Islamabad: Pakistani or not?

Ikram Saeed commented about Islamabad:

Any thoughts on Slamma-bad (that’s the hip-hop name)? I’ve been only once, and found it odd that the capital of Pakistan is such an un-Pakistani city. It felt like Muscut more than Multan.

It reminds me of an American friend who visited Pakistan. According to him, Islamabad is a city 10 miles outside Pakistan.

I lived in Islamabad for only 3 years before coming to the US. However my family have been living there for quite some time and I used to visit Islamabad quite a lot when I was in Pakistan. It is definitely very different from a typical Pakistani city; even from the big cosmopolitan ones like Lahore and Karachi. I remember Islamabad as a small well-planned city of government employees in the 1980s. It was a strange place, with no life. It used to become a ghost town during holidays as people went home. There really was nothing much to do. I have seen Islamabad grow over the years into something close to a city with life of its own. Now at least there are people who call it home. The shopping centers finally have some character. Karachi company, Aabpara, Jinnah supermarket are finally places to shop and wander. There’s nothing like Anarkali, Liberty market, etc. (Lahore) in Islamabad. It doesn’t even have good restaurants, nothing like Lahore or Karachi. You can have Italian or Chinese cuisine in Islamabad, but the local food is just bland.

What I like about Islamabad though is that it is well-planned. There are good roads and residential and commercial areas were designated in the original master plan of the city. Driving in Pakistan is really crazy; Islamabad however has much better traffic. For most of the cities of Pakistan, growth has been haphazard with no input from city planners. Islamabad however is a modern city. It was founded in 1960 specifically to be the capital. That is its virtue as well as its sin. It was created by government bureaucrats for bureaucrats, so it has no soul. But it is no longer a small or medium-sized city, the capital territory, including the city and some surrounding rural areas, has about 950,000 residents in about 900 square kilometers (approx. 350 sq.miles) while the city of Islamabad had 529,000 residents in 1998 according to the the Census Organization of Pakistan.

Categorized as Pakistan

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. In other words, Islamabad = Brasilia. From what I understand, the same evolution from bland, civil-service capital to real city is currently taking place in Brasilia as well.

  2. I haven’t been to Brasilia, but that’s the only other capital I know which was expressly created for the purpose in recent times. Come to think of it, Washington DC should be the same way, except that it has been around 2 centuries.

  3. Capitals don’t have to purpose built to be dull. I live in Ottawa, which is not now, nor ever been, known as HOTtawa.

    Civil servants are nice, go-to-sleep early, participate in PTA, two-parent, environmental and family oriented. They are rarely fun.

    Ottawa was a small lumber town and an agricultural centre prior to the arrival of the capital some 133 years ago. It’s still mostly gvt oriented, though there is now a high-tech fringe.

    My comment on Islamabad was not only that it is, like other civil servant towns, specatcularly dull, but also that it is too clean, too new, and too well-run to be Pakistani.

    It really does look and feel like Muscat, or Abu Dhabi, or a smaller, sleepier Gulf Emirate’s capital city.

  4. My comment on Islamabad was not only that it is, like other civil servant towns, specatcularly dull, but also that it is too clean, too new, and too well-run to be Pakistani.

    But that’s what I like about it!

  5. Ikram, I’ve heard from Australians that Canberra is the same way – it wasn’t purpose-built, but it didn’t have much to recommend it before it became the federal capital, and it’s overwhelmingly dull and civil-service oriented.

  6. Zack:

    I would like it too if I had to live there. But is it good for the country? Senior civil servants, military rulers, and Parliamentarians (on occasions when they matter) live in a city with no slums, no power outages, decent roads, clean air, little crime. Islamabad doesn’t even have a large number of noisy coulorful buses.

    If you live in Islamabad, do you know what it’s like to be a Pakistani?

    In Delhi, the Supreme Court got so sick of the pollution that they, almost independently, ordered all polluting industries to leave the city. If important people in Pakistan had to live in Karachi, would they make a greater effort to make Karachi more liveable?

    (Another nice thing about Islamabad — access to the Hills. The area around Islamabad reminded me a little of the rocky mountain foothills in the western US and Canada. But with more people.)

  7. Ikram:

    You are right. (BTW there are a few slums in Islamabad also, though fewer than other cities and hidden.) There is also some resentment of Islamabad elsewhere in Pakistan. However, it is not an Islamabad-specific problem; people from e.g. Defense in Karachi or Lahore probably also don’t know what it is to be a Pakistani.

    Access to the hills is definitely the best thing about Islamabad.

  8. یہ کیسا جہاد ہے

    پاکستان میں کیا ہو رہا ہے؟ جہاد کے نام پر مسلمان کن کاموں میں پڑ چکے ہیں؟ کیا اسلام صرف سیاست اور تشدد ہی کا نام ہے؟

  9. I have noticed that a lot of people who are not from islamabad dont know islamabad.Its just cool, expencive, modern,clean,well run,best city in pakistan,people are cool,i could go on and on and on,,,,,,

  10. Why do the Islamabadis hate it when someone calls them “Pendu”? They are after all part of the Greater Punjab. In that case shouldn’t they be proud of their cultural heritage i-e being a typical “Pendu”’ living in a well-planned city in northern Punjab?

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