Most of the buildings Jewish settlers left behind have now been destroyed either by religious zealots or developers

A Jewish building in Rawalpindi.
A Jewish building in Rawalpindi. © Asia Times


According to Hebrew University of Jerusalem anthropologist Shalva Weil, “in 1947, when Pakistan got independence, there were small Jewish communities in Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, and Lahore. Some of Pakistan’s Jews belonged to India’s Bene Israel (tribe of Israel) community, others were brought on by the British to fill a host of administrative positions, and still others had trickled in from Afghanistan.”  The 1941 census recorded 1,199 Jews nationwide – a number which may well be an underestimation.  A local Jew named Abraham Reuben even got himself elected to Karachi’s city council.  

Most of the buildings these Jewish settlers left behind have now been either destroyed by religious zealots or demolished by developers to make way for skyscrapers and commercial centers. Where once stood a synagogue, in the central square of Karachi’s Ranchore Line, there is now a multi-storey shopping plaza known as Madiha Sqauare.  The official name of the street was, historically, ‘Synagogue Street’. Meanwhile, a former synagogue in Babu Mohalla, Rawalpindi, now exists as a residential building. 

Dr Ali Jan, a Peshawar-based historian and conservator who has conducted extensive research on Jewish communities and heritage in Afghanistan and Pakistan believes the Pashtun tribes native to the north-western areas of Pakistan and the Jalalabad and Kandahar provinces of Afghanistan may be a “lost tribe” of Jews. Over the centuries, Peshawar, an important center of Pashtun culture, absorbed many different cultures and communities. Jews from Central Asia who arrived in Pakistan around a century ago were just one such group and the remains of a synagogue they built near the city’s clock-tower still exist.