Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pakistan Monument Museum, Islamabad

Set on the top of the Shakar Parian Hills, the Pakistan Monument overlooks the heart of Islamabad in an awe inspiring fashion. The project started by Pervez Musharraf in 2004, aimed to provide the residents of Islamabad with a sight to pay homage to the rich history and to represent development and future progress. The monument completed in 2007 is a structure shaped in four petals, representing united people of Pakistan standing shoulder to shoulder, over the crescent and star, hence protecting the motherland and acting as guarantors of progress.
The place has been recently in the limelight as the Pakistan Monument Museum, which was essentially the part of the original plan, was opened only last month for the general public. With the museum of natural history and heritage already existing in Islamabad, this thematic museum is exclusive in the sense that it is all about pre-partition history, diverse traditions and the different contemporary issues being faced by the country.
Interestingly, when the museum was near completion it was found that displays and mannequins used in the museum were substandard, thus the project was handed over to a team of Lok Virsa headed by Kamran Javed, the new ED. The new team then completed the project in a very short period of time.
The thematic museum is divided into various sections (struggle, realization etc.) of pre-partition history, setup in a chronological order. The museum also hosts now few relics of Iqbal and Jinnah in the two separate rooms, which we believe have been brought on loan from the Wazir Mansion through Quaid-e-Azam Academy and Iqbal Manzil in Sialkot. There is also a library containing rare manuscripts and some popular books published on the subject.
The displays and statues are really fascinating and deserve commendation with the centrepiece being a magnificent buggy with the founder of the nation and Madr-e-Millat Fatima Jinnah. Life size displays of events are extremely fruitful in passing down lessons of history to the newer generation and the Ministry of Culture deserves all out praise for executing the project in the most beautiful manner.
The falsifications of history and myths hagiographed into our books and state narratives have always been a bone of contention. It was thus heart warming to see historical objectivity visible in the displays. Although the first section is titled “Arrival of the Muslims” much like how our history books starts at the year 712 A.D., the first display in the section is that of the Indus valley civilization and Gandhara art clearly expressing that we have a long, illustrious history much before the Arabs came to India. Even a buddha statue finds a place before the much revered heroes like Mohammad bin Qasim and Mahmood Ghaznavi. The War of Independence is described as having been fought by the “Indian people”, the Jinnah-Gandhi talks feature prominently in the displays, the much harkened-about August 11 speech of Jinnah is written at two places in the museum, Gandhi’s “Satyagraha” gets an honourable mention, a plaque commemorating the Indian National Congress calls Chandra Pal, Tilak, Lajpat Rai and Gokhale “great leaders” and Dadabhai Naoroji is called the “first legendary icon of Indians”. Even the wall-map of Pakistan shows Gilgit-Baltistan as a disputed territory along with Kashmir. Such brutally honest objectivity in historical narratives and feelings of pride for common heroes is extremely rare in a country where in the words of one of the greatest historians of Pakistan, K K Aziz, history has been murdered.
In the upper gallery, categories like sports, culture, women development, minorities, music, education, health, and of course the armed forces find space in form of pictorial boards and running video films on the LCDs. The major attractions to watch out in the upper gallery are the musical map and sufi map of Pakistan. It however appears that the floors were handled by different bureaucrats since the one handed out to work on the bottom floor – the historical one – did an awesome job, while the upper floor has it’s share of disappointments (why do the Combined Military Hospitals (CMH) get a separate board?, Is there any reason to include a list of major hospitals in Pakistan? Repeating the age-old sentences on various topics from Pak Studies books?).
Right beside the entrance of the museum there is an Audio/Visual section, which has desktop computers all connected to a local network hosting wide-ranging documentaries from ISPR, popular dramas, old music collection (including Roshan Ara Begum and Begum Akhtar), and rare photographs. There is a small film-screening hall, which has been showing the film ‘Jinnah’ and other films on requests.
Monuments, museums, institutes of artifacts and public exhibits in general are rare in Pakistan. The Pakistan Monument and the associated museum stand out as gems that need to be emulated across the country on various themes and provide the public venues of entertainment, leisure and learning as well. Keeping these gems of public property in their best shape is the public’s job too, but as it so happens there is little ownership of such things in the country. The authorities at this museum have instituted a worthy practice of asking visitors to wear shoe covers so as to keep the museum clean and in a pristine condition. Hopefully, it will remain in the best condition for coming generations to see.
Once again, kudos to everyone involved with the project for making the museum as spectacular as it was possible. For anyone visiting Islamabad, this is an addition to the must-visit list.

Source: by Husham Ahmed and yours truly. Photography by Saad Tiwana


  1. Awesum

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  2. Life size displays of events are extremely fruitful in passing down lessons of history to the newer generation and the Ministry of Culture deserves all out praise for executing the project in the most beautiful manner. memorial plaques