Like a demon that will not fade away into the night, New Murree is rising again from reports circulating in the media. Not that it ever went away but there was such an outcry against it that whatever was afoot was put on hold. Perhaps it never was. Perhaps those who planned yet another monstrosity on the landscape of Pakistan were simply hibernating, waiting for the right moment to resurrect themselves again. Panda Post, the WWF Newsletter of January-February 2008, carries an extract from a letter of no date that has been reproduced, which informs us all that NMDP, or New Murree Development Project, is well and on a roll. While I would have expected the WWF to send out a team to actually photograph and record exactly what was going on and also talk to lawyers and officials of the Punjab government to determine what the precise status of this preposterous project was, it did not do so which is a pity.
The amount some of us have written against this project could well be compiled into a book; not that it would have the slightest impact on the outcome, but just so that there is some record of how helpless ordinary people can be when they are at the mercy of rulers who only wish to line their deep pockets with more easy money. From what I can recall, following the resentment that surfaced when details of this bizarre “tourist city of international standards” came out in the open, the Supreme Court had passed an injunction freezing work on this project. For those not exactly enlightened with the great value of this project, New Murree will convert 4,111 acres of Patriata Reserved Forests of Murree Tehsil into this Singapore of the hills. There will be shopping arcades — to feed the insatiable appetite of Pakistanis to shop non-stop, hotels, restaurants, golf courses, entertainment rides, theme parks, complete with plastic chairs and gaudy cut-outs, a monorail linking various points and other assorted goodies for the rich and the idle.
In the process, thousands and thousands of trees located in these forests at heights of 2,223 metres, part of the Himalayan Hill Tract that includes one of the best temperate forest areas of Punjab, will be chopped down. These are the great trees of the world, and particularly our part of the world. The Blue Pine and the Chir Pine grow here and this is home to over 200 plant species, 146 bird species, 15 mammals, 22 reptiles (not including the Chaudhrys of Gujrat who are reportedly one of the great investors waiting to make a kill here) and six amphibians, amongst whom we will not count the Coalition Partners who have spent three months and more going round in so many circles that the people have become dizzy and faint. God alone knows what else will perish as the trees are felled and the land is “developed.” Scientists have emphatically proved that New Murree will have an ecological effect of such mammoth proportions that it will change the very atmosphere of the cities down below, like beloved Islamabad and its poor cousin Rawalpindi plus many other localities and suburbs that now stretch till the horizon. Soil erosion will trigger off landslides, flash floods in which the poor will undoubtedly perish and silting of water channels and dams downstream which will mean less and less water for the people and wider spread of diseases that even currently are on a horrific scale.
All this and more has been brought forward again and again, but the Government of Pakistan — which has pledged, as it has pledged so many things, “to preserve and rehabilitate the country’s remaining natural forests” — has chosen to remain silent and are an active party in this monstrous scheme. There is very big money at stake here. Ill gotten wealth from not paying taxes, concealing income, indulging in smuggling and black marketing aided by such soul-killing deals that the president made under the NRO which has turned sinners into saints and basically officially endorsed that making money illegally and breaking all fiscal rules of your land are qualities that should be admired and rewarded. The Chaudhrys, who started with stolen cattle, sprawl in 7 series BMWs as if they were born inside them. Their wealth is incredible and they are amongst the beneficiaries of a very long list of winners who have made a killing in the name of Pakistan and who perform dozens of Umras and Haj to cleanse their black souls while robbing and looting without fear at home.
The chief justice, who seems to be on a “See Pakistan” trip, is still out in the cold, his reinstatement now a question that has no answers. There have been more meetings and deliberations on this subject than anyone can care to remember, but the outcome is muddy and things hang in a precarious balance. The new rulers are in limbo. The new “people’s” governor of Punjab, under whose kind control this project is placed, is a man quite adept at matters related to property. Will he find time from his endless people-contact to look into this is hard to say? Maybe even he has a few hills safely bought out in New Murree and would thus be a forceful supporter of this newfangled development. I hope he can find time to be briefed on this ugly stain on his province. It would be infinitely more rewarding than embracing all those smelly “awam” who neither use talc nor deodorants, and unless his trademark black shades can cover his nose, he is destined to foul smells as long as he is resident in that obscenely large and purposeless building.
Incidentally, New Murree is portrayed as the haven to which foreign tourists will rush headlong and bring huge foreign exchange reserves to the coffers that Shauka and Party have cleaned out, as indeed will the populace which will head for the hills. This seems the stuff of fairy tales. No tourist with a sliver of a brain will venture to these parts again — not for a very, very long time. Tourism is an extremely situation-sensitive business. The first sign of trouble and the cancellations cascade in. Even a casual review of Pakistan’s last five years will leave you with nothing but one conclusion that only the suicide-inclined would head this way. As for the poor Pakis who in summer want to escape from the heat and in winters frolic in the snow, banish the thought. This country has no wheat, no power, no oil, no money and no will left. It is at best limping along. There are queues galore for daily necessities. People swelter in unbearable conditions, set buildings on fire in rage, burn dacoits since their police only kills them and never saves the innocents, and on and on. This is a land that has had a close encounter with enlightened moderation and is suffering the fallout. Thirty-five million Pakistan’s face malnutrition, says the FAO, and there are other damning figures that portray us exactly as we are. Our top sportsmen, when not molesting chambermaids abroad, are in slammers carrying banned substances — Mr Akhtar is a chemical factory — ask anyone who is into cricket affairs and so on. New Murree may get built — after all, with so many supporters why should it not yield the perfect ROI, Return on Investment — and we would have once again raped our land. These are all signs of a country that is no longer serious about its existence. In the great words of Alexander Pope, “Lo! Thy dread empire, Chaos is restored; / Light dies before thy uncreating word; / Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall / and universal Darkness buries all.”
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtesy: The News, 8/6/2008