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Vandalising Islamabad and the rule of law

 

By Imtiaz Gul

The Express Tribune, April 16, 2014

 

This can happen only in Pakistan: the prime minister rides through a bone-jarring road that leads up to a hill within Zone 5 — the designated area for a National Park in Islamabad’s master plan. Within hours, the beautiful locality takes to Nawaz’s fancy. The next day, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) ‘wakes up’ to the illegal settlements in Bani Gala along the Korang Stream — encroachments, followed by the CDA’s bulldozers and an army of workers. Within hours, the ‘charging brigades’ maul two lush-green parks, destroying vegetation and hundreds of grown plants which the locals had developed and nurtured.

No exhortation by locals was enough to convince the loyal officials that a park with greenery should be the last thing to be taken down — if at all. Two days later, the same officials returned to one of the parks and replanted hundreds of saplings and plants, probably realising how they vandalised mother nature earlier at the whims of a few powerful — who, all of a sudden, became aware of enforcing the CDA’s writ in the National Park zone where several mighty among the ruling elite are already ensconced in huge estates.

Apparently, once the prime minister rode through the area and fell in love with it, the land-grabbing vultures found a godsend opportunity in playing up the issue of ‘encroachment’ and began hounding the CDA officials to remeasure the area to make sure the National Park had not been encroached upon.

The haste with which the CDA officials moved and the way speculators — most probably very close to the ruling brothers — hyped up the issue only underscores the selfish impunity of the powerful and the helplessness of the masses: the people vote the elites into power, only to find themselves at the complete mercy of their representatives, who are often on the prowl for prized lands.

Remember the swiftness that the CDA showed when former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf bought a farmhouse in the Shahzad Town area? The major artery — a two-way single road — from the Rawal Chowk up to the farm’s area had been cratered and has been crying for repairs for decades. Within days, after Musharraf’s deal, the CDA chopped down trees and turned the road into a four-land double express road. This was the prime example of how bureaucrats bend backwards to please the rulers.

In those days, the CDA had even bent and or revised laws to accommodate the whims of the circle of the mighty ones around Musharraf.

One wonders why law enforcement is absent from where it is needed the most. Can the CDA, as well as the prime minister and his team, dare take down all illegal structures in the name of business or the religious institutes that have mushroomed in the green areas of the residential sectors of Islamabad? Kiosks, mosques, madrassas are found here aplenty. Many official plots have been illegally occupied and state land has been encroached upon by business groups disguised as religious zealots. One can witness encroachments even in the heart of residential areas and some commercial centres.

The government is constitutionally bound to protect citizens’ free life and property. Article 9, for instance, talks about one’s right to live with freedom (as per their own will) unless it contradicts the law. Article 24 relates to property rights and stipulates that ‘a person’s property cannot be taken into possession if it does not contradict law in any way’.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk