Peshawar: Despite being one of the centuries-old living monuments of Pakistan, the Bala Hisar Fort in Peshawar has yet to be declared a protected monument under the Khyber Pakthunkhwa Antiquities Act, 1997. It remains under use of the paramilitary force, Frontier Corps, as its headquarters.
The Section 20(1) of the Act says: “No person shall, except for carrying out the purposes of this Act, destroy, break, damage, alter, injure, deface or mutilate or scribble, write or engrave any inscription or sign on any antiquity or take manure from any protected antiquity.”
Abdul Samad, Director Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, told News Lens Pakistan that declaring the fort a national heritage under the Antiquities Act would bring it under the possession of the Directorate.
“But the [Frontier Corps], keeping in view the volatile law and order situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, cannot vacate this site,” said Samad adding that whenever the situation in the province turns peaceful the Directorate of Archeology would ask that it be handed over.
However, according to Samad, the provincial government has already allotted land and released funds for the construction of a new headquarters for Frontier Corps in the Hayatabad Town in Peshawar. Work on the new headquarters .
The Public Relations Officer of Frontier Corps, Wajid Yousafzai, said he did not have any knowledge the hurdles and delay in shifting of the headquarters to Hayatabad. Nor did he know of the procedures adopted to conserve the Bala Hisar Fort. “Inter-Service Public Relations can guide you better than me,” said Yousafzai.
An official of ISPR Col. Nadeem told News Lens, “Director General of ISPR Maj Gen Asim Bajwa is the only person, who can respond to your question but he is very busy right now.”
Samad considers the Bala Hisar Fort a significant archeological site. It is built at the highest point in Peshawar city. A Chinese tourist who visited Peshawar in 7th century wrote about this highest point. “I think that the highest point the Chinese visitor wrote about is none other than the Bala Hisar Fort,” he says.
When declared a protected monument under Section 21 of the Antiquities Act, says Samad, all repairs or renovation without the permission of the director of the Archeology Department would be restricted.
Dr. Adil Zareef, Convener Sarhad Conservation Network, talking to News Lens Pakistan, said that the fort has not remained safe from alterations under the Frontier Corps. For example, a mosque has been constructed in the fort. He says he is not against the construction of worship place inside the site but believes that alterations in the national monuments are against the international standards of conservation.
About the conservation of the historical fort, he says the military authorities have apparently maintained the fort but they do not involve people with expertise in conservation.
Samad agrees with him. “We have a separate section—Engineering Conservation Wing—to conserve a building having historic significance. This wing is comprised of archaeologists, civil engineers, architects, draftsman and other skilled workers,” he says, adding that the Frontier Corps does not consult any of these experts to conserve this site. “Most probably the conservation work of the forte is done by the Military Engineering Service”, he says.
Zareef says that being an historical site with antiquity value, the fort should immediately be opened to tourists – and the word tourist does not mean only foreigners.