Osama Bin Laden’s killing may have brought Abbottabad on the world map but this beautiful and picturesque garrison town close to Islamabad and Pakistan occupied Kashmir has a historic dimension too.
Bhupinder Pal Singh, former Managing Editor of the Times of India and top Executive of ITC/ Vazir Sultan Tobacco Company whose family had vast properties in the area prior to Partition has many happy memories of the place. He was barely five years old when Mahatma Gandhi visited Abbottabad and stayed at his uncle’s place for nearly a month in 1939.
"It was from there that Gandhiji wrote a letter to Hitler denouncing his methods and my brother, late Brig. Pritam Pal Singh went to post it. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan aka Badshah Khan was also there and my father, Rachhpal Singh (Pali Sardar) was a part of his Khudai Khidmatgar movement. My cousin, Usha Bhagat who was later Indira Gandhi’s social secretary along with her family was also visiting us at that time".
BP Singh’s grandfather Rai Bahadur Racha Ram had built a school, Govind Girl’s High School there in 1902 and Pandit Nehru during a visit in 1938 planted a sapling, which has undoubtedly branched into a mountainous tree. He has very fond recollections of Badshah Khan who had a charismatic personality and "whenever he would visit, I would drop everything and run to hug him though I was only tall enough to reach his knees at that point of time".
The family has a number of photographs, which show Abbottabad in its early years. One such photo shows a Church, couple of houses and an Army Mess and dates to 1864. The town was also headquarters to the Frontier Force Rifles and the 5th Royal Gorkhas. These regiments had maximum number of Victoria Cross winners at that time.
BP Singh remembers very vividly many ancient sites near the Town. At Mansehra, there was an Ashoka Rock Edict. "Haripur was another well-known place where my family started the Khalsa school. Former Pakistan President Ayub Khan was also a student of this school There was a hill shrine, Mokshpuri near Dunga Gali hill station. The place as per belief had a Cantonment of the Pandavs. Right across Abbottabad were the Sarvan hills where as per the mythological legend, Shrawan Kumar took his aged parents. There was another beautiful hill station, Nathia Gali in the vicinity. It would usually snow during the winters in Abbottabad".
Significantly, the elections in 1946 resulted in the Congress winning over the Muslim League in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP). His uncle, Raisaheb Parmanand, Barrister and former MLA was a prominent party leader whose vote had tilted the scales in favour of the Congress.
BP Singh was studying at the Burn Hall School in Srinagar when Partition took place as a consequence of which this grand institution was shut down. The Afridis, the prominent tribals of NWFP who raided the Kashmir Valley in the late forties at the instance of the Pakistanis and the British had earlier gathered at Abbottabad. They were chosen because they did not conform by and large to Badshah Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar movement.
The town had a Tennis Club where ladies also swung their racquets. As a child he remembers going to Havelian and then to Golra junction near Texla to catch the Frontier Mail to Lahore.
"The place had so many historic sites which were discovered during excavations". He mentioned that the present Pakistan Ambassador Shahid Malik’s wife also hails from this magnificent town.