Who Owns Pakistan?
By Sir Cam
do you think you're going?" challenged the
commando at the checkpoint on the road to Mangla
Dam in Mirpur. To the Mangla Fort, I replied, resisting
the temptation to ask him what the hell he was doing
blocking my way. He was heavily armed, and it seemed
pointless arguing. "The Mangla Qila has been
closed for two years and it is going to be closed
for at least another two years," he scoffed.
That was a shocker for my guidebooks indicated the
ancient fort was open to the public.
Never take no for an answer in Pakistan. There is
always a way out (well, almost). And I don't mean
bribing people with laddoos or Cadbury's chocolate.
"Actually," I offered in a sweet-as-mango
voice, "I'm visiting the Boating Club".
That did it! After checking my ID and confiscating
my car steering wheel lock (I did get it back on
the way out) because – would you believe --
it was considered a dangerous weapon with which
I might clobber someone, I was allowed to proceed
toward the dam. The army sports and boating club
chaps were huffing and puffing by the dam, going
through their early morning exercises, but this
wasn't why I had come all this way.
One can just about see Mangla Fort from near the
boating club but the turn toward it is closed. More
security people. No sweet talk here: "Turn
back" was the command. You'd think they had
the blasted crown jewels at the fort or even some
nuclear installation inside it. My hour and a half
trip up here from Rawalpindi had been foiled this
time. One has to go through the WAPDA office in
Mangla for special permission to visit the fort,
which, until fairly recently, was a public access
Supposed security reasons now bar the public from
one of Pakistan's heritage sites. However, I have
to add that the people at WAPDA were brilliant in
their assistance and I was eventually given a complete
tour of the old Ghakkar fort. Originally a mud fort,
it was the Sikhs in the middle of the 19th century
who gave the fort its current form.
"Where do you think you're going?" came
the interrogating voice. Until that stage I was
leisurely going about Shershah Suri's famous Rohtas
Fort near Jhelum. What is it with these Pakistani
commando types (he was in army uniform)? It was
near the Maan Singh Haveli inside the fort that
I got harassed. This is a tourist site, I fired,
and I'm going about my business as a tourist. So
buzz off! The soldier then ordered, "No photographs!"
A tourist site where one can't take pictures! I
thought Pakistan was trying to promote tourism and
especially world class historic places such as the
16th century Rohtas Fort.
General Maan Singh, a governor of Lahore during
Mughal Emperor Akbar's time, would have been offended
to have idiots harassing travelers and guests near
his haveli or mansion. One would have been offered
a certain degree of hospitality. Not now. What,
I argued with the soldier is the point of people
coming all this way, to especially visit this place
if they can't take photographs? He mellowed and
offered a way out: "Well, no professional photographs."
Whatever "professional" is supposed to
mean! I was a mere tourist and I was off on my way
The Department of Archaeology and Museums has carried
out some excellent improvements at Rohtas. These
include new signs and paths leading to the various
parts of the massive fort.
"Where do you think you're going?" shouted
the soldier as I approached the entrance of what
was signposted as "Begum ki serai" on
the eastern bank of River Indus, near Attock Fort.
Oh hell, here we go again, I thought. I was actually
looking for Shershah Suri's caravan serai, I explained.
"You can't come in here, this is an army training
site now," I was informed. But I thought this
place was open to the public. It is an historic
site, for goodness sake. And it had taken me two
hours to get here. Yes, I had seen the big army
notice saying "YALDRAM" but didn't know
what it meant. And before one even gets here one
has to get past the checkpoint on the side road
leading up here from the GT Road. Oh, they make
it so difficult to visit these historic places.
After talking to the superior at the site, I was
allowed to look around the caravanserai on the condition
that I wouldn't add any "mirch masala"
when I wrote up the piece. Now, who would want to
do anything like that, spice up a column with naughty
bits about soldiers training in the ruins of an
ancient place? No, sir, not me! Believe me, I wasn't
doing a Carry On comedy entitled "Up the Begum's
Serai" or anything like that!
According to my guide books, this large courtyard
surrounded by numerous rooms on its sides and a
building in the middle, fitted the description of
Shershah Suri's 16th century caravanserai, but the
notice at the site attributed it to Emperor Jahangir's
period. Funnily, the sign reads "1605-1627
AM" as if giving a time rather than a date,
1605-1627 AD. The "Begum" is said to be
either Emperor Akbar's or Jehangir's wife.
"Where do you think you're going?" questioned
the plain-clothed, shalwar kameez clad man when
I got near Sujan Singh's Haveli in the old quarter
of Rawalpindi. Is there no hassle-free way to visit
historic sites in Pakistan? Rai Bahadur Sardar Sujan
Singh would have been appalled by the behaviour
of the so-called custodians of his 19th century
mansion, described as "one of the richest and
tallest houses in the city" in the pre-Partition
era. The building, in terrible, shameful disrepair
since Partition, is now in the hands of some intelligence
section of the police. And they don't like tourists
or budding historians near the place.
There are two historic sites I didn't even attempt
to visit for fear of being locked up. Emperor Akbar's
Attock Fort, up by the River Indus, on the way to
Peshawar from Islamabad, is out of bounds as it
is under the control of the army. The Sikh Bala
Hissar Fort in Peshawar is also under the military
control. One can, however, view both from a distance.
There are excellent views of Attock Fort as one
crosses River Indus on the way to Peshawar and turns
left on to the road along the river leading to Nizampur.
It is not just while visiting historic sites, and
confronting the security/military personnel there,
that makes one wonder "Who owns Pakistan?"
but everywhere one goes one sees constant reminders.