Islamabad: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Part 2)

Posted on February 28, 2007
Filed Under >Mast Qalandar, Economy & Development, Environment, Travel
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Guest Post by Mast Qalandar

You have read about “the good” Islamabad in Part 1 of this post, which, it seemed from the comments, sent some of you reminiscing about the Islamabad that you knew. Well, here is the not-so-good and the ugly side of Islamabad as seen by me and my camera.

In Part 1 of this series on Islamabad, I had said that there were certain things that ‘self-respecting’ Pakistanis won’t do. Riding a bicycle and carrying anything heavier or larger than a briefcase were two of them. I would like to add one more thing to this list: no proud Pakistani would like to be seen stopping or slowing down his/her car at a crosswalk or ‘zebra crossing’ to allow a pedestrian to cross the road peacefully. Even the cars that are turning from a side street would barrel down at the pedestrians forcing them either to run for their lives – literally – or scurry back to safety.

I find it ironic that on the one hand we take so much pride in our cultural values of courtesy, hospitality, lehaaz and “pehlay aap” – and often flaunt them – and on the other hand the moment we get inside a car we toss all those values out, just as we routinely toss candy wrappers and other trash out of our car windows. I have never understood this sudden transformation.

But come to think of it, many of the crosswalks in Islamabad often end up nowhere, anyway –some against a high road divider and others in a ditch. Yes, in a ditch, as can be seen in the pictures here. So, if even you escape the speeding car you may end up tripping over or, worse, in a ditch!

Another thing that would frustrate a newcomer to the town is the lack of adequate and continuous sidewalks. An advertisement supplement on “Destination Pakistan 2007″ in last Sunday’s Daily Times boasts:

The master plan of this most modern city was prepared in 1960. Islamabad is one of the few planned cities of the world… It is a modern and a carefully planned city, with tree-lined streets, large houses, elegant public buildings and well organized bazaars.

Yes, it has tree-lined streets and large, in fact very large, houses but this “most modern” and “one of the few planned cities of the world” does not have adequate sidewalks. The sidewalks that are there in the “prestigious” E and F sectors are often blocked by construction material dumped on them and cars parked on them (who said there were no idiots in these sectors?) or, as if this wasn’t bad enough, large transformers installed in the middle of sidewalk by WAPDA. The Greek planners of the city obviously did not factor in Wapda’s ingenuity when planning the city.

It’s a bit ironic that the people, who invented the automobile and manufacture and use it in millions, always build adequate sidewalks for foot traffic in their cities and keep the sidewalks unobstructed both for able bodied as well as for disabled individuals and their motorized or manually pushed chairs. And we, who acquired automobiles relatively recently, totally ignore the need of pedestrians, let alone those of the handicapped.

You cannot see or appreciate a city while driving – or reading about it in newspaper supplements. To take in the sights, sounds and smells of a city you have to be able to walk around without the fear of tripping over, falling in a ditch or being run over. And one finds it very difficult to do that even in Islamabad – “one of the few planned cities of the world”. With all those hurdles placed in one’s way, one has to be a kangaroo to be able to walk around the city. The city planners obviously overlooked something very important and elementary.

Barring the frustration a pedestrian has to go through, Islamabad is mostly a clean city – in fact, very clean by Pakistani or third world standards. Its streets are regularly swept; its drains and sewers rarely overflow; the domestic trash is dutifully picked up from in front of the houses and deposited in the garbage bins and, before the bins start overflowing, they are emptied by garbage trucks.

And who does all this “dirty work”? An army of sanitary staff, men and women, distinguishable by the yellow jackets they wear as their uniform, is employed by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to keep the city clean. Theirs is one of the most arduous jobs and they provide one of the most essential services a city has to have to survive. Incidentally, Islamabad will not know the difference if all the government offices were closed for a week or so, which they actually are during Eid and Muharram holidays. But if the sanitary workers stop working for a week the city will turn into a garbage dump. Despite that they are the lowest paid and most discriminated of the City employees.

It is very ironic that these workers, who keep the city clean and running, themselves live in squalor in some of the worst slums in most unhygienic conditions – right in the middle of two of the prestigious sectors (F-6 and F-7). Their houses consist of clusters of shanties without adequate drainage or dependable water, power and gas supply. The City has tried to hide these slums from the surrounding localities by building high walls around them, just as one would try to mask a blemish on his/her face. But, is that a solution?

One wonders, why can’t the City, which spends billions of rupees on widening the roads, building public buildings and government housing, playgrounds, parks and expensive monuments (some of them totally wasteful) can’t provide low cost housing to these employees? Something on the lines of Project Housing in New York city or other cities of the world.

Since majority of these workers happen to be Christians they are doubly discriminated. They are excluded from receiving any Zakat money from the government collectively or individually. Private Muslim charities also exclude them for religious reasons. Nor do they even receive sacrificial meat on Eid al-azha.

Very close to the shanties, at a higher level, there is a beautiful, tree-lined, dual carriage road. Nailed to the trees are green metal plates, each bearing one of the attributes of God and the Prophet. Such names and other religious writings were nailed to the trees and lampposts in Islamabad, as in many other cities, in a spate of conspicuous religiosity that hit Pakistan in the last 20 years or so. Included among the sacred names are also al-Rehman (the beneficient), al-Razzaq (the provider) and al-Karaim (the bountiful and generous). I wonder if the people in the shanties who also keep this road clean ever noticed these names and their significance.

Note: Part 1 of this article here. All photographs by author.

31 Comments on “Islamabad: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Part 2)”

  1. ahsan says:
    February 28th, 2007 1:56 pm

    [quote post="588"]we take so much pride in our cultural values of courtesy, hospitality, lehaaz and “pehlay aapâ€

  2. February 28th, 2007 2:12 pm

    Another bad part that I had experienced which is “Never visit Islamabad during the Eid day”. Being a Karachite living in Islamabad which is quite a bit far from Karachi and sometimes you end up staying in Islamabad in Eid. I would say that you could easily hear owls howling on that day. You can see that on Eid day, the whole city is deserted unlike Karachi or Lahore since most of the residents would go to their nearby home cities where they originally came from to celebrate the Eid. The city has still failed to establish the sort of identity which other cities have attained over the years obviously probably because it is not that old of a city.

  3. mahi says:
    February 28th, 2007 3:51 pm

    “It’s a bit ironic that the people, who invented the automobile and manufacture and use it in millions, always build adequate sidewalks for foot traffic in their cities and keep the sidewalks unobstructed both for able bodied as well as for disabled individuals and their motorized or manually pushed chairs. And we, who acquired automobiles relatively recently, totally ignore the need of pedestrians, let alone those of the handicapped.”

    Excellent observation!

  4. Asad says:
    March 1st, 2007 6:52 am

    [quote post="588"]no proud Pakistani would like to be seen stopping or slowing down his/her car at a crosswalk or ‘zebra crossing’ to allow a pedestrian to cross the road peacefully. Even the cars that are turning from a side street would barrel down at the pedestrians forcing them either to run for their lives – literally – or scurry back to safety.[/quote]
    That’s odd. I don’t see that happening much these days except by “shikra’s” of Islamabad driving Land Cruisers. I myself am living proof in contradiction to your statement since I stop my car to allow others to pass for this exact reason that I remember the time when I used to walk and people used to drive, though it was more due to my age than anything else. Does this means I am not Pakistani? How can this nation progress if we ourself have such lowly stereotypes about our own people? People do wrong and violate the law but stop and think for one second before labelling all the people with one sweep of the brush.

    [quote post="588"]But come to think of it, many of the crosswalks in Islamabad often end up nowhere, anyway –some against a high road divider and others in a ditch. Yes, in a ditch, as can be seen in the pictures here. So, if even you escape the speeding car you may end up tripping over or, worse, in a ditch![/quote]

    A bit exaggerated. You ignore the many other sidewalks and crossings that are perfectly OK. Te only problem I see is for the disabled and IMO, that needs remedial action quickly. It is the failure of CDA to look at these things. New additions to infrastructure ignores seamlessly merging the old infrastructure with the new one as can be seen in the picture of the ‘ditch’. About the blockage of crossings/sidewalks, it is the lack of civic sense in the residents of those places to dump the construction material on the sidewalks and on roads. I would fully support any initiative by the CDA to fine these people heavily.

    Personally, I see a lot of improvement over the years as a resident rather than a visitor. There used to be a lack of sidewalks some years back. There were protests lodged with the CDA regarding this and now the sidewalks have been made on many inner streets of sectors like G9, etc. CDA is doing the work, albeit at a very slow pace. Still, comparing to some years back, there has been a lot of improvement though there is still room for more.

    [quote post="588"]One wonders, why can’t the City, which spends billions of rupees on widening the roads, building public buildings and government housing, playgrounds, parks and expensive monuments (some of them totally wasteful) can’t provide low cost housing to these employees? Something on the lines of Project Housing in New York city or other cities of the world.[/quote]

    Agreed. Over the span of many years, these people have lived in the same place and the authorities need to seriously consider providing them with better facilities and a place for living. This would indeed make for a positive change in the city.

    [quote post="588"]Since majority of these workers happen to be Christians they are doubly discriminated. They are excluded from receiving any Zakat money from the government collectively or individually. Private Muslim charities also exclude them for religious reasons. Nor do they even receive sacrificial meat on Eid al-azha.[/quote]

    I am not in the know about the Zakat or the charity issue so I won’t comment on that. However, your claim about sacrificial meat on Eid is conditionally [mostly] false. It depends entirely on who you are dealing with. The people who do not care for this religious divide, treat these workers equally. Indeed, I have seen many such Christian workers receive meat on Eid, get money for Christmas as ‘Christian Eid’ and even on Easter. Others who discriminate against them due to their status, religion or any other reason do the same with the Muslim workers too. These so-called Muslims have stereotypes and “we are above the others” mentality which is a hindrance to them and others and causes the discriminatory behaviour.

  5. Asad says:
    March 1st, 2007 6:58 am

    [quote post="588"]Another bad part that I had experienced which is “Never visit Islamabad during the Eid dayâ€

  6. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    March 1st, 2007 9:06 am

    Words worth repeating:

    “we, who acquired automobiles relatively recently, totally ignore the need of pedestrians, let alone those of the handicapped.”

    “one has to be a kangaroo to be able to walk around the city.”

    “very ironic that these workers, who keep the city clean and running, themselves live in squalor in some of the worst slums in most unhygienic conditions”

    “Since majority of these workers happen to be Christians they are doubly discriminated.”

  7. Samdani says:
    March 1st, 2007 9:47 am

    You are right in pointing out the sweeper colonies and the hypocrisy of the ghetto in which we keep the very people who make ‘Islamabad the beutiful’ so beautiful.

  8. Samdani says:
    March 1st, 2007 9:49 am

    One quibble. You say: “Islamabad will not know the difference if all the government offices were closed for a week or so”

    Actually, the city may do much better if that happened.

  9. Arsalan Ali says:
    March 1st, 2007 2:04 pm

    To Shahran Asim – I dont see anything wrong with people going to their villages for Eid.Thre is nothing wrong with the fact that the city is empty on Eid day.If you look closely, you will find many Islamabadis who comfortably enjoy eid in islamabad every year,maybe they just dont like thronging the streets. Have you ever been for Eid prayers to Faisal Masjid ? How can you say the city is deserted ? And what is old except a timeframe ? who cares if Islamabad is not as old as Karachi or Lahore. Is that the best your city has to offer ? that its been there longer ? oh wow……

  10. Lal Salaam says:
    March 1st, 2007 2:11 pm

    MQ, You rock man!
    Keep these posts coming. I cannot wait for the “Ugly” part.

  11. March 1st, 2007 3:31 pm

    Arsalan Ali- I do not question people visiting their homes and villages on Eid but I was rather stating the facts.

    Going to Faisal Mosque is another part which I do not want to go any further since most of the High Officials pray there and given the current security situation in the country and especially in islamabad where there are a lot of “NO GO” areas established, I don’t think that the attendance would be as much as you could see in the Badshahi Masjid in Lahore or Memon Masjid in Karachi.

    Another typical culture of Islamabad and which is now spreading across other cities is that the neighbors would not know who is living next door. I have lived long enough to observe that even if you want to initiate some contact with your neighbors, you get discouraged. Some obvious reasons such as grade and your social status or if you have big expensive cars.

    Its not only my observation but I can bet that most people would have observed that when they lived there.

    BTW, here is article of Hamid Mir which is also relevant to my point.

    http://www.jang.com.pk/jang/feb2007-daily/26-02-2007/col1.htm

  12. Sajjad says:
    March 2nd, 2007 12:42 am

    Thank you for this post. It was very nice and I fully agree with you on most of the issues. However, you have to look at the whole picture. I agree that Isloo isn’t the nicest place for pedestrians, but it isn’t bad either. With the current traffic situation, it is likely better for them than the drivers.
    There are places which definitely should have more facilities (such as an overhead bridge/underpass at the dreaded Complex/Citibank crossing), but despite building overhead bridges along the Islamabad highway, I regularly have to avoid hitting pedestrians and bikes attempting to take a short cut on an extremely busy highway. I even had an accident once while dodging one such jaywalker who started dancing in the middle of the highway. It saved his life, but caused damage to both my car as well as a poor taxi driver’s.
    As for the slum-dwellers, the authorities have attempted to relocate and rehabilitate them in the past, but faced fierce resistance from the same people. It is prime real estate and they are simply squatting on it. I happen to know some of these people and they make a pretty decent living by working in the elite sectors next door while getting a free and highly sought-after place to live. The issue has to be resolved, but how is this possible if the very people are reluctant to solve it?
    As for Eid, it is usually the only occassion when these people show up. When I used to live in the main sectors of Islamabad (roughly 10 years ago), we often threw out our own garbage and cleaned up our own part of the street because these people could only be seen on the holidays. Belonging to a different faith has nothing to do with it and we would still give them whatever we could. With CDA becoming more active recently, things have probaly improved since then.
    My comments above may be somewhat cynical, but to solve an issue, one must look at all aspects. We have to change as a society to become truly modern and some of the major issues that we are dealing with can’t be solved simply by generosity, force or will alone.

  13. Sirat-e-Mustaqeem says:
    March 4th, 2007 12:31 am

    The religosity we impose on ourselves we are now also imposing on trees. Glad that Islamabad’s trees are Muslim!

  14. Pakistani Pride says:
    March 2nd, 2007 11:51 am

    some of the above comments are a little childish. you do not have to dislike one city in order to like another. is it not possible for BOTH islamabad and karachi to be special in their own ways?

  15. MQ says:
    March 2nd, 2007 9:01 am

    Sajjad,

    [quote]“As for the slum-dwellers, the authorities have attempted to relocate and rehabilitate them in the past, but faced fierce resistance from the same people.”[/quote]

    The administration, I believe, wanted to move them to some far flung place outside Islamabad, which would have caused them commuting problems.
    Why can’t the CDA build low cost houses right where these shanties are? They are not going to be removed, anyway.

    [quote]
    “It is prime real estate and they are simply squatting on it.” [/quote]

    What about the madrassas that are squatting on some of the most expensive real estate in Islamabad? Why doesn’t the administration move them to the H sector, which is specifically meant for educational institutions? Why a soft corner for one group and total callousness for the other? And, incidentally, sanitary workers are essential for the survival of Islamabad. Madrassas are not.

  16. MQ says:
    March 2nd, 2007 9:41 am

    Ahmad

    â€

  17. MQ says:
    March 2nd, 2007 10:18 am

    Shahran Asim,

    [quote] “You can see that on Eid day, the whole city is deserted unlike Karachi or Lahore…â€

  18. Farrukh says:
    March 2nd, 2007 10:21 am

    I had missed the earlier comment suggesting that the colony of sweepers shoudl be moved because they are on ‘prime real estate’. That is preposterous. Why do they not have a right to teh city that they do more for than most others who live in the city.

  19. Farrukh says:
    March 2nd, 2007 10:23 am

    Come to think of it, if you want to move someone out of Islamabad because they are wasting ‘prime real estate’, how about moving teh horrenous presidency building! The sweepers keep the place clean. When was the last time the presidency did any good for anyone!

  20. Asad says:
    March 2nd, 2007 10:35 am

    [quote post="588"]What about the madrassas that are squatting on some of the most expensive real estate in Islamabad? Why doesn’t the administration move them to the H sector, which is specifically meant for educational institutions? Why a soft corner for one group and total callousness for the other? And, incidentally, sanitary workers are essential for the survival of Islamabad. Madrassas are not.[/quote]
    Ah, yes… I believe they started doing that too but the illegal occupation of the school library near Aabpara made national news…

    I stand firmly behind the stance that the administration should tear down any mosques which were/have been/are being made illegally. The Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) clearly shows that the land must be purchased before a Mosque can be made on it.

  21. Arsalan Ali says:
    March 2nd, 2007 11:46 am

    Shahran asim – you seem to have decided not to be happy in islamabad.How long will you stay away from places because they are NO GO zones ? It shouldnt stop you from praying at a beautiful mosque like faisal masjid, and i can tell you its a pleasant experience. And tell me, do you feel completely safe when you pray at a mosque in Karachi for that matter ? Im not going to go ahead and counter your point about neighbours with a tit for tat generalization…All i can say is that many people have a hard time making friends.
    You still did not answer my question…whats the identity of karachi ? does it have a claim to fame other than the fact thats its been there longer than Islamabad ?

  22. Ismail Hussein says:
    March 3rd, 2007 4:51 am

    The ugliness of Islamabad is really about how it tries to hide its realities. Like the walls behind which we ghetoize the sweepers colony. The whole country is like that. Do not solve real problems, just build very tall buildings and in looking up and high people will forget the reaities on the ground. That is Islamabad. That is Pakistan.

  23. mazhar butt says:
    March 3rd, 2007 12:49 pm

    The residents of sweeper colony have the right to stay where they are,,,,,prime location or not. They deserve what all others deserve as citzens within the meaning of the Constitution

    It is wrong to say that those sweepers being christians are subjected to double discrimination because they are not entitled to claim Zakat. Zakat is for poor muslims first and foremost,,,,,,and not intentionally denied to the sweepers who simultaneously follow their own creed elements of which are reserved for them alone ,,,and to which muslims do not object,,,,,

  24. Shahran says:
    March 3rd, 2007 10:59 pm

    Dear MQ,

    This could be a shock for you that I have visited Baigowala which is a small town in Gujranwala,I could name more than 100 small towns starting from Bijwat, Zafarwal, Raja Harpal Singh, Narowal,Chuwinda just in Punjab a where I have visited as part of my job. Did you ever heard of Raja Harpal Singh, btw it is small village on the

    Sialkot/ Narowal border to india which was given back to Pakistan after Simla agreement.

    I can have a blog on all the remote places I visited in all the provinces which people have never heard of it.

  25. MQ says:
    March 4th, 2007 2:06 am

    [quote post="588"]This could be a shock for you that I have visited Baigowala which is a small town in Gujranwala,[/quote]

    Shahran,

    No, it’s not a shock at all. In fact, it is a pleasant surprise because most young city people have never heard of these little towns.
    Personally, I have traveled by car from Peshawar to Karachi stopping on the way at places (off the main highway) with delightful names such as Khota Qabar near Havelian, Khotian in Jehlum, Baigowala Gharrtal in Guranwala/Sialkot and Trinda Mohammad Panah in Rahim Yar, and many more. I was even thinking of doing a post on Khota Qabar — how it got its name. There is an interesting story behind it.

  26. Shah says:
    March 5th, 2007 12:18 am

    [quote comment="36032"] BTW, here is article of Hamid Mir which is also relevant to my point.
    http://www.jang.com.pk/jang/feb2007-daily/26-02-2007/col1.htm/quote

    This article in urdu mentioned by Shahran also points to a very disturbing trend: widespread robberies. Recently, we also heard that a female minister became a victim of a street crime at aabpara market when her mobile phone was snatched. So here is a question for all current residents of islamabad: how bad is the crime situation? is it as bad as karachi or lahore? is diplomatic enclave any safer? I have also heard that areas where army officers reside is much safer, is that true? What areas/sectors are considered the safest?

  27. Rashid says:
    March 5th, 2007 3:26 pm

    three years ago during Eid I was in Islamabad and it was like a haunted town. The only thing I did was go to Pizzahut
    with my cousin.
    Islamabad needs to do more maybe do some fairs or mela
    Have some concerts and events during Eid.

    Regarding the Christain people living in the slums,
    its very depressing. We need to do more to these people
    and encourage them. We talk about Muslims being ill treated
    in the West but we/Muslims treat the poor and Christians worse.

  28. March 19th, 2007 11:32 am

    [...] In my last two posts on Islamabad (here and here) I talked about the woods and the forest trails that I love so much and take to them whenever I can. [...]

  29. Luqman says:
    April 6th, 2007 3:52 am

    12:52 pm (GMT)
    06/04/2007
    Islamabad Pakistan

    Good afternoon,

    I have spent lots of time in iran and recently moved to islamabad. I wonder islamabad is one of the good cities in Pakistan, where growth prospects lies ahead, etc.

    The atmosphere is cool, people are cooperative, There are lots of expatriates/foreigners that shows Pakistan is making progress by leaps and bounds.

    I have visited across Pakistan and finally I am led to believe, Islamabad is the best in Pakistan. Housing is a little hard and expensive here, I am still finding and waiting to happen.

    All the best all expatriates out there and new people in Islamabad.

    Be safe,

    Regards,

    Luqman
    ============================
    Luqman@inbox.com
    +92.301.840.69.69
    ============================

  30. Luqman says:
    April 6th, 2007 3:57 am

    01:00-pm
    06-04-2007
    Islamabad Pakistan,

    Greetings,

    As in my previous post I described that I recently moved from Iran and I guess I need to join some expatriates community in order to spend leisure moments together, in order to learn a little more, in order to share the travel experiences, music, fishing, cinema, food, all together.

    If you guys out there have some expatriates community in Islamabad Pakistan, please post me your comments that how to join? Thanks.

    Be Safe All.

    Cheers

    Luqman
    ==================
    Luqman@inbox.com
    +92.301.840.69.69
    ==================

  31. Khyal says:
    April 6th, 2007 6:50 am

    Another aspect of Islamabad that sets it apart from any other city of the country is its very predictable season of pollen allergy.Lot of people simply leave the city considering the severity of the reaction. Paper mulberry is considered to be the main culprit but nothing as yet seems to have been done to eliminate it.

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