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Islamabad did not exist at the beginning of Pakistan’s independence in 1947 when

Karachi was the capital of the country. Mohammed Ayub Khan, who became pre-

sident in 1958, changed that. He felt that the port city was situated too far away

from the centre of the country and ordered the construction of a brand-new city in

the Indus Valley. That the place he chose for the city was close to the garrison town

of Rawalpindi, where the military headquarters of the Pakistani army was (and

still is) located, was of course no coincidence. The atmosphere of the capital is at

odds with that of Lahore. While Lahore is a hectic city that has grown through the

centuries around the fort, Islamabad is a modern, formal metropolis that was first

carefully drawn out on graph paper. We drive through broad, orderly lanes that are

located in numbered sectors. All the important buildings are situated here. Along

the avenues are the palace of the president, the ministries, the courthouses, the

universities and so on. There are no street names. In the diplomatic enclave we

also find the Belgian embassy. For those interested: House 14, Street 17, F7 / 2,

a typical address in Islamabad.

Against all expectations,

the capital of Pakistan is

a modern, well organised


The most eye-catching building in the city is the

Faisal Mosque

. This too is brand

new. It is one of the largest mosques in the world and a gift from King Faisal of

Saudi Arabia. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are the best of friends. Before we step

onto holy ground, we take off our shoes and deposit them in the trays provided

for the purpose. It is very warm outside, and it is nice to walk barefoot on the cool

marble that shines like a mirror. The design of the mosque is, to say the least,

unconventional. The Turkish architect was inspired by the shape of a Bedouin

tent. To us, it looks more like a spaceship and the four metres-high pencil-shaped

minarets could just as well represent rockets but mentioning that out loud would

definitely be sacrilegious. What cannot be argued about is the scale of this house

of prayer. Here 100,000 believers can bow their heads to Allah in sync. The mos-

que is also a tourist attraction for many Pakistani people. We are again addressed

several times and have some nice conversations. In the meantime, we have got

used to the selfies.