Dawn News

The DAWN front page from its first edition in 1941. – Copyright Dawn Media Group
The DAWN front page from its first edition in 1941. – Copyright Dawn Media Group

ISLAMABAD: They are regarded as a supreme evidence of the entire freedom struggle and are admired by the visitors to the national archives each day. But these historic documents, letters, newspapers, public records and private papers conserved in the National Archives of Pakistan (NAP) have been threatened by the elements – heat, humidity and even dryness.

The NAP of the Cabinet Division is a repository of thousands of important documentation and source materials. The archives or the conservation rooms carry a sense of nostalgia, where slightly faded or stained pages enclose the pre and post-partition history of Pakistan including some rare records not found anywhere else in the world such as the Civil and Military Gazette, 1873-1963. From the Quaid-e-Azam Papers, including his personal notebooks to an impressive collection of 1, 500 newspapers and magazines and handwritten letters besides so much more, all sit in the NAP like ancient treasures.

Researchers, students, media and people from all walks of life also have access to the entire freedom movement enclosed in a complete set of records.

The archives also boasts of the All India Muslim League documentation, the only record in Pakistan, declared World Heritage by Unesco under the Memory of the World category. The oldest newspaper of the region Mofussilite, 1848-1873 and a unique weekly newspaper Fitna-itre-Fitna 1903-1911 – the pocket size newspaper published from Gorakhpur, India are some of the rarest collections of the NAP, besides a compilation of Indian publications such as Times of India, Frontline, and Blitz, the NAP houses them all.

But the extreme weather conditions are taking a toll on the delicate life span of their paper. The NAP building, spread on 150, 000 square feet with more than 80, 000 square feet of conservation space behind the Pakistan Secretariat blocks was designed with the facility of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) but has been missing from the beginning. The central air conditioning systems usually meant for homes and offices keep the rooms cool and only retard internal decay of the paper.

Lamenting how the government could not give enough priority to conservation of history, officials in the NAP were quite explicit when they said that document-friendly environment was basic requirement to keep these historic treasures as fresh as the day they were written or printed.

“There can be no concept of conservation without a climate controlled environment,” the official said elaborating on how the staff kept a close eye on the entire collection for signs of decay.

When contacted, Conservation Officer NAP Syed Riazul Hassan who is in-charge of the three-year project titled Restoration of Rare Manuscripts and Archival Collection explained that restoration efforts were needed nonetheless.

“Most documents in the NAP have completed their lives. Newspapers deteriorated the quickest. It is important to take extra care and increase life span of the paper,” said Riazul Hassan who has been with the NAP since 1977.

Restoration required expensive gear that was not locally available and had to be imported through special orders, the official said. A special 100-metre by one-metre plastic lamination sheet alone could cost as much as Rs100, 000.

Moreover, the special tissues and various kinds of chemicals needed for restoration were equally expensive, he added.

But the message was clear that conservation demanded more than just sandwiching pages in lamination sheets whether it were Gazettes, Fatima Jinnah’s personal letters, scripts and handwritten royal orders from the times of Mughal Emperor Akbar.

Without a document friendly environment, the risk of losing history to natural elements was a definite possibility.

Comments (9) Closed

Jul 23, 2012 03:16pm
Mr. Syed, You know that is not possible. You have to pay some1 to get heard.
Agha Ata
Jul 23, 2012 02:40pm
Do not protect these precious archives. Their condition is Pakistan's real history. Save them and protect them just until they are illegible. The future historian will know exactly what happenned and why.
Jul 23, 2012 09:20am
Why not create a digital archive lab? If Dawn would like we can work together to get this task done.
Shahid Niaz
Jul 23, 2012 10:16am
Mr Ammad's recommendation is the only cost effective solution to preserving these treasures. If we do not act in time we will lose it for all times to come.
Syed Ahmed
Jul 23, 2012 01:00pm
Savs the national archives, save Pakistan.
Dr V. C. Bhutani
Jul 23, 2012 09:45am
For your information, please allow me to add that there is an oft-repeated line in historiography that we come across, namely, the history of a country is contained in its newspapers. Apart from newspapers, several of which you mentioned, there are government records, private papers, etc. What we do not often attach much importance to is the records of provincial governments and district offices and court records. All of these need to be preserved for posterity, so that later generations may be able to reconstruct history from the brass tacks. We in South Asia have not attached sufficient importance to record-keeping and preservation. Much has been done, for instance, at the National Archives of India, under its present director general, Professor Mushirul Hasan, himself an eminent historian and well known in Pakistan.
Dr V. C. Bhutani
Jul 23, 2012 09:46am
It may be a good idea to keep contacts between the various archives establishments of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and UK, all of which one would have to use if one were to attempt an understanding of what you have been pleased to call the “freedom movement”. It will help if someone from the NAP would open contacts with the chief of the PRO and IO (now called the British Library) in UK. Some training facilities for archivists are also available at the PRO London. V. C. Bhutani, Delhi, India, 23 July 2012, 1514 IST
Jul 23, 2012 08:26pm
It almost certainly has to be a private effort. However, the archives of what remains must be preserved.
Cyrus Howell
Jul 28, 2012 07:13am
The only solution is to gather volunteers to help. There is a lot of man power if ordinary people want to get involved.