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Cracks are visible in Kotla Mohsin Khan, a historic gate, located on Kohat Road, Peshawar. — Dawn
Cracks are visible in Kotla Mohsin Khan, a historic gate, located on Kohat Road, Peshawar. — Dawn

PESHAWAR: According to experts, around 50 heritage sites in and around Peshawar city have been lost owing to lack of public awareness and official negligence and philistinism over the last one and a half decade.

The Sarhad Conservation Network (SCN), a non-for-profit organisation, was founded in 2001 to raise awareness among people regarding importance of heritage sites, environment and culture.

Kotla Mohsin Khan is a historic ‘gate’ located on Kohat Road towards south-west of Peshawar city. Kotla means a small fortified residence. According to one legend, it was founded over a high mound in second half of 16th century by the noted Mughal Mansabdar Arbab Mustajab Khan Momand in the presence of two renowned spiritual figures -- Hazrat Kaka Sahib Rahmkar and Akhund Dirwaiza Baba.

Originally it was spread over 10 hectares of land. It is a three-storey structure. The second floor comprises small rooms and a compound while its third floor contains security posts along with two rooms.

Arbab Mustajab used to settle tribal disputes especially of Ghori Khel tribes living around Peshawar city while sitting in this fortified residence. Later, the residence was renamed after Arbab Mohsin Khan Momand, one of the Mustajab’s descendants.

Another legend says when Mughal King Aurangzeb Alamgir arrested Khushhal Khan Khattak, Arbab Mustajab Khan secured his release and kept him as guest in his Kotla on his own risk and later accompanied Khushhal Khan to Delhi.

When Sikhs occupied Peshawar in 1823, they set ablaze the historic Kotla gateway. But Abdul Karim Khan, another descendant of Mustajab, rebuilt it.

Arbab Haleem Khan, owner of the property housing Kotla gateway, told this scribe that last Mughal governor, Nawab Nasir Khan, welcomed the Afghan King Nadir Shah Durrani and gifted him the key to Peshawar in 1741 when he visited the city. This signalled the end of the Mughal Empire in Peshawar.

“We want this gateway to be restored as a heritage site. The remains of the original Kotla residence remained intact till 1970, now only the gate stands in shamble,” he added.

Interestingly, Kotla Mohsin Khan also had been abode of popular classical Pashto Sufi poet, Mazaullah Khan Momand, who lived in the 17th century.

Arbab Abdul Ghaffar Khan Momand, 70, told this scribe that legendary Sufi poet Mazaullah Khan Momand was his great-great grandfather. He said that Peshawar had numerous sites, which needed protection and conservation for posterity.

Abdul Ghaffar regretted that Peshawar once famed as city of flowers was now engulfed by pollution and careless populace.

“Reviving history, heritage and culture should be our top priority to avoid complete cultural decadence. If my old father does not tell stories and my mother does not sing me lullaby, I may grow a violent child without roots in a culture of peace,” he said.

The SCN is an advocacy group that lobbies for conservation of architectural and cultural heritage as well as biodiversity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Environment, heritage and culture are major concerns of SCN, as it collaborates with all international and national agencies, NGOs, local and provincial governments and various academic institutions in the province for sustainable biodiversity and healthier environment.

Dr Adil Zareef, noted social activist and convener of SCN, told this scribe that his organisation through an advocacy campaign had identified around 200 heritage sites including century’s old buildings, saints’ tombs, residences, gardens and even old trees in and around the walled- city of Peshawar.

He said that SCN could save the famous 150 years old Sethi House and legendary Bollywood star Dillip Kumar’s residence and a few other structures from being demolished.

However, he regretted that Peshawar city lost two historic structures -- old Muhafizkhana and Falaksair cinema house. “The construction of flyovers blocked the beautiful view and façade of the historic Balahisar fort which could be avoided through a mass transit system,” Dr Zareef said.

The new bylaws and regulations regarding conservation and protection of heritage sites prepared under the strong recommendations of the directorate of archeology and museums were only waiting for vetting by provincial law department, he added. .

Zahoor Durrani, consultant Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP) on culture and heritage and focal person for SCN, said that absence of legal cover and lack of mass awareness coupled with lack of community involvement led to loss of heritage wealth around.

He said that Peshawar being the oldest living city of south Asia was abound with archeological and cultural sites. “We need to involve community along with running a mass awareness campaign to identify, own and conserve our heritage whether big or small as size does not count when it comes to archeological and historical significance of a site,” he said.

Dr Abdul Samad, director archeology and museums, said that currently there were four projects which were focusing on conservation of archaeological sites in and around the walled -city.

“This includes three in Gor Khatri and one in cantonment, Ali Mardan Villa. Apart from that we have proposed a mega project focusing on walled -city of Peshawar and provincial government has committed to release this fund for preservation and conservation of walled- city of Peshawar . There will be experts involved from Italy and Belgium to rehabilitate the ancient Peshawar city,” he added.

Dr Samad said that there were only five archaeological sites which were protected under the Antiquities Act, 1997 in and around the walled -city of Peshawar. The rest of all historic buildings, he said, were either in legal ownership/custody of Auqaf, Evacuee Trust, local government or private land and not under archaeology directorate.

“We have already approached these departments to hand over all the buildings, which are 75 years or older but their existing laws do not permit them. In this regard, we have proposed a new Antiquities Act 2014 (currently under review with law department for the last seven months), which will bind these departments to consult archaeology directorate before going for any renovation or edition,” Dr said.

Regarding Dillip Kumar’s birth abode, the director said that Dillip Kumar house had been protected under Antiquities Act and Raj Kapoor house would be protected in near future.

About advocacy plan, he said that public awareness about heritage was the only tool to conserve and preserve the heritage of Pakistan. He added that the directorate had allocated a separate budget for organising different activities to promote and protect archaeological heritage.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2015

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