Skip to content

Islamabad diary: If Stalin’s ghost were to come to Pakistan

  • by

Ayaz Amir

He would have his work cut out and his hands would be full. And he wouldn’t know where to begin because there would be so much to do—humbugs and charlatans to be called to account, purges to be undertaken, ministries axed, bureaucrats sent home, the tree of government drastically pruned. For restoring Pakistan to health this bloodletting would be essential.

Islamabad has too many paper mulberry trees, really more a weed than a genuine tree. And it has too many officials — babus and politicos. The paper mulberry should be eradicated completely. Indeed the chairman of the Capital Development Authority should take a rest from road-building — there are already too many roads in Islamabad — and make the cutting of the paper mulberry his first priority. And half the officials whose presence makes this the dullest capital on the planet should easily be sent home. Half of Pakistani officialdom, including politicos, in rural re-education camps: exhilarating thought.

Self-appointed Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s biggest folly was the 1965 war, started for reasons still not fully understood by historians. His second biggest folly was Islamabad a city whose only industries are spin, rumour and intrigue. If Karachi had remained the capital East Pakistan might not have been alienated so quickly. And we might have been spared the rise of everyone’s favourite party, the MQM.

Pakistan doesn’t need restructuring or reform so much as a good scrub. Give the Republic a good haircut, pull out the weeds from its front and backyards, remove the lice from its body and it will begin to look clean.

Islamabad has many eyesores but two stand out: the Presidency which should be turned into a palace of culture even if there is not much culture to showcase in this country. The Prime Minister’s House with its acres and acres of land should be a state guest house. These are sprawling residences. From Ayub to Musharraf Pakistani leaders haven’t had much to show for themselves. If there was any justice in the world they would live in surroundings more in keeping with their modest abilities.

There are two things the army can immediately do without: the swagger stick carried by officers which is an anachronism these days, our army perhaps one of the last bastions where this foolish custom still survives; and the funny, coloured, bandmaster’s belt which officers wear with their service dress. Does this make them look more martial? This piece of flummery was one of General Ziaul Haq’s many gifts to the army.

We could also do with an announcement that GHQ will not move from Rawalpindi, ever, and the land acquired by the army for the purpose in Islamabad will revert to the city of Islamabad to be turned not into another infernal housing colony but a public park.

On the subject of public parks, what business does a McDonald’s franchise have to be parked on a large space in F-9 Park? There is also a McDonald’s on a choice spot on the grounds of the old ‘Pindi Jail. You come out of Karachi airport and the first thing to hit your eyes is another McDonald’s.

Musharraf it was who gave the Pakistani franchise-holders these extraordinary privileges. In his mind no doubt McDonald’s stood as a symbol of progress and development.

The cement industry was another recipient of favours from Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz. Thanks to them one of the most beautiful spots on earth, the Kahoon Valley of Chakwal, is now host to three truly hideous and huge cement plants causing incalculable environmental damage. In some although not all cases, land was forcibly acquired from villagers by misusing the Punjab Land Acquisition Act (never put to more infamous use than in this instance) and handed over to these plants. The go-ahead came from Musharraf. The implementing authority was the Punjab government led by Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi.

There are some sins which are pardonable. The rape of the Kahoon Valley, home also to the famous temples of Katas Raj, is not. When the final curtains come down and the mountains come to the seas Musharraf and Pervaiz Ellahi will have a lot to answer for.

We often ask why is ours such an unfortunate land. One reason surely is our cavalier attitude to Providence’s gifts: our land, mountains, plains and rivers. We have proved to be one of Nature’s greatest vandals, enemies of trees and of all things green and life-giving. Why should Providence show us any special favours?

As you enter Lahore from Shahdara look at the River Ravi and what we have done to it. Destruction and filth on this scale is not the work of ordinary men. These are the labours of Hercules in reverse, not cleaning anything like the Augean stables but filling them with all the muck of the universe. And what accounts for that other great love of ours: of the plastic shopping bag? Is India plotting to bring us down as a nation? Perhaps but nothing it is capable of doing equals the environmental waste and destruction wrought by what must truly count as an invention of the devil.

And who is the greatest defender of the plastic shopper? The MQM. Talk of banning it and a hundred ingenious, hair-splitting excuses are trotted out in its defence. Is it because most of this industry is located in Karachi? That may be so but the damage caused by the plastic shopper outweighs any considerations of protecting the employment of people connected with this industry. Get alternative work for them but if Pakistan is to be less dirty than it is, the plastic shopper, and plastic mineral water bottles, and plastic ghee containers must go.

We are not an industrial country and won’t be one in the foreseeable future. It is agriculture that should be the central focus of our economic planning. Everything for agriculture, everything to boost agricultural productivity. In every tehsil and district headquarter all branches of agriculture department — tractors, seed varieties, water courses, tube wells, sprinkler irrigation, lining of water courses, livestock — must come under one roof for greater efficiency and the convenience of farmers.

Here’s a tip for urbanites to beat the flour crisis. In villages and small towns people stock up on wheat for the entire year. If they calculate that their yearly need is, say, twenty maunds, at harvest time they will procure this and store it in tin containers (readily available everywhere). Chakis (small grinding establishments) have gone out of fashion. But they need to be reintroduced.

Flour mills, most of them a pestilence, are involved in smuggling, artificial flour shortages and flour adulteration. Given the times we live in and the times for which we seem to be headed, with the northwest slipping out of government control and incipient anarchy knocking at the gates, Pakistani households should be self-sufficient in wheat and, this is something else, should have a licensed weapon at home.

The Yanks with their foray into Afghanistan have destroyed the equilibrium of this entire region. There is uncertainty in the air because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Our rulers are secure — just look at their motorcades and security — but our people are not. They need to take some aspect of their lives into their own hands.

A word about education. All the lip service we pay to it will never come to anything unless its segregation — English medium and Urdu medium –is abolished. This will happen not with fancy words but radical measures: say, like requiring all members of parliament, all government ministers and the like, all government officials high and low, all officers of the armed forces to enrol their school-going children in the nearest government school — elementary, secondary, higher.

Those not willing to abide by this condition should be barred from political and government office. This is the only way to improve public education. We’ll start taking it seriously only when officialdom has a stake in ordinary schools. Otherwise they will continue to be neglected.

One last thing…about natural gas. Why are we wasting it? Only public transport should run on CNG, not private cars. The strange indulgence shown to the motor car should come to an end. Cars should run on petrol and petrol should be taxed heavily. That’s the only way to encourage public transport, improve the lives of the less favoured and ease the strains we seem determined to put on the Pakistani environment.



Leave a Reply