An inside view shows the splendour of the Mughal-era mosque. — Dawn
An inside view shows the splendour of the Mughal-era mosque. — Dawn

PESHAWAR: After years of back and forth between government departments and the district administration, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has finally decided to hand over the iconic Mughal-era Mahabat Khan Mosque to the department of archaeology to save it from imminent collapse.

Chief Minister Mahmood Khan endorsed the recommendations of a high-powered committee, headed by additional chief secretary and comprising senior officials from the home sports and tourism, Auqaf and archaeology departments and the district administration, to hand over the historic mosque to the archaeology department, documents reveal.

“After threadbare discussion, it transpired that the mosque faces peril on two counts, primarily; due to the 46 shops within the parameter wall which were not there originally and most of which have been extended also, posing direct threat to the mosque building, and secondly due to a 5/6 storey plaza directly adjacent/attached to the main hall with no breathing space for the mosque building,” a note moved to the chief minister by ACS Shahabad Ali Shah said.

Mahabat Khan Mosque will be handed over to archaeology dept to thwart its imminent collapse

“Any delayed action on part of government can lead to a mishap not only endangering human life hut also the invaluable heritage,” it noted.

Called the ‘jewel of Peshawar’, the grand mosque built in 1660 by Mughal Governor of Peshawar Nawab Mahabat Khan remained in the possession of Auqaf department, which had allowed the construction of shops around it.

The tenants of the shops encroached into the base of the 30,155 square feet mosque located on a high ground, weakening its very foundation.

To make matters worse, the local authorities allowed construction of a multi-storey commercial building adjacent to the 17th century mosque, completely blocking its drain and its Mehrab. The commercial building, which according to officials was allowed in violation of building bylaws, also blocked the view of the white-marble historic building.

“The mosque has been choked. It cannot breathe. It is just a matter of time before it collapses if immediate action is not taken to remove encroachments and restore the building to its original form,” a senior civil engineer, who had visited the mosque, told Dawn.

“The majestic building will go down along with the cosmetic restoration work that has been done. It urgently needs civil restoration more than cosmetic restoration,” he said.

The summary to the chief minister echoed the assessment of the civil engineer. “Loss of time, which is damaging the structure of the mosque unknowingly, can result in complete collapse of the building. If God forbids, the mosque collapses, it will create a very bad international image of Pakistan,” it noted.

The director of archaeology, Dr Abdul Samad, said the mosque had gone through man-made vandalism because of which some serious damage had been made but fortunately through timely intervention and the use of scientific techniques and original material, it was reversible.

“The mosque is going to undergo heavy conservation work. This is going to be to a joint and coordinated work to restore its original glory and save it for future generation,” Tourism Secretary Abid Majeed told this scribe.

But officials acknowledge that challenges remain. The vacation of 46 shops and other encroachments by Auqaf department and political pressure are among those challenges. The high-level committee in its recommendations, approved by the chief minister, directed the Auqaf department to get the shops vacated before handing the beautiful mosque to the department of archaeology for conservation and preservation.

The committee also directed the Peshawar deputy commissioner to find out the owner of the commercial plaza built adjacent to the mosque, examine whether proper NOCs and codal formalities had been fulfilled in grant of permission for construction and whether its construction was as per the building bylaws and take punitive action for any illegality in the process.

Auqaf Secretary Khayyam Ahsan Khan said that the process of cancellation of lease agreement with the shop owners had been initiated and would be completed in a week’s time. “After serving notices to them, the district administration would be asked to get the properties vacated,” he added.

He acknowledged that the commercial building had blocked the ventilation of the mosque and had been built in violation of the Antiquities Act. “But this was done by the local authorities and has nothing to do with our department,” he argued.

Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2021

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