Islamabad with its “model city” characteristics is not representative of Pakistan. While Pakistan is an ancient land, Islamabad is a city of the late twentieth century. Few capitals can claim such a beautiful setting. There is a rating site who put the Islamabad as the second most beautiful capital of the world after London. Nestling against the backdrop of the green, picturesque, and peaceful Margalla Hills at the northern end of the Potwar Plateau, its northernmost precincts climb up on to the first gentle shoulders.
It was 1959 when the decision was taken to build the nation’s new capital on this spot. The first stone was laid two years later. The city’s master plan was conceived by the Athenian architectural practice, Doxiadis Associates; but subsequently several famous town planners and architects, including Edward Durrel Stone, contributed their ideas and skills.
It says much for their combined talents that, despite the incredibly-wide main malls with their stately, tree-lined sidewalks and verdant centre (islands), Islamabad is probably the most beautiful and attractive capital of its age.
For while the designers worked out their logical grids on the drawing boards they forgot that a city, especially a capital city, demands both heart and soul: Islamabad has neither before its development.
Virtually every street and precinct looks identical to the first-time visitor; and many who visit it frequently still become hopelessly lost and confused as they endeavour to locate offices and residences. Each precinct is numbered but not sequentially.
On the other hands, Confusion is that some of the main malls dividing these precincts sometimes have at least three different names. Thus for any visitor it’s essential to buy the street guide published by the Capital Development Authority (CDA).
The decision to build Islamabad was taken by Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan, and an Abbottabad’s man who yearned for the cool hills of his ancestral homelands far north of Karachi which became the capital after Independence in 1947.
Inconveniently distant from most of the country, uncomfortably hot and humid for much of the year, the nation’s commercial dynamo was dubbed unsuitable for the business of federal government.
The base of the Margalla Hills on the other hand, near Murree and the cool northern hills, was considered ideal. It was close to the boundary of two of Pakistan’s four provinces, the Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkha Province and athwart the nation’s main east-west axis, the Grand Trunk Road.
Perhaps more importantly, it would form an extension of the old military cantonment of Rawalpindi, strategic HQ of the country 5 Armed Forces.
Still incomplete, the city has developed fast. Yet, despite its many shopping precincts to all intents and purposes it remains a dormitory, the sleepy neighbour to the scruffy but nonetheless vibrant 24 hours-a-day entrepot of Rawalpindi.
From a viewpoint on Shakarparian Hill, a hundred metres or so above the capital, the suburbs roll away into the dark horizon to merge with Rawalpindi. There is still no visible centre apart from the Federal Parliament, presidency and surrounding infrastructures.
Of industry nothing can be seen at all, despite the inclusion of an industrial precinct on the triangular grid laid out by Doxiadis.
Pakistan’s new 1962 constitution confirmed Islamabad as the seat of Federal Government, although Dacca, in the then East Pakistan, remained the seat of the central legislature.
Nine years later, however, with the 1971 war and East Pakistan’s secession to become Bangladesh, Islamabad came fully into its own as capital.
Getting there Islamabad is 1580 kilometres (980 miles) from Karachi, on the Grand Trunk Road between Peshawar 167 kilometres (103 miles) to the west and Lahore 280 kilometres (175 miles) to the south east. Islamabad International Airport is served daily by many international and domestic flights and there are express trains from major cities throughout Pakistan to Rawalpindi railway station.