Just over two and half decade ago, I came into this world in capital city of Islamabad. Since many years after I took my senses, greenery, cleanliness and serenity were the pet words used to describe my birthplace. Unfortunately, I have lost these complimentary words and my childhood simultaneously. With the restructuring of the roads in Islamabad, Islamabadiites are struggling to redefine their ways of travelling inside their own city. In most recent days, everything is going up including the shirts of young gals in size as inflation rate has added as many troubles as of layers in girl’s shalwar.
Islamabad, where beauty used to intrigue is no more different to other messy places of the country in modern days. The rapid increase of vehicle, traffic jams, lack of parking spaces, air pollution, dust and garbage, dilapidated roads, pollen allergy, no more vegetation (cutting of trees & mountains), high rate of inflation, increase of katchi abadees, influx of people into the city, lack of walking tracks, public parks and picnic spots, security guards culture, impure edibles and bad quality meals, billboards and hoardings everywhere, lack of theater, cinema halls, cultural complexes and public libraries, discriminatory policy against different sectors, minimum social behavior and public interaction, rapid increase in number of beggars, and last but not least disparity between rich and poor are the awfully common deficiencies a dweller of Islamabad city is facing and observing keenly at the moment.
In this age of cutting-edge technology, the most bewildering aspect of humankind is vehicle parking. Islamabad with its newly constructed wider roads may make traffic flow going but unable to create parking space. A multi-national company Metro, cash and carry is just a fresh addition the occupant of Islamabad waiting inquisitively since many months. But to my sheer disappointment even after shopping worth 5000 Rs, I was deprived of taking shopping bags to put all shopping items in it. It is quite an interesting feature of this massive shopping centre that a card holder (a business entrepreneur) is permitted to purchase minimum 2000 Rs, but at the exit point you would be provided plastic bags for the cost of Rs. 16 an ordinary shopping bag with metro written on it and if you are attracted to get thickly designed blue plastic bag you must have 90 Rs more in your wallet. But free shopping bag in reward of 2000 Rupees or more then this still a ridiculous decision.
Islamabad once was a city with a small population, there was less traffic and the flow was particularly smooth. Over the years, the number of people living in the capital or visiting it for work has grown in almost astronomical proportions. As more and more people are buying motor vehicles these days in the same order, adding miseries to the dwellers of this city day after day. Now the capital city is facing traffic congestions, which are at their worst during the morning, afternoon and evening peak rush hours. The hasty increase of traffic in Islamabad has been clogging roads, creating peak-hour traffic jams and causing undue wastage of time that has emerged as a critical issue that requires immediate attention. The whole problem has been neglected for too long and the Capital Development Authority has only recently started a program of widening the roads, especially the ones where the traffic load has increased considerably. A lot more underpasses are being under construction since long. To make the traffic flow leveled, roads and under passes are constructed that deprived this city to its vegetation, greenery and viciously injured the natural landscape of the mountains. Though the CDA has initiated a few fly-overs and a lot more underpasses of few of which already in used but due to constant delay in other projects the city’s roads are dilapidated and full of dust. More miseries embrace citizens of this city when they are forced to take alternative routes that wasted more then enough time. The insufficient parking space for vehicles is the biggest problem not only in this city but everywhere in the world as it is the problem of this century. One of the most detested days for people of my city is when a foreign dignitary comes to visit Prime minister, President or other higher level officials of this country. It takes a whole day in traffic queue waiting long.
Pollen is a major problem in Islamabad, which causes allergies that result in many deaths. Many residents leave the city during March and April to avoid the pollen. The Capital Development Authority (CDA) imported and planted Paper Mulberry in the capital. Paper Mulberry is not native to Pakistan but it was planted because it grows quickly. It spreads because birds carry its seeds. Today, the Paper Mulberry is causing problems in the city. Paper Mulberry has replaced much of the vegetation around Rawal Lake and is a growing threat to the natural vegetation of the national park and other valleys between eastern Islamabad as well. According to a report by the Pakistan Medical Research Council, about 45.5 percent of allergy patients in Islamabad and its sister city Rawalpindi were allergic to pollen from this plant. Similarly, the CDA recently planted Palm trees along some roads under its beatification campaign. During the planting, the public suffered breathing problems because there was a lot of dust on the main roads. Few other plants are also health nuisance for the capital’s people and natural wildlife.
Another problem of this city has been facing over the years is a number of afghan refugees living in Katchi Abadees of different cities. The majority of kids are involved in raising the social crimes such as theft; begging and women are indulged in making money adopting proscribed professions.
The katchi abadis are the home of the city’s workforce that the city does without to make it run: day laborers, drivers, washers, cooks, vendors, low-salaried government employees. Other then these Afghan people, Christian community are also living in about 30 katchi abadees of the city. They are supposedly the ancient inhabitants of the city and earning respectably. The lack of government recognition is usually the basis for the non-provision of basic services such as electricity, water, sewerage, schools and clinics in such lands where these people are residing.
I have no qualms in saying that Islamabad is the most expensive city of the country. From vegetables and fruits to all other commodities of household, all are beyond reach of the lower-middle class. Edibles price is soaring and it never stopped. In recent days tomato’s price is 120 Rs/ kilogram in this city is very fresh example of it. This city has developed a lot socially, yet majority of class is not much aware of who is living in his neighborhood. “No interference”, and “live and let others live”, is the credo of such people. They love to live their lives in seclusion. They are the resident of posh areas generally of F sector. A lot of restaurants, picnic spots, walling tracks, public parks have been developed and constructed but due to price hike, and non-delicious food, people show their reluctance to move to these places. Quality of food and its price would never match to Karachi, Lahore, Gujranwala or other food lover’s city that is what I have experienced ardently over the years.
Islamabad is perhaps the only capital city in the world that has minimum numbers of cinema halls, theaters, cultural complexes and public libraries. In recent months, National Art Gallery has been inaugurated but it has come to know that only members of NAG and elite class would benefit and cherish the art work inside this building. There is a place called the National Library but it is situated too deep in the seat of PM secretariat, and therefore too well guarded, for a commoner to access it. There is hardly any space one can see without advertisement, hoarding, pamphlet, brochure, leaflet, on the walls, trees or poles and gigantic billboards on the roof top of plazas, shopping centers or other buildings of this city. Such advertisements not only hamper the beauty of the place but provide psychological ailment to a passerby.
The government and CDA discriminatory policy against different sectors are also elevate the chasm between the residents of Islamabad. It is observed that mostly development work take place in posh sectors of the city where there is no need for ramification. On the other hand, the sectors which are considered as the under-privileged, the esteemed authority never pay the heed. So one can safely assume that all development work has been taking place in those sectors where white collared are residing. This should be stopped in future to fence the disparity between poor and the rich.
One of the most annoyed things of modern days in Islamabad is the booming culture of security guards. At any time of the day or night there are more security guards in a street than pedestrians. I'm not quite sure what purpose they serve, except keeping an eye on each other, monitoring the comings and goings of female servants, and forming opinions about their character based on these observations. I say that not on a hunch but going by the advice our neighbour's guard volunteered about the two maid servants who came to us looking for work. The proliferation of guards is a fad and a status symbol these days but I can see it as an expression of private enterprise's triumph over the state.
However, I must say that at the same time it gives me great pleasure too when I see so many newly settled pleasant and well-mannered people in Islamabad. increasing its population and making it a success story. The proof of any city becoming a successful viable habitat lies in the increasing number of people deciding to make it their home and my city is passing that litmus test, as more and more people from within and outside the country is making it their home, bringing in their entrepreneurial and social experiences from all over the world. It is increasing not only the richness and diversity of the culture in Capital of Pakistan, but also bringing in more able people to increase its productivity and wealth. I see a great future for Islamabad, but only wish that somebody would take pity on the feelings of a fool like me and take good care of Islamabad as it grows into a metropolis, so that it does not lose that empathy with nature that makes it so unique.
As they say, home is where the heart is and my heart is in Islamabad. Besides all these tribulations, Islamabad is the most beautiful and well-organized city of the world. It is still cool, quite and clean, weather is fine with heavy rains and a lot of foliage. People are soft and buildings are high. Lets pray our country would soar as high with the developed nations as the skyscrapers of Islamabad, the beautiful.
Published in daily The Frontier Post, 13th April, 2008 & in daily National Herald Tribune, 19 Oct, 2007
MUHAMMAD MAHTAB BASHIR
House # 2026, Street # 32,
Cell: 0300 52 56 875