Making Karachi

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photo1 | SGL | Rajani | May 31 2016

A citizen’s design for Jinnah’s Mausoleum | From: Shundana Yusuf

Partition irrevocably transformed Karachi. Of this there is no question. The first and better known transformation was through a violent “exchange” of populations, which turned it from a city of Sindhi Hindus and Sikhs to a city of Muslim refugees. The second change came more slowly as the new country decided on a future for its premier city. A vision of a modern Karachi coalesced around plans for spectacular monuments, ordered space, and industry. Development became essential to the state’s ambitions to modernize Karachi and bring it at par with other Western cities.

This dream of modernity remained ever elusive, but displacement became the key strategy for its realization. Slum clearance and dispossession of agricultural land were deemed necessary for the construction of national monuments and industrial zones. It was a swift and violent process, which tolerated little dissent or resistance. Working-class refugees and rural communities disproportionately bore the costs of these projects. They were evicted from their homes and excluded from the new city. The fantasy of development and the reality of displacement became the twin forces of change in Karachi.

This article investigates the story of development and displacement. It follows their institutionalization in the 1950s under the military dictatorship of Ayub Khan through a sequence of three interconnected stories: the building of Quaid’s Mausoleum, the displacement of working-class refugees from the city center to Korangi, and the dispossession of rural communities in Korangi to make way for industrialization. These little known historic events expose the dark side of development and make visible the lives of the politically marginal and economically vulnerable peoples that it continues to render expendable.

Shaping the nation

At its birth, on 14 August 1947, issues of what the state of Pakistan and the Pakistani citizen would look like were far from settled. The country was created as a homeland for Indian Muslims, but without a common language, a homogenous culture, or a singular history to unite them, its citizens were hardly a coherent nation. The popular desire for an end to British influence and for authentic self-government was foundering against the realities of a close to bankrupt country with no governmental infrastructure or party organization. These questions became all the more vexed when the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, died on September 11, 1948, just months after independence.

The struggle for the exact form of the Pakistani state played out most notably in the Constituent Assembly. However, Karachi, the new capital of the country, quickly became a battleground for the future of Pakistan, too. One of the most revealing sites for this struggle was the mausoleum of Jinnah, the father of the country.

On his death, Jinnah was buried in the heart of a refugee colony on the northeastern edges of Karachi. The colony was called Quaidabad, after Jinnah’s reverential title, Quaid-i Azam or Great Leader. A Quaid-e-Azam Memorial Fund (QMF) was established almost immediately to raise money for and oversee the construction of monuments to commemorate Jinnah.

In 1952, the QMF announced that it would build four monuments, including a mausoleum, a mosque, an Islamic center, and a university, across the country. However, the tomb remained makeshift: a small one-room structure with Jinnah’s grave in the center and some of his personal effects arranged in a display cabinet against a wall. There was an air of neglect that rankled many.

In 1952, Shehzad Akhtar, a second grader in the St. Joseph Convent High School wrote a letter to Jinnah’s sister, Fatima Jinnah. In an uncertain cursive, the seven-year old opined, “We are very much pained rather ashamed to see the Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah Gate at the I.T.E.C. site, which will be occupied by the Quaid-i-Azam’s memorials. The Gate should either be demolished or maintained in a manner befitting our beloved leader. What would the foreigners, who pass this way, think.”1

A citizen’s design for Jinnah’s Mausoleum. From: Shundana Yusuf

A citizen’s design for Jinnah’s Mausoleum. From: Shundana Yusuf

Many people sent similar letters to Fatima Jinnah. These people felt a deep emotional investment in the memory of Jinnah. They also showed a strong understanding of the symbolic value of any construction on the site. Abdul Qayyum, a resident of Quaidabad, who lived across from Jinnah’s tomb, wrote to her in 1949 about his wish to see a madrassa or mosque constructed on the site. In 1951, Pir Syed Asmat Ali Shah wrote to Fatima Jinnah of a dream he had had some three years ago of Jinnah asking his father and grandfather to instruct him to build a fateh khwani darbar “for the peace of my soul and for Pakistan and for the glory of Islam.” Many others sent in sketches and plans based on visions and dreams of the founder of the country. Muhammad Gulzar Khan from Bahawalpur advocated for a building along the lines of great Mughal architecture like the Taj Mahal. To drive the point home, he named his own design the Pak Mahal.

Muhammad Gulzar Khan’s Pak Mahal design. From Shundana Yusuf

Muhammad Gulzar Khan’s Pak Mahal design. From Shundana Yusuf

Shundana Yusaf, a scholar who has studied these letters, calls these proposals idealism from below. The radical utopianism that swept through Indian Muslims in the final years of the Pakistan movement, reasserted itself in these letters, which imagined a clean break with the colonial past and a future that centered the aspirations of the people. The unbuilt monument became a site where the future of the country could be forged. As the letters so powerfully reveal, these futures were multiple. Rather than harmonize these visions, the QMF’s work stalled precisely because of a lack of consensus on the shape of the monument.

Finally, in 1957, it was decided to appoint an international jury, which would select a winning design from an international competition. Six of the eight jurists were European modernist architects. It was no surprise then that the jury unanimously chose the modernist design of Raglan Squire & Partners, a British architectural firm. Mounted on an elevated platform, their monument reached out from six corners in an exuberant motion towards the sky. Its hard, pointed edges were set in sharp contrast to the gently rolling parabola. It was a style reminiscent of avant-garde neo-futurism, which was offset by a traditional Mughal garden.

Squire’s design was approved at a watershed moment in Pakistan’s history. In October 1958, Pakistan experienced its first military coup. Its two-year old constitution was abrogated and Ayub Khan, the commander in chief of the Pakistan Army, became the country’s second president. The state propaganda machine heralded the coup as a revolution, meant to sweep away a decade of deadlock and corruption. In exchange for cumbersome democracy, the people of Pakistan were promised a decisive dictatorship. Its image, at least at first, was that of an unbendingly modernist regime, whose task it was to bring a supposedly backward and ignorant people into the comity of nations. A traditionalist vision of Islam had no room in this regime.

Raglan Squire's design for Jinnah's Mausoleum

Raglan Squire’s design for Jinnah’s Mausoleum

Squire’s design became a favorite with the soldiers who now ruled Pakistan. It converged with the regime’s image as modernizers and was just the kind of internationally acclaimed style that would garner plaudits from the West, whose favor they were desperate to gain.

Public reception, however, was far from enthusiastic. The Squire model was displayed in Karachi in the very first months of martial rule. It provoked a flurry of angry letters to the editor. One letter in Dawn objected to the shape of a six-point star that emerged from a bird’s-eye view of the design. More importantly, the writer insisted that whatever the design’s technical accomplishments, “a monument which is to belong to and inspire a whole nation should be able to command the appreciation and admiration, not of just a few high-mosts of academic architects, but of the majority of the people of all classes.”2

He proposed that a committee of “national-spirited architects and laymen” jointly prepare several designs. These would receive comments from the public and then be finalized by multiple architects “motivated by a desire, not of wining in an architectural competition, but of giving proper shape to their nation’s dream of a great national monument to the memory of the leader who brought that nation into being.”

However, a collaborative, consensus-based approach such as this was precisely what the military regime was loath to adopt. Ayub’s revolution was to be swift and unfettered by the need to consult the public.

Opposition that the men in khakis had to heed came ultimately from an unexpected quarter. In 1958, Fatima Jinnah came out vigorously against the Raglan Squire design. She objected to the English architect, the international jury, and the western design, which, she argued, betrayed everything Jinnah stood for. Long a focal point for the public’s desire of a radically de-colonial future, Fatima Jinnah now stepped forward to challenge the Ayub regime. Her public stature and control of QMF money ensured victory.

Unsuspecting of this tussle in Pakistan, Raglan Squire flew to Karachi to meet with the country’s leaders. To his utter shock, he was asked to make his design “a little bit more Islamic” to satisfy Fatima Jinnah. When he demurred, they insisted, “But, Mr. Squire, surely you could put a little dome on top, or something like that.”3 In his autobiography, Squire describes the sleepless night he spent in Metropole Hotel in Karachi agonizing over the unexpected turn of events. He was asked to extend his stay to meet with Fatima Jinnah. But he flew out of Karachi without ever meeting her.

He recounts that when he met Iskander Mirza at a cocktail party in at the Pakistan High Commission in London some years later, Mirza took him aside and assured him how much he liked Squire’s design. “We would have built that thing of yours, Mr. Squire,” he recalls Mirza saying, “if that old bitch hadn’t been so difficult.”

With Squire out of the way, Fatima Jinnah took the reins of the design selection process. She commissioned the Bombay-based architect Yahya Merchant to design the mausoleum. Merchant’s design was a towering white marble cuboid structure completed by a dome. The mausoleum was perched on an elevated platform in turn positioned on a 61-acre gardened hill looking out onto the city. The official publicity material written by Professor Dani sums up the spirit of the monument in the following words: “[It] derives from old but is not a slavish imitation of the old tradition. Actually it partakes of the Muslim spirit of the past but it is created to meet the new demand of the present in the technique of the present day.”4

Ayub Khan laid the foundation stone on July 31, 1960. It took over a decade for the mausoleum to finally be completed. Pakistan’s second military dictator, General Yahya Khan, inaugurated it on January 18, 1971. The other three monuments planned in memory of Jinnah never materialized. Landscaping of the gardens surrounding the mausoleum had to wait another three decades for Pakistan’s fourth military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, who inaugurated the gardens on December 24, 2000.

The iconic Quaid-i Azam Mazar is now closely associated with the military. This is partly because of military dictators’ penchant for monumental projects but also because every year on national holidays the mausoleum is closed to the public for the army to conduct parades. The mausoleum is also guarded around the year by highly-visible armed paramilitary personnel.

However, these later martial accretions gloss over the mausoleum’s early history as a populist victory against the vision of Pakistan’s first military dictator. In its stead, Fatima Jinnah and the public managed to install a monument that felt authentic to a newly independent people and reflected their aspirations for a de-colonized future, which centered the desires of the people.

Yet, this is not the end of the story of Jinnah’s mausoleum. The public may have won the contest for the symbolic representation of the country but the broader struggle for control of the city, also fought through the making of the mausoleum, was won by the military regime. The mausoleum may have been rescued from the influence of western modernism but the relationship between the state and people would continue to be modeled on colonial patterns, where the state controlled the people and not the other way around.


  1. Shundana Yusaf, “Monument without qualities” (master’s thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001), Appendix 5. []
  2. Aftab Ahmad Khan, “Quaid’s Mausoleum,” Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan), Dec. 25, 1958. []
  3. Raglan Squire, Portrait of an Architect (Gerrards Cross: C. Smythe, 1984), 194. []
  4. Ahmad Hasan Dani, introduction to The Quaid-i-Azam Mausoleum in Pictures, ed. Afsar Akhtar Husain and Dani (Islamabad: National Book Foundation, 1976). []

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One Response to Making Karachi

  1. Hasan on Jun 2016 at 3:25 AM

    Really great article. Looking forward to more from your team. Thank you

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