Shahi Masjid Chitral

Restoration or destruction of the heritage site of Chitral?

By Siraj Ulmulk

 CHITRAL, Nov 23: There is a very sad story about what happened last week to Chitral’s most famous mosque, the Shahi Masjid, built by my grandfather in 1922 (the work had started in 1910).

Every brick was transported from India when no roads were motor-able in Chitral. They were delicately placed, by experienced artisans of India to create this structure which has become the icon of Chitral. However, last month, the government of KP hurriedly allotted a sum of Rs40 million to “restore” a portion of the mosque above which stands an intrinsically carved dome. The services of reknown architect Yasmin Lari from Karachi was engaged to ensure that the greatest care is taken in the restoration work so that the originality of the structure is retained.

The authorities held a meeting with Ms Lari in Peshawar on 3rd Oct 2012 and consequently an email was sent to her on 29th Oct giving her the existing plan and detailed drawings. In Chitral, a committee was formed of members of our family and prominent citizens to give local support. The Xen and SDO of the Works Department were ordered to overlook the work and ensure quality. Maybe everyone knew that the KPK Antiquities Act protects all buildings in the province which are more than 75 years old. Infact no work can be undertaken on any such buildings without the specific clearance from the Ministry of Archeology. So far so good.

But what actually happened was this: On 18 Nov 2012 a Pathan labourer, Shah Naseem was hired by contractor Mohammad Khan to drill four holes (each two and a half feet deep) and fill them up with dynamite. He was paid at the rate of Rs 200 per foot. This day was chosen because it was a Sunday when all offices etc are shut. Shah Naseem along with his partner Nisar Ali lit the fuses of the explosives and then ran for their lives in the face of the towering minaret of the mosque under which the dynamites were planted.

Zaheer Khan who lives next to the mosque and his friends Anwar Ali Shah and Lalzaman Khan heard four successive explosions around the mosque.When the dust raised by the explosions settled down they, along with other people who had started gathering, saw that a huge hole had been torn into the brick wall supporting the historic and intrinsically carved dome. The aged dome miraculously looked unshaken. The people were then surprised to see the same labourers attaching a steel rope to the portion of the building which had withstood the explosions. The steel rope was attached to a chain pulley and secured to a huge chinar tree to pull down the walls which had withstood the blast of the four explosions. The old wall, solidly built a century ago, once again resisted the force against it and the steel pulley broke. 

Is this, how Yasmin Lari wanted the work done? When I went to the scene of this incident three days had past. The XEN, the SDO and the contractor were all at the site. Both the XEN and the SDO admitted point blank that no one had consulted them at any time regarding the use of explosives to ” restore” the iconic Shahi Masjid of Chitral. I then went to members of the committee selected by the DCO Chitral to oversee this work vide his office order 4170/ DCO dated 15 Oct 2012 ” after fulfillment of all codal formalities”. Just like the XEN and SDO the committee members I spoke to outrightly, and with tears in their eyes, said they had no knowledge of explosives being used to bring down any portion of the mosque.

They did not even know that any restoration work had started. In jobs like this , where govt funds are involved, the age old PC-1 is made out followed by a work order. No such things were done before this fuse was lighted on a Sunday. The contractor Mohammad Khan had no other answer except that “the DCO was in the knowledge of it”. People from all over this 14,800 sq km district are coming in daily to see this ugly site for themselves.

There is visible shock, visible revulsion and visible annoyance on their faces. Architect Yasmin Lari needs to tell us about any part she, and her team mates Ejaz Khan and Amin Tariq may or may not have played in this sordid drama. The only regret that the contractors man Shah Naseem has is that ” had the contractor paid me my normal fee of Rs350 I can assure you that I had got this dome and minaret and everything else down like a pile of sand.

Politicians are looking for issues while they tread closer to election time. If this incident is not made to look uglier than it is then we need a response from responsible people in the KPK government, or the High Court of Peshawar, to immediately form a committee to inquire into the circumstances which lead to this tragedy, apportion blame and punish the culprits.

11 Replies to “Restoration or destruction of the heritage site of Chitral?”

  1. I contacted Ms Lari in Karachi over the issue but it seems certain elements in Chitral thought to use her good name as a cover, not as consultant, as is clear from what she has to say.
    Now we need to contact the DCO Chitral to get his input on what actions he has taken upon learning on what happened. Any volunteer? If none, then could any one please post here the Office phone Number of the DCO Chitral and his email for contact.
    Ms Lari’s email
    “Dear Mr Tariq
    Many thanks for your calls and your email.
    I will be happy to provide the requisite information. At the moment we are trying to find out what actually did happen at the site.
    My guidance and other work is honorary for both heritage work as well as humanitarian aid for flood affectees and there is no question of any fees for my services.
    ……..the use of dynamite to destroy part of the historic Shahi Mosque, Chitral. I would like to clarify that, in spite of its highly degraded condition; I have recommended measures to save the historic structure. Therefore, there is no question of myself supporting an activity which would destroy any part of a heritage asset.
    In view of the opinion of some to demolish the historic mosque, in early October, I was asked by the office of the Chief Secretary, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to evaluate the condition of the mosque and whether it could be saved. Accordingly, in the first week of October 2012, while I was on a visit to Peshawar, undertaken at my own expense, Secretary C&W arranged for a presentation of images of the existing condition of the historic structure. In view of the historicity of the Shahi Mosque, I emphatically stated that all possible efforts must be made to save it from further degradation and I agreed to provide guidance and advice on an honorary basis for this purpose. I also stipulated that drawings of the building must be prepared expeditiously in order that a strategy for its preservation could be worked out.
    After receiving preliminary drawings of the mosque, at Heritage Foundation we developed a strategy of providing first aid and temporary supports for the time being, until comprehensive studies and information could be developed for a full-scale conservation effort. Accordingly, on 22nd November 2012, Heritage Foundation issued a report outlining the steps that must be taken immediately.
    It has therefore come as a rude shock to learn of the willful destruction of a portion of the historic mosque. This is a wholly contemptible and shameful act, especially as this unique and significant historic structure can and must be restored.
    I strongly urge the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to take appropriate action against those who are responsible for the destruction of Chitral’s Shahi Mosque.”
    Ar. Yasmeen Lari, SI
    Chief Executive, Heritage Foundation of Pakistan
    E-6, 4th Gizri Street DHA 4
    Karachi – 75500
    – –
    Yasmeen Lari, Sitara-i-Imtiaz
    Chair and CE, Heritage Foundation of Pakistan
    Board Member, Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA)
    Trustee, Transparency International-Pakistan
    Trustee, Endowment Fund Trust for Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh
    UN Recognition Award 2002 for promotion of culture and peace.

  2. I am really sad to know about this senselessness, incompetency and destruction caused to a great historic monument. Now we can only hope that the culprits will be treated according to law.
    Dear all, I have a simple question which kills me due to no solid answer in hand. Before you know what my question is, please go through the following list;
    1. Restoration of the gardens of Humayun’s Tomb [1] in Delhi, India
    2. Conservation of Forts in Hunza and Baltistan,[2] Pakistan
    3. Restoration and conservation of old neighbourhoods of Kabul, Afghanistan
    4. Restoration of the Great Mosque of Mopti, Mali
    4. Conservation of the sixteenth century Bagh-eBabur (Babur’s Gardens) in Kabul, Afghanistan.
    5. Repair and conservation of the late 18th century mausoleum of Timur Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan.
    6. Conservation of structures and upgrading of infrastructure in the old city of Herat, Afghanistan.
    7. Repairs to the shrine complex of Khoja Abdullah Ansari, dating from the Timurid period in Gozargah, Afghanistan
    8.Restoration of structures and conservation planning in Old Stone Town,[3] Zanzibar
    These are a few examples successfully repaid or restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) across the globe.
    Question: what on earth would have happened if AKTC was consulted at least if the project cannot be carried out by it for any reason???

  3. Instead of declaring others as non-Muslim, it would be better for the clerics if they could get the blown up part of the historic mosque repaired. It is giving a very ugly look.

  4. Sitting at the farthest point from Shahi Masjid [Karachi] it looks like a chance to make a killing of 6 million @ of even a meagre 15% on 40 million deal was squandered. All this was lost for saving paltry 600.00, or was it for more? Was it worth it?
    Read ” had the contractor paid me my normal fee of Rs350 I can assure you that I had got this dome and minaret and every thing else down like a pile of sand” and what was the rate offered “Shah Naseem was hired by contractor Mohammad Khan to drill four holes (each two and a half feet deep) and fill them up with dynamite. He was paid at the rate of Rs 200 per foot.”
    Funny how the greed of contractor saved the ” Shahi Masjid “. Had he paid to Shah Naseem what he asked for, there would have been no stories.
    Now who is this XEN and SDO ? Names please, if possible the contact address [office + phone + email] for both of these so at least I could ask them for some information. No secrets just the routine info which is available under PPRA sindh, PPRA Punjab [is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa exempt from PPRA ? as I could not find any thing on line may be I am making some silly mistake. Help please!] like the tender date, value, who was the winning party.
    Did any one asked Ms Yasmin Lari ? Is it confirmed that she is the consultant ?
    If no one asked then I will give her office a call and report here.
    Will it be possible to post the copy of office order [ if it is not a secret document ]appointing committee 4170/ DCO dated 15 Oct 2012 ” after fulfillment of all codal formalities”. Who are the members of committee selected by DCO Chitral, names please!
    For a change let us start making available the information about projects in public domain. Let the people have full knowledge of what is being done and by whom. After all this 40million is Public money.
    No need to quibble about what Siraj Ulmulk, mullah and others failed to do. Fact is Shahi Masjid belongs to people and it is peoples money being spent so we have a right to know what is being done.
    One project at a time,let us start with this and then move on to others. Please if you can contribute information/facts which can help others [mostly out of Chitral] to follow this, do by all means. What we need is facts not opinions [ every one can form their own ] only then we can see the change.
    I know it is difficult but please forego the temptation to respond to opinions. While I respect yours and probably agree with it but not here as this will distract the attention from the main issue, which is in-competence and mis-use of public money.

  5. The decision of giving the restoration work to a contractor (tikadaar) itself is horrible! We all know the quality of their work! Their work is terribly poor! Quality of work is not their concern. Their main objective is saving as much money as they can. Most of the money goes into their pocket and a very less amount is spent on the project.
    Handing a historical building to a contractor for restoration actually means destruction of the building. I was extremely sad to hear that they used explosives in that mosque which damaged the foundations of the mosque!
    This mosque is the icon of Chitral. All Chitrali elders, social workers, activists, journalists should raise voice against the destruction of Chitral’s most important asset. The work should immediately be stopped and further work on the mosque should be handed over to some expert organizations who master in this job. Work on historical sites needs special skills, and those skills are absent in ‘tikadaarz’. They will destroy it’s original shape and glory!

  6. @Mohammad Khan: This is what you have to decide now that who should be blamed for the dilapidated condition of the Shahi masjid. I think the cleric is more guilty because he did not raise the issue to for his vested interest. Why he did not draw the attention of Siraj Ulmulk, the late Mehtar, the new Mehtar Fateh Ulmulk Nasir and many other big Katurs as well resourceful people belonging to all communities. The government must not be blamed now as it has allocated a huge sum of money for the renovation of the building after evaluating its condition but even then the molvi in connivance with the contractor is busy in minting money through unfair means.

  7. The thing which I failed to understand is that on the one hand Siraj Ulmulk takes pride that the mosque was built by his grandfather while on the other he never bothered to even think about its maintainence. This is enough to make us realise that it was built by the people of Chitral. You completely demolished your grand bangalow in Islamabad and reconstruted it within no time. You built a grand hotel in Chitral costing millios of rupees. These things on which you spent a good sum of money belong to you in a real sense.

  8. Mr Ahmed, don’t try to point fingers at the religious leaders for every fault. Maintenance of the heritage, whether it is a mosque or any other building, is the duty of the government. What the department concerned is doing to preserve the old building? Do you thing the prayer leader of the mosque should take the responsibility of heritage maintenance?

  9. The dilapidated condition of the historic Shahi Mosque reflects the negligence of clerics as well as the royal family. The clerics could not convince the royal family to pay a little attention to the dying historic monument. Prince Siraj Ulmulk and his family have ample resources to maintain the mosque as well as the fort, but it seems they never did anything substantial in this regard.
    At the same time, the clerics of the mosque are equally responsible, as despite all their tall claims of being the caretakers of the worship place, they failed to maintain it in its original shape. Now when the provincial government has allocated Rs40 million for the renovation of the mosque, there is no guarantee that the money would be spent judiciously.
    The repair and maintenance of the mosque should not have become a big issue as self-respecting people often repair their places of worship on their own. But the Mullah has willfully ignored it in order to seek funds from the government and pocket some part of it. If this was not the intention of the mullah, he should not have waited for someone else to come and repair the mosque. Even he could have asked the local people to donate to renovate the building. Had this been his own house, the cleric would have never ignored it. It is a fact that in history mullahs never left such places unattended, but things have changed and now mullahism has become an industry where self-interest dominates.
    It is unfortunate that we can see people seeking alms for construction of mosques in all parts of the country. On the other hand, look at the construction of Jamatkhanas. Even in poor areas, Jamatkhanas are built on self-help basis by the local community. Have you ever seen the Ismailis coming on roads seeking chandas for construction of their Jamatkhana? There should be no compromise on maintenance of a mosque as it is a worship place. But unfortunately the mullahs have made it a source of livelihood which needs to be discouraged.

  10. Very disappointing. Action should be taken against all those responsible for this criminal act. Nations who disregard their heritage are destined to disintegrate and we should be extra-cautious to maintain our national assets.

  11. Shahi Masjid Chitral is a symbol of Chitral’s past glory and a prestigious heritage. Restoration work on such a heritage is a very delicate and a difficult art. The KPK government and our contractors should not think it like the Parwak road or Mastuj bridge. We all Chitralis are worried about this because it represents our past and should be taken care of with utmost care by professional people.

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