik, “Kohsar Market has been a witness to the making and breaking of many governments. Ministers, bureaucrats, CEOs and journalists frequent it.” As an avid researcher of political processes, he has been a regular. “This market first came into prominence during the Musharraf era. Many politicians would come and sit at the Covered Market,” he recalls.

Prof Malik says during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s days he would stay at Faletti’s Hotel in Lahore. This was also where Mr Bhutto would meet all kinds of people from politicians to the likes of Habib Jalib, as he did not own a house in Lahore. He says Rawalpindi Club was another hub of political activity during the Bhutto era. Some of the waiters who had carried important messages from politicians and delivered them discretely later went on to become significant politicians themselves.

“Kohsar Market was the centre of political activity during the days of the 2014 dharna. It was not only the centre of activity for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. Many Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leaders, including Talal Chaudhry, Daniyal Aziz, Maryam Aurangzeb and nearly all of the PML-N media team would come and sit here. Sometimes they would discuss and devise their media strategies. It was then said that tabdeeli starts with a Rs 500 cup of coffee one drinks here. The coffee culture has caught on,” he says.

Nowadays, many journalists and politicians come to Kohsar Market to schedule their programmes and to have light hearted interactions. Ali Raza Alvi, a TV show host, says, “Kohsar Market is a beautiful place to be at, especially when it rains. You can sit outdoors for eight or nine months of the year in Islamabad. The weather allows that.” He adds: “As for political dealings, you can call this market a mini parliament. Some Parliamentarians seek to have coffee with us here because we always have our ears to the ground. Some newcomers in politics just want their names mentioned in the media. We ourselves seek out certain politicians because we think that they may have some news or useful tips for us. This is the real game at this market.”

“Some of the politicians one sees trying to outdo one another on TV talk shows amicably sit at the same table here. We come here regularly because this is where we find a lot of news… I have been a witness here to how political lobbies evolve.

“Some of the politicians one sees trying to outdo one another on TV shows, amicably share a table here. We come here regularly because we find a lot of news here. It is also close to TV stations and important offices. I have witnessed here how political lobbies evolve. Several key ministers and other parliamentarians, including Fawad Chaudhry, Khwaja Asif and Sheikh Rasheed come here. The journalists engage them in talk to get information. Several members of the KP cabinet also frequent this place,” Alvi says.

The place became one of the best known landmarks in the city when Governor Salmaan Taseer was martyred here on January 4, 2011. The tragedy shattered the country. It also laid a foundation for the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, that is now marching towards Islamabad.

Salmaan Taseer could often be seen walking and jogging at the park adjacent to Kohsar Market, which has now become a place for holding vigils. The irreverent say that this park is now a domain of the ‘mombatti’ mafia.

A Smart Street Library has been constructed by the Capital Development Authority in collaboration with some private groups close to the murder scene. Shehryar Taseer, son of the late Slaman Taseer, once said in an informal conversation that everyone would refer to his father as ‘the governor.’ He said that his father had been an agent of change and was never afraid taking risks. On his Twitter page, he has pinned a tweet with a photo of himself at his father’s resting place. The caption reads: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”

A fruit vendor has encroached on the footpath near the library. A paintings vendor has hung paintings in the green area in front of the market. Both of them avoid talking to the media. There is a Rangers office nearby, and Rangers personnel are often seen patrolling.

According to City SP Rana Wahab, the security at Kohsar Market is impeccable. He rules out the presence of any criminal elements. Speaking about the martyrdom of Salmaan Taseer, he says that the assailant was personally motivated. “Incidents like this can happen anywhere”, he says. He adds that the police leave no stone unturned in securing the city, regardless of VIP movement.

A waiter says that there has been a decline recently in the visits by diplomats. “Almost everyone has sent their families back home due to Covid-19. Business is not as usual here.”

Abdur Rauf, owner of the Istanbul Restaurant in the nearby Super Market, says that the restaurants in Kohsar Market continue to operate successfully as they are more airy and open. “I am also planning to remove glass walls so that the place becomes a courtyard. More people prefer outdoors now,” he says.

Asad, the Tuscany Courtyard general manager, has a different opinion: “I am from Jordan. I have worked in international hotel chains in 14 countries. For seven years, I have been living in Islamabad with my family. Going out for good food is a source of entertainment for people here. We entertain them.” He says he has gotten to know a lot of his customers because they are regulars. “The way Pakistan is portrayed in the international media is misleading,” he says. “This market is a fair representation of the real Pakistan.” Despite Asad’s optimism, the place remains inaccessible to ordinary citizens, being too expensive. It’s not for nothing that it is also called the gora market, a reference to foreign diplomats and expats who often shop here.

The writer teaches development support communication at IIUI. Email:

Islamabad’s Hyde Park