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Initially, Pakistan's temporary capital was Karachi - which made sense as it was the largest city.

I tried to understand why they moved it to Islamabad of all places.

Here is what I know from my own search

The reason to move was that - one, Karachi or nearby would be susceptibe to external naval attacks; two, Karachi was at the southern end of the country.
Hence an 8-member commission was constituted by Ayub Khan in 1958.
It was recommended to build the new capital near Rawalpindi, the army headquarters.

If Karachi was the southern end, wasn't Islamabad almost the northern end?
Why not a central location such as Multan?
Islamabad (infact even Rawalpindi!) is so close to the Indian border - wasn't that more of a threat?

What advantages did Islamabad have over other options (such as Multan)?

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    Please cite the source for your research. Thank you. Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 6:18
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    I'm pretty certain tribalism has a lot to do with it.
    – Jos
    Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 6:23
  • 3
    Apparently the reasons for building the capital there, in their eyes, outweighed your reasons to not build it there...?!? What else is there to ask?
    – DevSolar
    Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 7:33
  • At the time the new capital was chosen, the geographical centre of Pakistan may well have been in India, rather than near Multan. (Recall that Bangladesh was part of Pakistan until 1971.) This would have made it impractical to site the capital in a genuinely "central" location.
    – Psychonaut
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 12:44

1 Answer 1

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Although the Final Report of the Special Commission has never been made public, Sarshar (2017) and Hull (2012) highlight a variety of reasons that were discussed at the time, which were as political and ideological as strategic and practical.

First, it may be of interest to note that there were in fact two earlier proposals which would have established the capital in or near Karachi instead (Hull 2012, pp. 36-37). The first from 1947 was criticized, somewhat ironically, for placing the capital too far (20-30 miles) from the existing city. A 1952 proposal would have addressed this by placing the capital right in the center of the city. Initially the primary objection to this plan was that it was too expensive. Ultimately however this report wasn't even published because of the assassination of prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan and resulting political tumult that brought Ayub Khan to power. The opinions of Ayub Khan were clearly central to the ultimate location of the capital away from Karachi, near to (but also separated from) Rawalpindi.

Sarshar (p. 249) quotes Ayub Khan's inaugural address regarding the new capital, highlighting his ideological commitment to building "from scratch":

Whether the capital was to be in Karachi or elsewhere, it would have had to be built... It must have a colour of its own and character of its own. And that character is the sum total of the aspirations, the life and the ambitions of the people of the whole of Pakistan... Our people, by and large, are tribal by instinct, by history and by their traditions. With the two provinces of Pakistan, separated as they are from each other, you want to bring the people on a common platform. The thing to do was to take them to a new place altogether... It is a question of binding the people of Pakistan, a question of giving the right sort of environment where they could produce the best results.

According to Hull (pp. 39-40), newspapers reported that the commission identified the following reasons for the location northeast of Rawalpindi:

The region’s moderate climate and changing seasons would prevent boredom and lassitude and promote health and administrative efficiency. Lying on the Grand Trunk road, the site offered advantages as a center for the region’s economic development. The availability of cheap rural land would decrease development costs. The geography of the region and the military base in nearby Rawalpindi gave the site greater strategic security than the seaside Karachi. Planning from scratch would allow greater order and beauty; the Commission reportedly observed that “although Karachi is a relatively modern city, its development has been unplanned and grotesque. It cannot be converted into a city of aesthetic beauty—an essential requirement of a capital.”

Hull immediately goes on to add:

Constantinos Doxiadis, the Greek planner appointed to design the new city, would soon praise the “typical, characteristic architecture of the [Rawalpindi] area, growing out of the land, the people and the climate,” while finding “that of Karachi area... strongly influenced by Hindu principles” (Doxiadis Associates 1960b:68).

Along similar lines, from Sarshar (p. 255):

In Pakistan, one of the most developed institutions was the army in Rawalpindi, and the move of the capital served as a consolidation of civil and military power. Many were of the opinion that Ayub chose Rawalpindi for this purpose and proximity of the site to his ancestral village. The preference of the site “answered nearly all the questions pertaining to climate, landscaping, communications, defence, availability of building materials, water and power resources and last but not the least, aesthetic and natural scenic beauty.” The location was important in the sense of Islamic identity because it was at the conurbation of Grand Trunk road and added to enhancing the capital’s importance by proximity.

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  • looks like it was Ayub Khan's high influence that a location "central" to Pakistan wasn't even considered.
    – whoisit
    Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 16:48

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