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Loss of history at the hands of ‘elements’ feared

July 22, 2012

ISLAMABAD, July 22: 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 incharge 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.