Photo sourced from US Embassy of Pakistan via visualhunt.com
Additional reporting by Sheraz Akbar and Izhar Mehmood, from the University of Peshawar.
Every major city has an architectural and cultural treasure that both reminds its people of their heritage and provides an opportunity to guide the future. In Melbourne it’s the Royal Melbourne Exhibition Building, which held the Federation Convention in 1901 that gave birth to the Commonwealth of Australia. In the city of Peshawar, located in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province—close to the country’s border with Afghanistan—it is the Mahabat Khan mosque, built in the mid-17th century.
With its imposing minarets and elegant Mughal-era architecture, the Mahabat Khan—which means “awe-inspiring Khan”—stands in the bustling heart of Peshawar, a reminder of Pakistan’s ancient history. These days, its modern practical purposes include being a hub for prayer and social gatherings, as well as serving as a tourist attraction for those seeking to understand Pakistan’s culture and spirituality.
The Mahabat Khan mosque sits alongside the Wazir Khan and Badshahi mosques in Lahore, and the Shahi Mosque in Thatta, as one of Pakistan’s finest architectural achievements. On top of this, it is one of the country’s most frequently visited sites for locals and tourists alike, regularly appearing in “top ten must see” lists in Pakistan. However, like all major tourist attractions, sound preservation of the Mahabat Khan mosque is often challenged by the myriad financial, political and economic pressures of a growing Peshawar.
Due delays in much-needed maintenance work, the Mahabat Khan mosque has now fallen into disrepair. Peshawar’s sole remaining Mughal-era mosque was significantly damaged by the magnitude 7.5 Hindu Kush earthquake which rocked Pakistan in October 2015. Since then, provincial authorities have failed to successfully undertake repairs, despite enough funds being allegedly put aside for the project.
This problem spawns from bureaucratic intransigence . For while the majority of historical sites in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are owned, supervised and maintained by the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, any historical sites with a religious association are the responsibility of the Auqaf, Hajj, Religious & Minority Affairs department. According to this department, the provincial government allocated Rs50 million (approx. $650,000 AUD) for the mosque’s rehabilitation in the 2014-15 budget.
However, the provincial government then placed a moratorium on the restoration, due to their belief that the Auqaf department lacked the requisite technical knowhow to successfully preserve the site. Local media has also reported that labyrinthine bureaucratic processes have contributed further to the delays; while pollution and the harsh local climate have been said to have taken a toll on the structure.
Nevertheless, it looks like a more promising future finally beckons for the Mahabat Khan mosque, as the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums’ public relations officer, Nawaz-ud-din, said Rs 88 million ($1.1 million AUD) will be used to preserve the site.
“The Archaeology Department have submitted the survey report for the renovation of the mosque,” he said.
“Once it is approved, the work will start.
“It is a three year project and the Department will try is best to complete it within the time.”