Mundane but elemental

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Zaheer Bhatti

One is damned to draw away from the murk and mesh of political gamesmanship at public expense, where people have been given a glimmer of hope, but despondency and frustration also, all in one go; a messiah looking like descending and suddenly obscured, and a national hue and cry for accountability in the absence of a home-spun mechanism. Sounding like being translated into reality only with an external source spilling the beans, it ends up in a familiar Committee of Treasury and Opposition Benches, ostensibly to frame Terms of Reference for a Judicial Commission under the Chief Justice to probe into revelations made in the Panama Leaks, but actually designed to see the enquiry fizzle out like all ‘noble’ things in the past.
Actually no one seems to be pushed including the Chief Justice who instead of taking suo moto notice of this national disgrace and indiscretion, and getting on with the job on his own Terms of Reference, has asked those targeted, to frame the TORs themselves. Heads have rolled elsewhere but Pakistan seems to have all the time to squander. Hoping against hope that someone will step in to cleanse the system, one is forced to switch to simpler things in disgust in the vain hope that if only these few apparently mundane but elemental areas could be addressed, we might begin to yearn for a civilized identity and self-respect.
Capital cities are meant to be the show-pieces of a country in many ways and Pakistan had the unique opportunity to fashion it the way it wanted as its seat of governance was shifted from the sprawling city of Karachi to a virgin land along the Margallas. Unfortunately so far Islamabad Pakistan’s capital town fifty years down the line is still a city in the making in a stop-gap manner, rather than set out to churn a role model which could serve as a catalyst for elsewhere in the country.
Here was a city in the making in the 21st century where Pakistan could have made it into a modern town with all essentials had it been planned and executed with a sustained national vision aiming at least 50 years hence. But instead of providing for instance, an underground train catering for the sprawling twin cities, or at least adhering to the Master Plan for the virgin town, that has time and again been tampered with. The National Orchard Scheme which was supposed to bedeck the Islamabad Expressway as the greenest of pastures yielding fruits and vegetables for the inmates, has been doled out to favourites and cronies who have erected palatial houses leaving vast chunks of land uncultivated, while over a whole stretch of several kilometers along the eastern side of the Expressway from Faizabad upto the Airport intersection, a complete shanty-town has emerged. One cannot help inferring that the Capital Development Authority in league with local Police, Administration and the land mafia have not only failed to execute development of Sectors at pace required, but have been facilitating sale and purchase of land in collusion with ill-famed Revenue Staff, in areas included in the Master Plan which the Govtwas supposed to have acquired.
Under a dubiously planned compensation scheme locals were allowed to purchase a Kanal of land and raise a small structure to claim a plot in a developed sector upon acquisition, and one saw hutments emerge all over where there was nothing but greenery, and the poor locals who hitherto were unable to earn a square meal, propped up to file claims many times over in the name of next of kins lamentably not only making the quick buck but also becoming a major hindrance in the Developmental process refusing to vacate sectors allotted through the ballot decades ago despite having been paid compensation, in some cases many times over.
Enforcement has been a chronic problem with successive Governments for no other reason but lack of will. One must give some credit though to the sitting MNA with a Ministerial portfolio, who has launched a much awaited cleansing of Residential Sectors from Commercial activities, mostly private schools, parlours and offices creating a nuisance for the residents and destroying their privacy besides creating road-blocks and parking hazards. But considering the gaping paucity of health services to cater to the masses, the only discipline where like elsewhere in the world exceptions should be made is for Private Hospitals and Clinics, provided that they are located on dual carriage-ways where there are ample parking spaces.
While the said MNA has ostensibly succeeded in rightly knocking down hutments raised predominantly by Afghan Refugees in a cleansing operation, a 4 kilometer stretch of green belt between Sectors F and G, 11 and 12 commonly referred to as Maira Abadi has conveniently been glossed over, which has not only been occupied but made into a thriving business hub with solid structures and all kinds of merchandise. Why pray! Have successive Governments both Civil and Military closed their eyes to this heinous crime? That is the real challenge Mr. Minister! Green belts are supposed to be the beauty and hallmark of the Capital Town where either Road network Avenues or safari parks, playgrounds and shaded trees are supposed to provide breathing space between bricks and mortar.
There are gross violations of roadside set-backs allowed to residents as their drive-way converges beyond road shoulders resulting in a very poor look of zig-zag metaled streets, only to the contractor’s advantage who is paid according to the standard width of the road no matter. Talking of cleansing, waste disposal and sanitation is beginning to give the Capital particularly the storm water culverts a very dirty look, and calls for a proper sanitation drill involving clearing and self-combustion of refuse by the sanitation staff of CDA, which is either ill-provided or rank undutiful. Another area of concern is water filtration plants which under the very nose of the Federal Government are dysfunctional half the time, what to talk of elsewhere in the country. As for road maintenance, the priority is all upside down as carpeting of roads is assigned to main Boulevards, which are already in better shape compared to roads and the streets which are never repaired in time.
Beggary is another menace the Capital town can and must get rid of. Although a common and unchecked sight in the rest of the country, it is a shame for the nation. A meaningful swoop can earn the metropolis the distinction of taking a start in the right direction. While eradicating professional beggary which is also a source of crime, the State must make its Zakat system work according to Islamic dictates which if done in earnest will leave no poor in our midst. Mundane but elemental to our Faith is also the common man’s dream to see a road-block and alien Security Operatives-free Islamabad some day soon. Don’t tell me we need a Raheel Sharif to do all this as well!
— The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran former Director of programmes.

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