Islamabad was established as a custom made capital in the 1960s. Famous Greek town planner Doxiadis was commissioned. Keeping in view the traffic congestion of Athens, he designed a resident friendly and environment savvy metropolis. Wide boulevards and green belts were a treat to some of the foreigners coming from claustrophobic mega cities. The city was small, clean and beautiful, perched in the lap of majestic Margallas.
Fifty-two years down the line and our capital already looks congested. Green belts have been violated by the clergy and commercial vested interests alike. From Bara Koh to Tarnol, there are a dozen plus unplanned neighbourhoods that keep expanding. Authorities have little clue about their residents. In recent years, we have lost a provincial Governor, a Federal Minister and a serving Brigadier; all of them killed in broad daylight in the capital territory. As I write these lines a lone gun man has made Islamabad Police look like fools for hours. Would you believe it, Islamabad Police had no snipers to tackle him?
Scant respect was shown for the open areas. Huge buildings have come up in the F-9 park. Could McDonalds ever set up a facility in the Hyde Park, London? Can anyone construct a church in Rome or, for that matter, mosques in Tehran or Riyadh without government permission? Some 20 years ago, Tehran traffic was too unwieldy and pollution levels were so high that the Iranian authorities were thinking of shifting the capital. But then, they decided to broaden the roads and make more flyovers. Bombay slums are being removed through innovative schemes, which also accommodate old residents’ right to live there. Calcutta has been turned around by the Indians, but our once beautiful capital is sliding down and nobody seems to care.
As the capital is sandwiched between Rawalpindi and the Margallas, space is a major problem here. Resultantly, it was decided to allow vertical growth. However, little attention was paid to the parking requirements and recreational needs. Anyone wanting a proof should visit F-11 Markaz Area in the evening. Cars are parked up to the main road and there is only one small park for a dozen plus apartment buildings. In E-11/4 sector, which was developed by the Police Foundation, there is not a single park as most of the open spaces were converted into residential plots in gross violation of the town planning rules. Islamabad could easily be cited as prime example of a place where rules are violated with impunity. And that sets poor example for the rest of country.
Once upon a time, Islamabad where federal ministers, foreign diplomats, and top bureaucrats live, used to be a very clean city. That is no more the case. You have to visit the district courts in F-8 sector to see the appalling sanitary conditions. The Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner, instead of improving that area, have moved out to a new location.
It makes sense to go vertical, but such high rise buildings should not be superimposed as an afterthought. This causes further stress on the infrastructure. A case in point is the G-13 sector where additional 3,000 households will be superimposed in 16 storey buildings, highest residential buildings in Islamabad. This is gross violation of the original layout plan and is going to ruin this sector, which is often touted as “Gateway to Islamabad”. In this very sector, new residential plots were created in parks, schools, and the commercial Markaz. These public areas were saved only through court intervention. But violation of stay orders continues on certain plots. This brand new sector established and owned by the Housing Foundation has broken roads, overflowing sewerage, and no sanitation.
The capital has two bodies to manage it. And interestingly, the CDA and the Islamabad Administration report to two different ministries, creating a co-ordination nightmare. A third player called the Housing Foundation reports to yet another ministry making confusion worse confounded. And all three have perfected the art of passing the buck to others when it comes to action. The resultant paralysis hurts the residents.
Islamabad residents are sitting ducks when it comes to crime. Criminal elements from Punjab and KPK prey on the capital residents with impunity. They are familiar with the escape routes and the capital police can do precious little once they are out of its jurisdiction. Diplomats keep largely confined to the Diplomatic Enclave and pray for early posting out of Islamabad.
The CDA has about 11,000 employees, who are highly unionised and fear nobody. Just pay a visit to this civic body and you will see appalling conditions and glaring contrasts. The front façade, where the Chairman sits, appears clean and functional. But go to the Planning Wing at the rear and notice the overflowing old record, dirty tables, broken chairs, and under employed yawning officials. The CDA is clearly overstaffed and practically dysfunctional. Lethargic expansion of the Kashmir highway is a proof of its inefficiency.
Water is emerging into a big problem in the capital. Simly Dam, the present source of water, is not sufficient. Underground water reserves are depleting fast. Out of 33 filtration plants only six provide safe drinking water. Bani Gala housing around the Rawal Lake is a glaring example of environmental plunder. The way things have been allowed to drift, this capital city will become unliveable sooner than later. Other nations are reclaiming old cities; we are killing a young and healthy city. Poor Doxiadis must be turning in his grave with anger! Can the new government arrest this slide? Can we make Islamabad beautiful again?
n The writer is a retired ambassador living in Islamabad.