U.S. and Pakistan: Partners in cultural preservation

The United States is helping Pakistan preserve historical sites that reflect the country’s rich cultural heritage and religious diversity.

The U.S. government is supporting the restoration of 31 historic sites across Pakistan, some dating back 2,000 years. Restored buildings include Buddhist monasteries, Hindu monuments, Sufi shrines and relics of the Mughal Empire, which flourished between the 16th and mid-19th centuries.

The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan leads certain projects. Others are supported through the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP).

Founded in 2001, the AFCP preserves historical and cultural treasures under threat from environmental pressure, social and political upheaval, or lack of resources. AFCP has funded more than 1,000 projects in 133 countries around the world.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad’s work with local partners benefits Pakistan’s tourism industry and local artisans. The U.S. government also supports university partnerships on cultural preservation education. For example, Boston Architectural College helped train faculty at Lahore’s National College of Arts and the University of Baltistan in Skardu in developing cultural heritage management programs.

Here are a few of the restoration efforts underway in Pakistan:

Sunlight coming through line of decorated archways (© Imran Babur)
Shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Ghulam Farid in Kot Mithan, Punjab. (© Imran Babur)

U.S. Embassy partners are restoring frescoes, floors, woodwork and decaying tiles in the Hazrat Khwaja Ghulam Farid shrine in Kot Mithan in Punjab. The shrine is named for a 19th-century Sufi poet who wrote in many languages, including Seraiki, a language that project partners are helping preserve in the region.

Exterior view of historic tomb (© Imram Babur)
The tomb of Sultan Ibrahim. (© Imram Babur)

The 17th-century tombs of Sultan Ibrahim and Amir Sultan Muhammad of the Tarkhan Dynasty are also undergoing restoration. The tombs are part of Makli Hill in Thatta, Sindh, one of the world’s largest burial grounds. Roughly 125,000 Sufi saints, scholars, royalty and other dignitaries have been laid to rest there.

Aerial view of ancient buildings (© Zohaib Hassan)
Takht-i-Bahi. (© Zohaib Hassan)

Founded in the 1st century, the Takht-i-Bahi hilltop monastic complex in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is one of the last remaining Buddhist sites in the region. U.S. support conserved its complex and funded visitor facilities there.

Close-up image of writing and artwork on wall (© Saad Sultan)
The Varun Dev Temple. (© Saad Sultan)

The Varun Dev Temple, in honor of the Hindu god of the seas, is built on Manora Island in Karachi, Sindh. The island exemplifies Pakistan’s religious diversity and interfaith communities, housing temples, churches, mosques and shrines. The U.S. funds helped to stabilize the temple’s tower and entrance portal, and rehabilitate parts of the roof, walls and awning.

Exterior of mosque at night (© Shukurullah Baig/Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan)
The eastern façade of the Chowk Wazir Khan Mosque is shown in June 2017.  (© Shukurullah Baig/Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan)

More than $1 million in U.S. funding helped restore the Chowk Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore, Punjab. The project strengthened foundations of structures at the mosque, provided jobs for local artisans and helped establish the 17th-century holy site as a tourist attraction.

In numerous countries, U.S. Embassy and AFCP projects have helped spur economic development and cultivate respect for cultural diversity. It is a value that, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in 1998, helps “build stronger ties of understanding and peace throughout the world.”