A thing of beauty is a joy forever, so said the English poet John Keats. “Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness,” he continues. This is but a euphemism when applied to the beauty that the capital city of Islamabad offers. Indeed, the loveliness overpowers the senses, but it’s in passing. Ugliness is always around the corner whether on the clogged roads, public parks, shopping centres, or even private homes and apartment buildings. Garbage, rubble, dismembered walkways and cratered roads are the new normal.
The population is growing at breakneck speed turning swaths of Islamabad into urban ghettos. Sector I-8 is one such example. It homes officers of the Capital Development Authority (CDA); retired and serving government officials, media bigwigs, and people with money. I-8/3 is considered the jewel in this sector’s crown. A beautiful park square with leafy trees surround homes all around it. Today, it’s a sight to behold! Heaps of garbage form a mountain right in front of these homes. And yet the residents, including the CDA officers, are not pushed to have these beastly mounts removed, perhaps of their own making. What stuns the mind is why educated, discerning residents can tolerate such a lifestyle. This is but a microcosm of how civilised people turn a blind eye to the dumps of dirt around them.
My beef is against the multi-million behemoth called the CDA. Since its inception, it’s been a hatchery for corruption, earning the nickname of ‘Corruption Development Authority.’ Today, it’s a sinkhole, where billions get poured through real-estate taxes and auction of prime real-estate. If these funds were to be utilised in providing civic services to the residents, one would not see potholed roads; haphazard construction; stockpile of garbage and unattended parks left at the mercy of unruly, undisciplined citizenry. Fatima Jinnah Park attracts hundreds of families out to enjoy the open-air freshness and beauty that nature offers. There are several people who walk to get a good workout. Gradually, their space is being encroached by adults turning the lovely pathways into impromptu cricket fields. Walking is perilous when one sees a ball headed your way. One hit on the head with the hard ball can send one scurrying to the hospital. “I’ve tried to tell these people not to play cricket here, but they don’t listen to me,” a frustrated walker tells me while pointing to a signboard that says that players should restrict their games in designated play areas and not everywhere in the park. “I’ve even brought the police who say they will not act unless they get orders from the CDA.” That alas will remain a pipe dream, as the CDA has bigger fish to fry.
Amjad (not his real name) is one of the oldest real estate agents who has bought and sold homes for the elites of Islamabad since the capital’s inception. He tells me that it was during General Ziaul Haq’s time that the CDA and other public service institutions were ordered to raise funds themselves as the government could not afford to finance them. “Since then, the CDA has become a commercial enterprise. It has resorted to raising funds through auction of plots, thereby sending real estate prices skyrocketting,” says Amjad. “But the corruption reached its zenith during the rule of civilian governments. When the PPP came to power in 2008, it instructed the CDA high-ups to auction the plot for a shopping mall in F/7-2. “The plot was originally reserved for a dispensary, but today the Safa Gold Mall stands in its place,” he says. Naturally, millions were netted by influential people in government through kickbacks.
Shopping malls and yet more mega malls are coming up all over the city. Most of them are illegal constructions and yet work on them is racing to the finishing line. Is the CDA asleep? Are the town planners not bothered about parking spaces needed to cater to these monstrosities? Obviously, lack of parking places or abysmal congestion on the roads is not the CDA’s headache. It’s only interested in minting money to oil the wheels of corruption for themselves and their civilian rulers. Very conveniently then, the CDA has passed the buck to utility companies to stop providing electricity, gas and water to the unauthorised and illegal construction. Furthermore, the CDA has now asked the government to help in stopping the construction. But the mafias within the government are the ones filling their coffers. Why then would they halt these unlawful constructions.
Granted the network of sprawling roads has made driving a breeze, but at the same time try navigating your way on the main thoroughfares that are choked with crazy drivers who like yahoos refuse to yield the right of way or abruptly change lanes causing one a teeth-grinding experience that is a constant nightmare the minute you step on the accelerator. Where is the much-touted capital police that one was told would monitor the traffic and make driving orderly. You don’t see these cops at crossroads or roundabouts where they are badly needed to control and direct the traffic. The end result: whoever has the nerves of steel can drive, the weak-kneed behind the wheel are left cursing and hoping they reach home in one piece.
On weekends dare-devil bikers rev up their Harley Davidson prototypes to perhaps let off steam. But at what cost? The ear-splitting screeching and the raucous revving up of the engine is enough to keep one awake late into the night. Where is the police? “It’s a free for all,” says Amjad, who has seen how corrupt practices have ruined this beautiful city. Not only that, but with missing law and order in the capital, people do and behave as they please. Waiting for his wife in the parking lot of an upscale beauty parlour, a friend relates the harrying tale of a young girl stepping out of the parlour. “A group of bearded men pounced on her, verbally abused her for wearing a “sleeveless” shirt.”
Is this Islamabad’s new normal?
Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2017.
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