By Ardeshir Cowasjee
HOW are we perceived in the comity of nations? As night succeeds day, the perception projected by our leadership to the world at large blackens.
For instance, let us take a March 4 comment in The Times (London), the day after the Lahore attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers: “Yesterday’s terrorist attacks do not mean that Pakistan is a failed state. But it has a failed president. Asif Zardari , a disastrous replacement for his assassinated wife, Benazir Bhutto, is compounding his country’s problems by his pursuit of personal survival at the expense of its constitution, the rule of law and agreement between the main political parties that they will work to shore up democracy. He is utterly inadequate to meet the threat that Pakistan is facing.”
Now this does not merely apply to our president who has been singled out by the writer, and it is not necessarily the view of many another, but the fact is that the remarks must be applied to not only Zardari but to every political player on the current political scene.
They are all “of the same stock”, as former president Gen Pervez Musharraf, famously remarked to the BBC at the end of 1999 when asked about corruption in the armed forces as compared to that in the political scenario.So we should not expect much of any single one of them.
However, there are rare glimmers of hope, and one came yesterday in a news item in the national press telling us that President Zardari (described as “an ardent environmentalist”) has given his “nod” to the expenditure of Rs22bn on the ‘Green Karachi Project’. Millions of saplings are to be planted in our barren city and park development projects were listed, amongst which is “Hill Park Karachi to be built between Sharea Faisal and Shaheed-i-Millat Road will cover an area of 62 acres with an amount of Rs200m”.
This was balm to the ears of many individuals and NGOs who have battled in the courts for over two decades to save this 62 acres of amenity space.
In a column early last year I appealed to City Nazim Mustafa Kamal to intervene, consider the background, and do what he can to save the park area. For the benefit of the president, and others concerned, so that they are fully aware of what is what when it comes to Karachi’s open spaces, detailed here is the latest development in the story of our long court battles to preserve Hill Park–Kidney Hill for the people of Karachi.
In 2007, the federal, provincial and local governments, Karachi Cooperative Societies Union and the Overseas Society decided to compromise the citizens’ amenity space and amongst themselves drafted an ‘agreement of settlement’ sanctioning the retention of only 20 acres of Kidney Hill as a park (now re-surveyed as 55 acres: seven acres at the periphery having been nibbled away over 40 years by encroachers), eliminating even the 18 acres of the original area assigned to a water reservoir, and converting the remainder to be developed as residential plots with roads running between.
The mid-1960s requirement for ‘lung space’ for the then 2.5 million population of Karachi apparently no longer existed 40 years later with a city population of over 15 million!
The citizens of Karachi were allowed by the Supreme Court to file a fresh case, challenging this ‘agreement’. In 2007, 14 residents were ‘persuaded’ to withdraw their challenge. In early 2008, facing ongoing death threats to family members over a period of several months, the NGO Shehri was also compelled to withdraw. However, a new suit (1370 of 2008) was filed and is currently being heard by the Sindh High Court (SHC), which is well aware of the criminal interests in the proceedings and the terrorisation of concerned citizens by the development mafia.
The main beneficiary (over Rs10bn) of the unlawful park conversion is the secretary of the Overseas Society, Captain Mohammed Aijaz Haroon, well known to Asif Zardari, and currently chairman of PIA. Taking advantage of the present chaos prevailing in the country and particularly amongst the judiciary and legal circles, devious efforts, the presidential proclamation notwithstanding, are being made to push through the Kidney Hill conversion.
Before a bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Abdul Hameed Dogar, two alleged well-wishers of Karachi, builder Nazir Ahmed of the Social Welfare Services Corps of PECHS and Muhammad Umar Farooq of the Professionals Society for Human Development of Landhi have filed CP 18/2008 in the Supreme Court asking for virtually the same results we are pursuing in the SHC — the rescue of Kidney Hill from marauders. These petitioners have generously described me as a “public-spirited, well-respected and clean individual in society”, and Shehri as an “institution to protect the rights of people and guarantee better environment”.
The petitioners’ advocate, Sardar M. Aijaz Khan, was able to surmount the objections of the SC registrar regarding the pendency of Suit 1370/2008 in the SHC: section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code (res sub judice) does not allow a court to take up cases which are under adjudication by a lower court.
Why did these two NGOs not join the high court proceedings in CP 160/2007 when a court-authorised notice was inserted in the press inviting the public to intervene in this matter of public interest?
Now, an appeal is made to President Asif Zardari and to those who will implement his Green Karachi project to kindly intervene in this one case and ensure that, as promised by the president, Hill Park will be built, all the encroached upon land recovered and reclaimed, and a much-needed water reservoir included in its 62 acres of area.
This is a most commendable project and we the citizens of Karachi await, with great anticipation and hopefully gratitude, an immediate start to its implementation.
This entire Karachi project, if it comes to pass, will do much to help Zardari’s credibility, at least as far as the citizens of this city are concerned, as being a democrat at heart, with the interests of the people of his country in mind.
This would surely be a welcome change from being projected as acting in the manner of the various military dictators his party has suffered and who Benazir Bhutto, he, and the PPP have roundly condemned. Authorising the suspension of a provincial assembly has put paid to his credibility as a democrat and put him in the same class as the people he professes to despise. He needs to rectify this.