Time to rename Abbottabad

Published: September 22, 2011
The writer is a former chief economist of the Planning Commission and is based in Lahore

The writer is a former chief economist of the Planning Commission and is based in Lahore pervez.tahir@tribune.com.pk

Since independence, a large number of cities have undergone name change for all sorts of reasons. Not many among today’s younger generation would even know that Sahiwal used to be called Montgomery, Attock was Campbellpur and that Faisalabad used to be known as Lyallpur. So, for some odd reason, the name Abbotabad has survived. The name in our hall of national shame, is second only to the erstwhile Dacca. Now Dacca has had a spelling change in which we had no hand, but Abbottabad, for all its infamy, continues to be a thorn in the eye. Most changes occurred in pursuit of our national pastime of changing things in name, not substance. Cities have been renamed either to do away with the colonial past, or to Islamise them. Abbottabad — colonial, as well as un-Islamic — had, perhaps, to wait for the unguarded moments of the guardians of our ideology and territory.

Abbottabad was named after Major James Abbott, the son of a merchant from Calcutta who in his youth, joined the Bengal Artillery, but eventually moved to what Abbottabadis now wish to call ‘Suba Hazara’, in the middle of the nineteenth century. (There is a Bengali connection here too!). In its collection, the National Portrait Gallery in London has a watercolour portrait of his donning the dress of an Indian feudal lord. He played a small part in the Great Game of those days, but the great work he did for the Company Raj was to ‘advise’ Sikhs into submission and the pacification of the Frontier region. Major Abbott became the first deputy commissioner of Hazara in 1849, a stint lasting for about four years. Before becoming deputy commissioner, he was an assistant to the Sikh administrator sent from Lahore after the Dogra ruler of Kashmir traded unruly Hazara for a pliable Jammu. Major Abbott established law and order and the revenue system. After the Second Sikh War of 1848-49, the East India Company annexed Punjab. It was then that Abbott was formally appointed deputy commissioner. He shifted his headquarter, military as well as civil, from Haripur to what is now Abbottabad in 1853. The site was selected for its pleasing environment.

The environment, according to the website of the district government, is predominantly mountainous and rugged, the mean maximum and minimum temperatures are 23 degrees Celsius and 11 degrees Celsius and active monsoons keep humidity high. Small wonder, the website masthead announces Abbottabad as ‘Heaven on Earth’. One has visited another city, Hangzhou in China, which also proudly declares itself to be ‘Heaven on Earth’. This jewel is a city of gardens, full of Buddhist temples from the 13th century, and offers visitors to taste Dragon Well (Longjing) tea. One knew Hangzhou had its competition within China, the city of Suzhou, whose exquisite private gardens, date back to the sixth century BC. But one had no idea that there was a ‘Heaven on Earth’ in our own backyard. Major Abbott also wrote a poem when he was leaving Abbottabad for good. “I remember the day when I first came here/And smelt the sweet Abbottabad air/The trees and ground covered with snow/Gave us indeed a brilliant show/To me the place seemed like a dream/And far ran a lonesome stream…. Oh Abbottabad we are leaving you now/To your natural beauty do I bow.”

Writing in a British newspaper, a critic described it as “one of the worst poems ever written”. The heli-borne drama to get Osama bin Laden for Obama was also one of the worst tragedies ever staged. And surely, a name-change is, in order.

The question is: what should we call Abbottabad now? Hazarewals are the ultimate judge. My suggestion is ‘Asgharabad’. It is time we honour an officer and a gentleman of our own — Air Marshall (retd) Mohammad Asghar Khan — who, even in the dirty world of politics, performed the rare feat of being completely incorruptible.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd,  2011.

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Reader Comments (51)

  • Sameer
    Sep 22, 2011 - 9:44PM

    HA HAYEE why not Osamaabad or Ladenabad hahahahaha


  • Shahid
    Sep 22, 2011 - 9:46PM

    Attock was Attock as far back as early 1800s (map from 1830s). Renaming that was natural. Lyllapur renaming doesn’t making any sense other than bowing down to Arab lords.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Sep 22, 2011 - 9:54PM

    As a Hazarewal i will suggest a name Turkabad the reason most of its peoples are turk
    background. and Haripur should be ayubabad on name of late field marshal ayub khan.


  • Ashok
    Sep 22, 2011 - 10:13PM

    “The heli-borne drama to get Osama bin Laden for Obama was also one of the worst tragedies ever staged”

    Really? How so?

    Also, who was the master planner of the city? I think credit should go to where it is due.


  • N
    Sep 22, 2011 - 10:16PM

    Pick one of our most recent and real “herores”:
    – * Bin Ladenabad
    – * Mullah Omarpur
    – * Zawahariabad


  • John B
    Sep 22, 2011 - 10:32PM

    May be name change for Pakistan too? This name is also getting a bad rap of late.


  • White Russian
    Sep 22, 2011 - 10:56PM

    Oh please Dr Sahib, poor Major Abbott had nothing to do with OBL part, and citizenry of the town had nothing to do with the notoriety brought by OBL presence. You were graceful enough by leaving the new name to Hazarewals. I can only regret that you opened this Pandora Box, not least because Islamist camp is just waiting for an excuse to rename it osamaabad.


  • Abhi
    Sep 22, 2011 - 11:03PM

    I think Osamabad will be good.


  • adam
    Sep 22, 2011 - 11:10PM

    You can’t get rid of the Osama tag by just changing the name. Change the situation.


  • jun
    Sep 22, 2011 - 11:46PM

    useless debate of names of cities and provinces .


  • khan
    Sep 22, 2011 - 11:57PM

    Why do we constantly wish to re-write history. Are going to pretend the British didn’t rule us for all those years? How silly. We should care more the real needs of the country and concentrate on the future rather than worry ourselves over such trifle matters.

    By the way the only name I want changed is Ghaddafi Stadium. But I suppose no one wants to bell this particular cat as this murdering nutcase happens to be a brother Muslim and not some gorah called Abbott who actually founded the town named after him.


  • AA
    Sep 23, 2011 - 12:03AM

    A dumb suggestion, to say the least. Most name changes in Pakistan have been senseless. If you go on a name-changing spree then why stop at Abbottabad? Why not also change the names of Mansehra and Haripur, which were named after Maan Singh and Hari Singh, respectively. What about Jacobabad? You can go on and on.

    And by the way, James Abbott was remembered kindly by the locals who fondly called him Abbott Kakaa, meaning Abbott uncle.


  • Bangash
    Sep 23, 2011 - 12:51AM

    Change its name to Khalifaabad, it will be popular with now radicalized masses.


  • Jameel
    Sep 23, 2011 - 12:52AM

    The question is: what should we call
    Abbottabad now?



  • ArifQ
    Sep 23, 2011 - 12:59AM

    Seriously, is this how we wash our sins? Change your name and the problem goes away! Probably the worst idea of 2011.


  • Max
    Sep 23, 2011 - 1:26AM

    I am amazed by your suggestion. You must be bored to death when you wrote this essay. The name should be changed because of one incident? Oh God! Please relax, we are very impulsive people and get carried away by emotional swings.
    Sir! You are an economist and a doctorate-holder from a very prestigious university. The stock market is down today all over the world. Any suggestion to change the name of Wall Street? It started from Greece which is called the “cradle of democracy.” Do you think we should change its name to Sink-Abad.
    Any suggestion for changing the name of Qaddafi Stadium?


  • MjdKhan
    Sep 23, 2011 - 3:50AM

    Why are we so offended by a part of our history? It is a child’s mind that has to change everything. I personally think that Abbottabad is Abbottabad. We are not the Soviets, changing the name of every city simply because we need to prove to the world that we are in control.


  • A Warning Giver
    Sep 23, 2011 - 7:41AM

    People of Abbottabad love their Abbottabad.
    In past, whenever an attempt was made to change its name then majority of educated and sensible Hazaraywals opposed it.


  • CB Guy
    Sep 23, 2011 - 7:54AM

    I hail form Abbottabad and there is no need to change the name. Hazara is an area of open minded people and the reason they named it after Major Abbot was his kind nature. I would like to tell you that Hazara is named after Hazara tribe (which barely had a brief history here), Haripur names after Hari Singh and Mansehra named after Man Singh. If you want to change a damn name, Bring Sarhad back instead of this sorry excuse of a name KPK.


  • Amjad
    Sep 23, 2011 - 9:00AM

    @Ali Tanoli: Most Hazarawals will argue that they are ethnically Pashtun and not Turkic- certainly there is no trace of Turkish in any local spoken language and even though many of the locals no longer converse in Pashtu but Hindko, most families still know of their ancestral Pashtun clans. As for renaming Abbottabad, I agree that the local people should focus on choosing a suitable new name but that has nothing to do with the infringement on Pakistan’s sovereignty to kill the criminal OBL.


  • Gurria Rani
    Sep 23, 2011 - 9:03AM

    Sir the very first thing is that although we have yearned to have a Province of our own but as you know that ATD is an educated area…….! a center of best education provided in Pakistan…..! no one from ATD will endorse to change its name……..! And we don’t feel the need to have it changed………! and if it is changed then y should it be Asgharabad it should be then Ayub Pur Or Ayub Abad coz Field Marshal Ayub Khan ( the most visionary ruler of Pakistan, IN whose Era Pakistan flourished a lot)……! then it must be Ayub Abad to honour ATD born Ayub Khan……..!


  • Zia
    Sep 23, 2011 - 9:26AM

    Why rename an existing city? Build a new city and give it a new name. We do need new cities for our growing population. The existing cities are unable to keep up with the increasing population shift from rural to urban areas.


  • Commentator
    Sep 23, 2011 - 9:28AM

    James Abbott had a very warm and sincere relationship with the locals of the area. Pakistanis will always honor the name Abottabad and it is very well suited and will always be a warm and affectionate rememberance of Major Abott.


  • Maryam
    Sep 23, 2011 - 9:50AM

    plz stop this name game….
    first u guys changed the name of the provice
    n now u r talkig abt the name change of abbottabad.

    i m from abbottabad and we like the name , it is our identity . so plz spare us!Recommend

  • Word Life
    Sep 23, 2011 - 10:19AM

    Maybe rename Jacobabad to Yaqubabad ?

    Rename Haripur (named after General Hari Singh) ?Recommend

  • Was A Pakistani
    Sep 23, 2011 - 10:30AM

    why change it? It is a good name let it be.


  • Sep 23, 2011 - 11:44AM

    start it from Karachi. it was also build by colonial masters to control sea trade. it was britshers who abandoned two historic ports of Thatta and Lhori Bandar( Lhori dahro as mentioned by tareeh tahiri 1621, miratul mumalik 1565 and Hobson Jobson dictionary) just to close River Channel trade. peshawar old name was PURSH-PUR, rename wah as gandhara. it is unending thing sir ji, yet we South asians are habitual in moving circles. in India they too changed many names. but what is the result at ground. people always call Jinnah garden of Lhore as Lawrence, Leel Pur instead of faisalbad. issue is to change ur mentality, by changing names of cities u cannot change mentality it is vise versa


  • Khurram Akhtar
    Sep 23, 2011 - 12:31PM

    Renaming of “Rawalpindi General Hospital”, “Murree Road” and “Islamabad International Airport” hold no significance if these names were not followed by a sincere effort to improve these structures .
    People have named monuments and endeavored to match the grandiosity of the architectural design to signify the love and affection they held in their hearts for their loved ones.
    Its important that we get out of this re-entrant circuit of renaming places. The name of “Abbottabad” is a historical name and by changing its name shall not delete the history of British India. Nor shall we gain anything more out of it.
    Instead lets concentrate on a more positive activity of making another city close to Abbottabad and naming it on the people of Pakistan who have contributed to society or have sacrificed themselves to improve the life of other fellow beings. Recommend

  • Lobster
    Sep 23, 2011 - 1:00PM

    No wonder Pakistan is in such a sorry state, if the members of planning commission can not think beyond such non-issues.


  • Shahrukh Omar
    Sep 23, 2011 - 1:11PM

    Benazirabad if the current government can has it their way …
    On a serious note, let it be. There are far more important issues that need our attention these days.Recommend

  • Chaui Sb
    Sep 23, 2011 - 3:42PM

    no need to comment after your comment…!
    i think you have highlighted a very good point!


  • Kafka
    Sep 23, 2011 - 4:10PM

    Why change the name of Abbottabad?? Because James Abbott was a colonial ruler and not native? But nobody is native in Abbottabad, all are settlers, wave after wave. Let the name stay and change the ways.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Sep 23, 2011 - 5:19PM

    I will Hari pur will be Ali pur and Abbotabad will Usmanabad.


  • Sep 23, 2011 - 5:39PM

    jamat islami inspired changed the names of krishan nagar and sant nagar by islam pura and sunat nagar yet no one called them by new names. haripur is as good as maan sehra yet secular ANP is ready to change their names. its all biased politics inflicted by ideologies


  • brightstar
    Sep 23, 2011 - 6:29PM

    Surely, we have far more pressing issues to deal with than this don’t you think? We need to get our priorities right maybe?!


  • ahmed saeed
    Sep 23, 2011 - 7:43PM

    Why don’t we name it Alqaida Abad Town


  • rk singhia
    Sep 23, 2011 - 9:18PM

    @Ali Tanoli
    Should it be named after you? Alipur. Do you even know the history and ever read about Hari singh, the great general. Recommend

  • Sep 23, 2011 - 9:43PM

    Dear Dr. Pervaiz Tahir , Kindly think alot before you choose a topic instead of thinking alot upon that topic. The people of Hazara are already in desperation with the topic of KPK assignment and you are trying to raise another issue. Why didn’t you think that abbottabad is serving this country through alot of means and already famous for its spaciousness, so please be careful about your respect among the people of that area. And the people of abbottabad are much more capable of taking their own decisions.


  • Sep 23, 2011 - 10:39PM

    @John B:
    You must be ashamed of saying so… And I hope You ll be.


  • Ram Bharose Singh
    Sep 23, 2011 - 10:46PM

    How about Rampur? We know for a fact that Bhagwan Ram passed thru Abbottabad; It is mentioned in RAMAYAN (of course they don’t call it Abbottabad in Ramayan)Recommend

  • samavia
    Sep 24, 2011 - 12:24AM

    hey u don’t u dare 2 say it again existing name is best. hw wud u feel if sum change uo name


  • samavia
    Sep 24, 2011 - 12:44AM

    @A Warning Giver:
    i agree wid u
    y don’t they understand v luv our town as it is..


  • Arindom
    Sep 24, 2011 - 1:05AM

    No wonder such a silly idea comes from a guy who was in Planning Commission!! No wonder the current state of Pakistan today!!


  • Naeem Qureshi
    Sep 24, 2011 - 10:54AM

    Are these the problems which we are facing?
    Sovereignity of the country is at stake. Dengue and floods are killing thousands. Big powers are a threat to our survival with their direct ultimatums. Food is short, Gas is off, electricity is a problem. poverty is making the youngsters the criminals. What a “baihisi”!!!!!! I have studied in 1958 in a residential school of Abbottabad for a log time. I love it and wish to die therein while I am in Lahore. Would change of name bring back whatever has been lost? One of my friends, above, has rightly said “when to change the name of “Pakistan”?
    Need is to change our attitude, habit, and above all “kartoots”.
    Beg pardon if hard.Recommend

  • Sep 24, 2011 - 12:20PM

    Abbotabad is the beauty and proof of Pukhtoonkhwa’s diversity, let’s play the trick because we neglected our own brothers in the south and now they want to have their own province, so we also want to divide Pukhtoonkhwa? Come one, that is our province too, and Hazarawaals are Pashtoons too, it doesn’t matter if they speak another language, their roots are Pashtoon and half the population of it is Pashtoo speakers as well. Pukhtoonkhwa has kept and nurtured Hazara as a flower, unlike us turning the south into a neglected pit..Recommend

  • Sep 24, 2011 - 12:22PM

    does this article make any sense? I won’t go into all the names mentioned above, which i would have mentioned but then you will probably have to rename your country as well, probably to Talibanabad? or Arabadab? ha?
    Abbotabad is the beauty and proof of Pukhtoonkhwa’s diversity, let’s not play the trick because we neglected our own brothers in the south and now they want to have their own province, so we also want to divide Pukhtoonkhwa? Come one, that is our province too, and Hazarawaals are Pashtoons too, it doesn’t matter if they speak another language, their roots are Pashtoon and half the population of it is Pashtoo speakers as well. Pukhtoonkhwa has kept and nurtured Hazara as a flower, unlike us turning the south into a neglected pit.


  • hassan khan
    Sep 24, 2011 - 1:22PM

    i think we should reassess our mentality problems istead of renaming cities named after good and honest persons..i dont find any good and honest persons in pakistan that these cities should be named after them….General ayub was an american tout so there is no need of changing the name of haripur…and abbotabad should remain abottabad though now many terrorists are seeking refuge in this city.Recommend

  • islooboy
    Sep 24, 2011 - 1:38PM

    @Saad A:
    sorry to blow your bubble but all my friends from abbotabad dont call nwfp pakhtunkhwa you can ask tanoli sahab


  • Ali Tanoli
    Sep 24, 2011 - 5:38PM

    Hazara is and will stay part of pukhtunkhawa but matters and problems of this land need to
    adress and leader like khan abdul qayoom khan who allways won the seat from Hazara he
    was a good man but he also did not do enough for this area peoples i have a sorry feeling
    for him Hazra. need share in the jobs which are most occupied by Khatak and Arbabs that
    jobs and also decission right in the matters of area should be given to the Hazara peoples
    compuses of peshawer university and Ghulam ishaq khan institute of tech need to be build
    in Hari pur or abbotabad so we dont have face a discrimination any more.


  • Sep 25, 2011 - 3:56PM

    just read his reply to you. i think it answers. Recommend

  • ABC
    Sep 26, 2011 - 8:17PM

    ABBOTTABAD is best name for a Heaven on Earth. We do not need to change its name. What you made after changing the romantic name of SARHAD? Off course nothing, but just provided a reason for discrimination, which led to the death of 12 innocent young of Abbottabad.
    We love our city and our PAKISTAN, we have to develop our country and are doing so. Now stop to talk on this issue.Recommend

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