Not long ago, Delhi and Lahore were vulnerable to hordes of foreign invaders. The Mongol fear was overwhelming and indeed Delhi, the capital of the Caliphate for nearly eight centuries, was time and again ravaged by Central Asian fortune hunters. The builders and beneficiaries of idyllic Islamabad may have forgotten the shrill lesson of history: once the central throne was weak and maladministration at its peak, invasions and insurgencies were almost a natural consequence.
Today, sleepy Islamabad with its clear skies and majestic hills has turned into a classic capital under siege. It is not just under siege from the Islamists; the internal forces are also set to eat it up in pursuance of a suicidal streak that runs along the fault-lines of the Margalla-land.
After a long time away, a day in the capital was a trip into a fear-zone. Although it was admittedly for work reasons, the experience was nevertheless insightful and a little melancholic, especially when one has lived in Isloo during peaceful times. It is not pleasant to see a loveable city turn into a ghetto of barricades, echoing of trepidation; and incessantly wobble on the slippery foundations of civilian power-sharing arrangements. Since the suicide bombing at the Chief Justice’s reception last summer, the slide of the city’s law and order into chaos has been remarkably swift and unrelenting. The Lal Masjid saga, its location, proximity to the invisible force of the power market and bungled operations were clearly reflective of the seething unrest within the polity.
My parents were locked inside the house and recounted those few days with curfews, blackouts, nightly explosions and panic in the air. This had never happened before and a new history akin to the mainland was being scripted for the capital. The rest is history as they say – from the targeting of foreign missions, restaurants, hotels and not to mention the excesses against the sitting Chief Justice and later the lawyers and the media personnel.
This has surely made the proverbially oxymoronic Constitution Avenue a no-go area. On the crisp Thursday morning when I arrived in the city to attend a meeting in the besieged diplomatic enclave, the multiplicity of barricades was astounding. The Serena Hotel, an architectural gem, is no longer accessible to the public; in fact, normal traffic cannot pass on the road that leads to Constitution Avenue. The diplomatic enclave, now proposed to be a gated hamlet within the capital, is also nearly impossible to enter unless you have passes, stickers on vehicles and various identifications ready for inspection.
I wonder what the inhabitants of the diplomatic enclave feel. Apparently, nervousness is rampant despite the sense of adventure that many an international staff share as a life trait. Once inside, life within the compounds replicates “home” with ex-pat clubs, festivals and international nights, or so I am told. My friend, LA, from Canada, is undaunted as she continues to attend parties and even sneak into local markets with Pakistani friends and acquaintances. Not all ex-pats are so lucky: most have sent their families back to the countries of their residence and are barred from going to local markets and restaurants. Essentially, they are limited to the securer circles of work and living.
The obvious question that evades the attention of foreign missions is how much are they, if at all, responsible for all that is happening to Pakistan, particularly Islamabad. If the NATO allies are unable to control Afghanistan despite the massive amounts spent on the war machine, then there is something wrong somewhere. And, if billions in relief, emergency and development aid have been unable to alleviate the miseries faced by Afghan people, then the aid architecture should be revisited or perhaps scrapped to avoid senseless technical assistance on sophisticated government machinery in a country where millions are maimed, hungry and shelter-less.
Islamabad is also a haven for all the planners, architects and beneficiaries of international aid industry. This is what has made Islamabad different from the rest of urban Pakistan. Men and women of all ages and ideologies are now in the service of the international development Continue reading