by Maniza Naqvi
There is a part of Karachi called Golimar—‘Shooter'. This used to be the place where lame horses were brought by the military to be shot, back in the days of the British Empire. And the word Golibaz—means liar—or a fraud. Nowadays Golimar and Golibaz seem to pretty much sum up things. The horses have been replaced by people, especially those that are seen as a threat or as no longer worthwhile and the lies well they've never been replaced. I wonder what a historian would make of it.
Because that's a twitter-worthy bit of history right there: a place called Golimar and a condition called Golibaz. And what ties them together? Defense. The word Defense in Pakistan mean posh real estate developments. These are the places where the concept of equity and transparency and integrity go to die. These are the acres and acres of lands the Pakistan Military establishment awarded itself for its service to the country. The word military, in Pakistan, means absolute power, like the feudals of yesteryears–only more so, it is therefore the largest land owner in Pakistan. And the leasing off of these awarded lands from the military to civilians at fabulous prices for housing developments has been a profitable business. And that there is a bit of political economy—well the whole thing actually.
Professor Ayesha Jalal, the most excellent historian says ‘Pakistan's domestic dilemmas were inextricably linked to international conflicts (here). Besides the bullets and the blasts and the lies or because of them—business is booming for a few in Pakistan. Real estate–never better. Golf courses, fancy mosques, Yacht clubs, swimming pools, high rise apartments for the wealthy and shopping malls are expanding and flourishing. Residential developments for the rich are big business. Exports are off the charts for our textiles. Look at our IT sector. Could be even better if the fuel and electricity issues could be resolved. There are air-conditioned shopping malls and women work there as sales girls and even as security guards. Many of the sales girls and the security women working there wear hijabs. There's piped in music and azaan in the Malls along with the cheesy French fries and pizza. There are fast food courts. All classes of people mingle together in a clean air conditioned safe environment. Just like Dubai.
So what's the problem? Perween Rahman got shot and killed–murdered–for documenting land grabbing and trying to get legal rights documented for villagers who were in danger of being forcibly removed by land developers. The Supreme Court has ordered that her murderers be found by April 20, 2016. And there's Sabeen Mahmud shot and killed–murderd– for most probably talking about land grabbing too. In her murder case, a key witness and a key investigator in the case have both been killed since.
The last fifteen years while war has raged in Afghanistan, business has boomed for a few in Pakistan and with them art, music, literature, has flourished too. Throughout history and everywhere in the world, artists always need wealthy patrons. Robber barons, real estate and religion have flourished too. They are all experiencing a spectacular bonanza. It is a paradox of sorts—a dilemma. The elite anywhere does well in war. It's no different in Pakistan.
And so there are stunning developments alongside the target killings, taking shape in Pakistan's major cities of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad (here). These are either called Bahria Town or Defense Housing Authority Cities and Townships being developed by one very savvy, smart and astute businessman who along with mega construction sites, bankrolls the Lal Masjid inmates in Islamabad and politicians of all stripes (here). There are also mega waterfront developments at the shores of the Ravi River and the Arabian Sea. The Bahria Towns are spectacular in scale of land and development ambition—along with dolphins in large aquariums, they include parks with replicas of Trafalgar square lions—called Trafalgar Square—the Eiffel tower and so on (here). And golf courses. And residential sections for overseas residences only—and sections named after the Caliphs, Osman, Omar and Ali blocks. (here, here). And whole communities are systematically being pushed out and off of their lucrative land plots homes through arson resulting after accusations of blasphemy.
The stealing of land for the profit of the few, ‘the pelf and the privilege', the making invisible and even more vulnerable of the majority is described by Khayyam Mushir:
'To my queries, our man–let's call him the Invisible Man – would not answer at first. But with some cajoling, he confessed to having lost his job as a gardener in the house across, and to being turned out on the road brusquely, despite the entreaties of both his wife and daughter, with no wages, no food and no shelter. More cars passed, angrily swerving to avoid mine. From their interiors pale white angered faces, pressed against black tinted mirrors, gestures and expressions full of derision, as screeching tires blew plumes of dust over the Invisible Man and his equally invisible family. My inadequate gesture of charity the Invisible Man silently accepted with a resigned nod of thanks, giving me the cue to drive away into the diametrically opposed and unreal world of the rich and the privileged.
We live today in an age of extremes. The steadily growing gulf between the rich and the poor in our country has widened into a gaping insurmountable chasm. We imagine that our riches, our connections, our access to pelf and privilege, our borrowed affluence, will perpetuate this state of contradictions to our advantage alone. This smug assumption is informed partially by the recent economic phenomenon witnessed in the urban centres of Pakistan: here, an entire class of nouveau riche has emerged in the last decade, owing primarily to an unregulated property boom, but also to decrepit legal and law-enforcement institutions. This wealth and prosperity, generated through corrupt means, has no economic or institutional foundations. There are no new industries, no manufacturing units, no new service providers and therefore no real employment opportunities.
The beneficiaries of such ill-gotten gains, the semi-literate, tax evading, small traders and property dealers with political affiliations who now have big money, lack any entrepreneurial insight or ambition. As a corollary the nature of their commerce is exploitative and reliant on the informal and equally burgeoning sector of low paid, unskilled or semi-skilled, daily wagers. A mirage of affluence in the form of shopping malls and branded wholesale and retail outlets is merely the indicator of this excessive circulation of money. Yet the poor are poorer and the rich only richer, the growing refulgence in the lives of the former balanced only by the acute deprivation in those of the latter.
The question we need to ask ourselves today, a question that should concern governments and lawmakers and equally the beneficiaries of pelf and privilege, is: how long will this state of affairs endure? If history is to be made a benchmark for the future, then all contradictions must eventually resolve themselves. Will the invisible and the dispossessed of Pakistan suffer their exploitation endlessly as they have until now? Or have we achieved that critical mass?' (Here)
These developments, gobbling up the Commons, sucking up scarce water and gas, are no go zones for the uninvited. The police and the military too have declared parts of Pakistan as no go zones as well—for the non-terrorists. And there is a sliding and a slipping into a rightwing mentality. The venerable I.A. Rehman a warrior for human rights and justice wrote:
'As Pakistan turns more and more towards a rightist agenda the most important question now is whether those who stand for a progressive, egalitarian order can protect the interests of disadvantaged sections of society that are likely to suffer the most…..Pakistan's transformation into a military-dominated religious state will make the pursuit of a balanced policy towards the neighbouring states extremely difficult. Not only will the process of normalisation with India be affected, it may be impossible to avoid strains on relations with Iran and China as well. The attitude towards the militants that are challenging the state could change from confrontation to mutual accommodation…. The future for the peasantry and the working class is also likely to become progressively darker. The fight for land reform and a fair deal for farm labour will become harder and labour is likely to be told to be content with whatever the profit-hungry employers consider necessary for keeping their enterprises running….True, efforts to consolidate a national security state under the wrapping of belief will amount to reversing humankind's march towards freedom, justice and equity and are bound to fail in the long run. But there can be little doubt about the enormous cost that the people will have to pay before they start pushing their oppressors back. …Thus, we are back to the question as to who can prevent the state's slide into force-backed negation of democracy and basic rights? The task demands united and concerted efforts by whatever progressive elements have survived, especially among women, the agricultural community and the industrial workers, to stop the state's dangerous drift. What is needed most of all is a cadre, fresh and credible, and capable of using a new idiom to reach the masses and awakening them to the urgency of saving their dreams.' (here)
There is of course, hand in hand with the development of the silent coup that took place when the military took over in January 2015 when Parliament gave the military the right to dispense justice and laws. Ahmed Rashid in the March 2015 New York Review of Books in his article entitled in the hard copy version as‘Pakistan Sinking Further' and in the online version as Pakistan's Fierce Pressures says:
'No one should be surprised to read that in Pakistan the army has taken charge, established military courts, derailed democracy, brought television and other media under military control. Nor should one be surprised to learn that foreign policy and national security were being directly run by the army. Many similar situations have occurred in Pakistan since 1958, when the army first came to power in a gradual coup, declared martial law, and ruled for a decade. The country has for years been under partial military rule, outright martial law, or military authority disguised as presidential rule……But the arrangement that has evolved over the last six months is the strangest so far: the elected government remains in place but has few powers, and no longer rules the country. The media, opposition political parties, Parliament, and the intelligentsia are trying to resist the gradual military takeover but they are weak and ineffectual.' (here)
And in conjunction to the developments, farmlands have been appropriated, villages have been razed and irrigation and drinking water has been diverted all for creating—not the much need for low income housing, but instead for golf courses, Trafalgar Square and weekend dachas called farms—and large imposing Grand Mosques with attached country clubs –all being booked and bought up by remittance money and other sources. Grand mosques that promise to be the seventh largest in the world. And alongside these there are the bombs and the bullets that target Muslims, Christians and Hindu worshippers.
The only non-developments are in the lack of justice or the end of massacres and assassinations or in eradicating, silencing or arresting and bringing to justice the hate mongers and religious terror groups including banned ones. The military courts, are focused entirely on other matters.
Asma Jehangir the courageous and fearless human rights lawyer had taken to task Aitzaz Ahsan the well known and well respected politician and advocate for democracy for siding with the military. She did this at a literature festival in the February of 2015 in Karachi, ‘Chaudry Sahib, what a shame! Parliament itself allows martial law and military courts—you voted for it! Phir mojan hee mojan phir faujan hee faujan' she repeated an Indian Bollywood Punjabi song which basically translates as ‘Let the good times roll, the military is back in control!'
'Ms. Jehangir said in terms of compromises (maslahetein) things hadn't changed because even today the constitution had something to do with the army. She said Jalib wrote in simple language for the common man and pointed out that a poet should have integrity as well as clarity, and Jalib had both. She argued that those who had turned up at the festival owed it to the spirit of people like Jalib to keep on struggling. At that point Mr Ahsan said the country was in a state of war and our army was fighting the terrorists who were not confined to North Waziristan alone but were attacking cities such as Shikarpur, Karachi, Sukkur and Lahore. Ms Jehangir interjected saying his argument reminded her of a dictator's assertion that Islam was in danger, as a result of which the entire country had been militarized. Mr Ahsan responded that he was not an army supporter; military courts were an instrument of war not an abdication of civilian authority. Ms Jehangir took issue with the notion and said in her opinion the federal government didn't have the courage to express its point of view to the army. The debate was halted by singer Taimur Rehman's rendition of a Habib Jalib poem, which the musician said was addressed to Maulana Abdul Aziz.' (here)
A week later in Lahore, I repeated the phrase ‘Phir faujan hee faujan' to Aitzaz Ahsan one evening in Lahore. Irritated he replied “That's naïve! Pakistan is at war with itself. The extremists have guns. Parliamentarians don't have guns. The country is at war. The military must deal with it.” Indeed in 2014 and early 2015 bombs blast occurred on a weekly basis in Pakistan killing and maiming innocent men, women and children– The next evening at another party this time at Asma Jehangir's sprawling home secured by a legion of police patrol and barbed wire barricades–for the guests and perhaps for her as well–given her fighting the good fight for law and justice.
I strolled in to the drawing room its interiors all jewel colors and its inmates, bejeweled, –it was an atmosphere reminiscent of a set for a 19thcentury Parisian or St Petersburg gilded salon—and I thought this is the way I would design the opening scene for War and Peace. Further into the lavish rooms, I could see—Romila Thapar sitting alone staring into the middle distance, very elegant and resplendent in a silk sari, the pre-eminent South Asian historian She appeared statuesque and I couldn't make out whether she seemed serene or uncomfortable or resigned, Beyond her I could see through the open French windows the lush green garden and lawns. I made my way through the packed room of steadily getting sloshed perspiring and flushed crowd towards her. This party was graciously hosted by the preeminent human rights lawyer in Pakistan, herself, my hero. She greeted her friends and her guests from every spectrum of thought in the upper echelons that evening.
I weaved my way through the wall to wall inebriated guests in her beautiful and opulent chandeliered drawing room stopping to kiss and hug friend after friend from school days and younger times. I had squeezed past the backs of foreign correspondents and journalists— and avoided the elbows of others aspiring their recognition, past the business men and women, architects and urban planners, feudal lords and politicians. Whatever our differences might be in public we were all cozy behind razor wire guarded walls. To be here, to be a part of this, there was nothing more alluring than this. I sat down next to Romila Thapar—complimented her on her beautiful attire, inquired about the provenance of its silk and arranged my shawl and smoothened my hair and took from an offering uniformed servers a glass of white wine, and set it on the coffee table before us. I told her what I am sure everyone does. How much I appreciated her work. A faint nod smile and a nod from her and I asked her how I should address her—Romila ji or….She replied ‘Romila. Just Romila.'
I looked around me contentedly and asked Romila, ‘What do you make of all this?'
She shrugged and said‘This class is the same in Delhi.'
I said ‘If only we had you on our side of the border.'