The city administration has started to reconstruct the historic Kabuli Gate, which served as one of the main entrances to Peshawar in the days gone by.
Peshawar District Coordination Officer Siraj Ahmed Khan told The Express Tribune that the reconstruction of Kabuli Gate at the entrance of Qissa Khwani Bazaar was part of a plan on restoration of historic sites in the provincial metropolis.
Khan said about five other gates have been renovated or reconstructed in the recent past. “In due course of time, all the gates around the old city will be restored.” The gates were demolished some time before partition.
Imran Rasheed, author of three books on Peshawar’s history, including one on the old city wall, said the road to Kabul lay beyond this gate. Kabuli and Lahori Gates were regarded as the city’s main entrances at the time. “Old Peshawar was divided into three separate walled communities, Gunj, Dhaki Nalbandi and Sard Chah quarters. Under the Sikhs, the Italian mercenary governor of Peshawar, General Paolo Avitabile, popularly known as Abu Tabela, demolished the walls around these quarters and built a single wall around the old city.
Tribesmen used to carry out attacks on the walled city and the wall was built to withstand the assaults. The base of this wall was 10 to 12 feet thick, which narrowed towards the top, while its height was 20 feet.
Rasheed said the English rebuilt the wall in 1931 after it was partly destroyed a year earlier in a tribal attack on Peshawar. The old city had 16 gates beginning with Kabuli Gate. The gates were designed for caravans, but when trucks were introduced, they could not pass through and this was probably the reason Kabuli Gate was demolished, the writer said.
Following the 1930 massacre in Qissa Khwani Bazaar, when British troops opened fire on the Khudai Khidmatgar or Servants of God protesting against the arrest of their chief, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, nationalists tried to change its name to Khooni Gate. The English, too, failed in their attempt to christen it as Edwards Memorial Gate, after Peshawar’s second commissioner, Herbert Edwards.
Tariq Khattak, a prominent architect appreciated the reconstruction of the Kabuli Gate, but he said that restoration of heritage sites was a delicate job and all the actual elements of the original construction must be followed in minor detail.
Restoration of heritage includes an in-depth study of historical documents and pictures by technical experts. Nowadays, however, most of this work is being done by non-techies, he said. “If restored by non-professionals, the reconstruction will lack historical authenticity.”
Dr Adil Zareef, a founding member of the Sarhad Conservation Network was also of the view that restoration must be carried out by experts. The authorities must hire services of experts for such works and not renovate or restore historical monuments on the pattern of Shalimar Bagh, he said.
He said the municipal department was reconstructing historical features, which in the first place was not its domain, as it falls under the ambit of the culture and archaeology department.
“Residents from four out of eight districts have come to live in Peshawar due to militancy and this pressure is badly impacting the city’s infrastructure.” He said, “The present renovation is being carried out from a political standpoint, instead of a historical one and that is not a good thing.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2012.