THE Kacha Garhi camp is located outside the posh Hayatabad Township in Peshawar on the main Khyber Road. It was one of the biggest and most notorious training camps for Afghan refugees dating to the early 1980s when the jihad was at its peak.
But recently, the ‘heroic Mujahids’ overnight turned into ‘bloodthirsty terrorists’ according to the western and domestic lexicon.
Hence, this 2,943 kanal land has been converted into prized commercial real estate in keeping with the current boom of speculative, acquisitive, land-grabbing in Pakistan. So as the poor Afghans are sent packing across the border to the killing fields of Afghanistan, the only remnants of their ‘glorious’ Islamic jihadi period are the spanking, large, new coffins along the main road.
They recount to the world the tragic tale of death and destruction that has wrought the entire region, turning the once pristine and beautiful land into a graveyard.
To save observers the trouble of making a second guess about the status of the so-called jihad, the ramshackle, crumbling camp carries a bold sign announcing it is ‘Pakistan Army property’. Signboards with notices such as ‘announcement’ and ‘warning’ are interspersed with several new coffins that lie in neat rows.
“It could not get more metaphorical than the two symbols of death that haunt this land — the coffins and the Pakistan Army!” Dr Gulalae Wali Khan commented on the phone while returning from nurseries selling beautiful exotic plants and shrubs of all varieties, across the same road.
Is it not amazing that close to these most verdant nurseries lie the coffins made by the enterprising Afghans — the message seems to be ‘you sell flowers to the rich and we sell death to the helpless, homeless and the powerless Afghans on their way out.’ The world fails to notice as global attention is diverted to the new killing fields in Iraq, possibly Iran, and God knows where else. Is this not a microcosm of the world of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, the affluent and the dispossessed, the living and the dead?
One can easily conduct a doctoral thesis on Kacha Garhi camp, on the rise and fall of civilisations, of humanity, of values and morality, of greed and global politics and of course realpolitik. It was Zbigniew Brzezinski in the early 1980s and scores of other Americans who visited this ‘model’ of Islamic ruthlessness meant to crush the menacing Red Army.
The beauteous Angelina Jolie and her ilk were the last to set foot on this American enterprise of death and destruction. Does it not encapsulate the entire Afghan jihad in a stretch of two to three kilometres of the Khyber Road?
Beautiful flowers and plants and the elite emerging from their SUVs and luxury cars, spending hundreds of thousands in wild shopping sprees and buying exotic, imported plants and shrubs for their air-conditioned cocoons and make-believe little worlds contrast with the pervading death next door: the dilapidated or bulldozed mud walls, the ghosts of Afghan warriors. And above all, the overweening presence of the Pakistan Army that would not let go even in this hour of death, demanding profits, ownership rights, real estate and power.
Until now, only the cantonment was ‘military business’ — whatever this meant — meddling in civilian life or building rows upon rows of monstrous, hideous, concrete housing schemes for the retiring and often bored officials to reflect upon the great services rendered. But post-9/11 going to the cantonment for shopping or business is no less than a border conflict within. The enormous check-posts with machine-gun toting jawans in ‘ready to shoot’ postures send shivers down one’s spine.
The Thandi Sarak or the historic Mall Road and Fort Road that were once a walking paradise with citrus blossoms, jasmines, hyacinths, rose shrubs, tall trees and so many others, making for heavenly sights and smells for the senses now present a different aspect. Now the area is virtually cut off from the rest of the city as a modern-day Bantustan — the American consulate (like the proverbial imperial outpost) shutting and contributing to traffic congestion on all sides.
With the graceful colonial buildings being dismantled, the huge, endless walls, check-posts, ugly fountains, and statues of one Muslim warrior or another benumb the senses. Having denuded the once beautiful cantonment of flora and gardens, the military is now heading for more lucrative opportunities.
Kacha Garhi camp should be an eye-opener for an oblivious provincial government. It should reassert itself in terms of policy and rules of business. Not just in politics but in civil affairs. The military personnel engaged in this wholesale loot and plunder of our national, and natural resources should be told to back off to return to their barracks.
“Linking the emerging Regi Lalma Township, Ring Road to the main Khyber Road is obviously (for the sake of) strategic real estate land worth billions of rupees,” says Sangeen Wali Khan. “Basically, a shamilaat of Thehkal area, a Kashmiri real estate owner had bought the land from the owners, and has even won the case in the Supreme Court, but the military is using underhand tactics to browbeat the man. Like the rest of Pakistan which is under the danda of the military, this place is no exception!”
Let a garden bloom now in this place as a reminder to future generations of the lives and souls lost to the pointless and atrocious Afghan jihad.
Source: Daily Dawn, 23/4/2008