Feb 21, 2009

Over the top

What Islamabad needs is good and responsible governance, not beautification. No amount of fountains is going to make its power brokers look any better than they look now, a veritable collection of the country's finest looters, liars and dope heads. They all can frolic in the automated fountains or cast their bovine and feast-drugged eyes on the artificial lakes till the cows come home, but as we lurch from one mind boggling crisis into another, the disenchantment grows - those who were hoping for a marginal improvement in their lives and those who came riding on clouds of hot air, promising the moon, the stars and a few galaxies thrown in. It's been a cruel twist of fate again.The legislators, ministers, roving ambassadors and green-plated VIP trouble shooters have now grown in size to resemble a nuclear mushroom cloud. As we confidently approach the century mark, well into the 60s as we are, residents of Islamabad will testify that the long line of factotums are rarely spotted unless they are squabbling over the keys of some 4x4 that belong to neither of the grubby ones. They are at their best only when desks have to be thumped, some inane agenda supported that requires no mental skill or when cashing in their fat allowances and other long and undeserved list of privileges. The 'writ of the state,' a sentence more abused than any thing else is just as laughable as 'good governance', 'rule of law', 'amelioration (is that the word?) of the poor' and other dopey pronouncements that cost nothing and are thus in great abundance.It is therefore with dismay that the CDA has now floated an 'Expression of Interest' and under the aim of beautifying Islamabad has decided on adding monster LED Screens, Trivisions, Electronic Variable Displays and Temperature/Time Clocks. In other words all these ugly structures will soon be rising like monsters on the pock marked Islamabad roads and by lanes. Worse news is that these will be displayed at 'prominent' locations. This is the last thing Islamabad needs but because the entire plan is designed to line more pockets and grease more grubby palms, the 'scheme' is going to be pushed down Islamabad's throat till it gags and dies. What Islamabad needs is a genuine and real attempt at restoring what was once its natural beauty. We have planted a city there but because we have no respect for the environment where we do our plundering, there is no room for zoning laws. We have quickly made Islamabad into a jungle of concrete where speeding cars with dodgy green plates rush up and down. Gone is that fresh breeze that the city was once known for and gone are the natural springs and the plantations that made its small side streets a treat for sore eyes. Now garbage adorns every empty plot and the springs have died one by one.There are stories doing the rounds that this electronic mayhem is yet another shady plan to make money. These contraptions are the same, one hears that were unsuccessfully thrust down on Karachi and having failed there were then brought to Lahore. Here with active connivance these eyesores went up in complete disregard of potential traffic hazards. They were violations of any class. Cheap and tacky imagery flashed indiscriminately at the travelling public causing angry protests daily. As for the laudable objective of 'adding to the beauty of Lahore', these did just as much as ugly warts on the pock marked face of an ugly witch. Since the most bizarre things manage to succeed, so did these in defiance of public protests. It was later that with the help of the courts, these blots were sealed and removed from the scene although many are still lying around like the Taliban sleepers the President is talking about. Having failed in Lahore, these seem to have resurfaced in Islamabad and found their patron saint in CDA. Obviously the 'party' that imported them wishes to make recoveries and a windfall down the road. So contacts are identified and scratch-my-back-scratch-yours, the evergreen formula has been put into motion. The pre-chosen 'party' will be awarded the contract and up will rise Islamabad's latest nemesis.Islamabad needs a proper CSR – a corporate social responsibility plan that should involve all those who use the city to do business and make money. Islamabad must be built but before adding those monstrous houses and ill-conceived public buildings, it needs basic things, like zoning laws, like addressing the rights of those who don't have BMWs. A massive tree plantation – not that meaningless sapling ceremony on the hill that means nothing and does even less, is needed. Billions have been wasted building monuments that are as inspiring as a potato lying on its side but when it came to planning anything that would add true value to Islamabad, there were no takers. The city needs parks, walks, areas where vehicles should not be allowed to ply. It needs footpaths, walkways, cyclist tracks, proper and reliable garbage removal and efforts to restore the area's natural springs. It does not need more super speed highways. It needs plenty of trees and shrubs, not palms imported or plucked from God knows where. There should be a real Master Plan that is designed for the citizens of this city. There should be an end to the concrete blobs that rise everywhere. Islamabad needs the right laws and a body that can implement them without fear but of course all of this is asking for too much. Where are those people who will save Islamabad from the marauders? Which Iftikhar Chaudhry will rise to save our atmosphere?Close by cement plants have successfully killed the once beautiful valleys of Wah and Hasan Abdal. Gone are the streams, the springs, the fruits, and the greenery and gone are the fish. Poison flows instead and all day long ugly commerce and pressure horns, in total defiance of the law, break whatever little is left of what were serene surroundings. There is talk of a tunnel right through Margalla Hills and harebrained schemes like the GHQ are only temporarily shelved till they will rise again and further ruin our heritage. There are many more examples of planning gone askew but there are no good men and women to challenge this rape. Instead we are silent spectators watching things go from bad to worse. To expect wisdom, common good and measures that make the lives of ordinary mortals somewhat better is lunacy given the order of things. It is this hopelessness that drives a spike in the heart.
by Masood Hasan

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