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Once a city of gardens, Lahore is now a concrete jungle

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Lahore Smog

Frightening

When I finally returned to Lahore, the city I spent the better half of my life in, it broke my heart to see what had become of it, so much so, I decided to write an article about it.

Lahore is dying.

Disastrous skimming of the stars or just gross negligence, either way, Lahore is going through a severe environmental crisis. The Land Cover Project driven by the Geomatics of Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL,) Belgium, observed that in a period of just eight years, the provincial capital lost over 75% of its total tree cover. In numbers, that’s 8839 hectares of urban forest cover lost.Lahore

In the midst of its ‘infrastructure’ dream, the city has lost its charm. There are bridges, flyovers, high-rise buildings, wide roads, and brand new housing schemes where ring-necked parakeets used to wander around, and fields of mulberry, guava, and mango trees used to sprout.

Hammad Naqi Khan, the director-general of the World Wide Fund for Nature Pakistan (WWF Pakistan,) said that an overpopulated, urban city like Lahore cannot survive rapid and unsustainable development, which exerts enormous pressure on existing natural resources, leading to water problems, pollution, and changes in the city’s temperatures.

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE: Blinding Justice and a Case of Uniforms

Honestly

If I’m completely honest, in my decade long stay in Lahore, I found the city to be rather unpleasant and rushed, so much so, it took my friends eight years to finally convince me to visit what they called the majestic Shalimar Gardens. “Majestic?” What a dump, I thought to myself.

A dump.

My apologies. I wasn’t the smartest person when I first visited the Gardens, but I knew better the next time around. On my second visit to the centuries’ old gardens, I tried to see more than just what my eyes showed me. I observed that the Gardens were severely affected by development projects in the area. There was a flyover being built right above the Gardens that threatened to intrude upon their very existence.

Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. PHOTO: ALAMY

Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. Photograph: Alamy

The lesser-known gardens left behind by history: the Garden of Mahabat Khan, Naulakha Garden, Bagh-e-Dara, Anguri Bagh, Gulabi Bagh, Badami Bagh, Gardens of Raja Teja Singh in Chah Miran, Garden of Raja Dina Nath on Shalimar Road, Garden of Bhai Maha Singh near Shah Alam Gate; all have been lost in the name of ‘development’ and ‘infrastructure.’

The Anarkali Garden, Iqbal Park, and Lahore Zoological Gadens are fighting for their survival as well.

Maddening

Maddening. During my last days in Lahore, the Jail Road underpass, which is complete now, was under construction. “Why would the government spend millions on a project that would probably need another update in a decade or so?” I used to wonder everyday, stuck in the traffic on my way to tuition in Liberty. “It’s hideous to look at, anyway.”

Hideous.

Not long after the project was completed, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA,) the organization responsible for the construction of the underpass, was taken to the court. A consulting engineer of the organization confessed that the underpass was ill-planned and that it should be replaced with a new and well-planned underpass soon. And just like that, millions of taxpayer money was lost.

Lahore

Jail Road underpass. PHOTO: HABIB CONSTRUCTION SERVICES.

Let’s not judge the government just yet, though, for Lahore’s rapidly increasing population has made such projects a necessity. Housing schemes are just another baggage the government has to shoulder for its failure to contain the population. Since there exists no law, whatsoever, which stops the conversion of prime agriculture and plantation lands for commercial or housing purposes, hundreds of hectares of land that could potentially be used for planting trees are lost. This is called the ‘opportunity cost.’

Opportunity cost is defined as the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

Keeping in mind the concept of opportunity cost, let’s just imagine, for we can only imagine our government would take such a step, that the government went for the other alternative that is that it didn’t go for the mega projects like the construction of flyovers, underpasses, metro lines, and orange lines and instead, it decided to plant millions of trees where housing schemes exist today. Would it have solved all of our problems? No.

If the government had taken such a step, there would have been an acute shortage in the housing sector, and an acute shortage would have increased the demand, and an increase in demand would have skyrocketed the prices of the houses available in the city, and an increase in prices would have decreased the spending by the people, and a decrease in spending by the people would have brought the city’s economy to a standstill for the majority of Lahore’s business community is involved in real estate.

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Rethink

I used to live in Defence Housing Authority (DHA,) Phase V, and it used to take me around an hour to get to my high school Aitchison College, which is situated at Mall Road. “The government needs to rethink its plan,” I used to curse every morning. “I just cannot keep waking up at 5AM anymore.”

Rethink.

Pakistan needs to rethink how it plans its cities. Only poorly planned cities grow ‘horizontally’ rather than ‘vertically’ – which increases the country’s carbon emissions, leads to a loss of fertile land and increases commuting time and cost. Lahore has turned into a little province of its own and if it continues growing unplanned, it will only make itself an example of failed urbanization for the world to study about. And I, or any Pakistani at all, would hate to read about this city’s failure.

Lahore

Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore. PHOTO: UZAIR

Our government needs to realize that Lahore is more than just steel and concrete. It needs to protect the environment for every tree that falls, every new car that is placed on the roads, every family that makes a home in a housing scheme in the middle of nowhere, and every garden that is destroyed for making space for a flyover, our ecosystem will suffer. The heat waves will only get more intense, the smog will only get thicker, the next rain will only submerge the city deeper, and Lahore will only fall harder in the eyes of the world.

At the same time, the government needs to invest in other major cities like Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Sialkot, and Sargodha and so, to stop the massive urban migration into Lahore. It also needs to introduce laws that limit the number of housing schemes that can be constructed in a period of five years or more. The government also needs to diversify the city’s dependence on real estate. It needs to give more power to public and private transport services in the city and reduce the number of cars on the roads somehow.

And we, the general public, must decide if we want to protect the environment and lead a healthy lifestyle or if we want to continue being involved or support practices that harm the environment of this glorious city.

***

About the writer: Shahzaib Tahir Awan is the CEO of The Bisouv Network and House of Entremuse. He is currently studying for B.A. Computer Science degree at Jacobs University, Germany.

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Person of the Decade – Raheel Sharif

Bisouv, in its first public issue, salutes the many achievements of the former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif.

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Raheel Sharif

Through storms of political biases, domestic and foreign insurgencies, and financial and social emergencies, Pakistan has emerged – every time a little stronger. And the people responsible for putting the country in these desperate of situations are plenty and the people responsible for taking the country out of them are, but a few. Bisouv, in its first ever public issue, salutes the latter and in this article, celebrates one of the few – Raheel Sharif.

Currently serving as the first Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, a 39-nation alliance of Muslim countries headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Raheel Sharif, a former four-star general and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) is arguably the most popular COAS in Pakistan’s history. Born in a country, in which to this day all shots are called, directly or in a de-facto martial law-style, by the military, Raheel Sharif was different – a general who ‘could,’ but never did.

MORE FROM THIS WEEK’S ISSUE: Blinding Justice and a Case of Uniforms

Under his command, the Pakistan Army carried out fierce anti-terrorism operations in North Waziristan in the Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which not only stabilized the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA,) but built the foundation for the government of Pakistan to merge the deprived province into Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KP.) Sharif was responsible for expanding the role of paramilitaries, mainly Pakistan Rangers, in the coastal city of Karachi – a move that saw an exceptional decrease in the crime rate in the city and later pulled out the city’s name out of the ‘Most Dangerous Cities in the World’ list. Unlike his predecessors, Sharif wholeheartedly supported the democratically elected government in the deprived, and the largest province of Pakistan, Balochistan and buried the hatred that former dictator Musharraf first initiated in 2006. At the request of the Chinese government and after the Pakistan government’s approval, Sharif created a new brigade-level military unit to help protect and secure the many projects under the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC.) Sharif also helped develop Pakistan’s indigenous defence industry, which resulted in the savings of more than $1.14 billion, over a year and half time period

In other feats, under Raheel Sharif, the Pakistan Army operated strictly under its constituted jurisdiction and left foreign, social, and economic policies to the democratically elected civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Under his tenure, Pakistan Army carried out first ever joint military exercises with Russia and supported the government deepen relations with China.

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE: Once a city of gardens, Lahore is now a concrete jungle

Reportedy, Sharif also thwarted a coup attempt in 2014. As disclosed by former United States ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olsen, former head of Pakistan Intelligence Service ISI Zahir-ul-Islam was mobilizing for a coup in September of 2014 during Imran Khan’s infamous Islamabad protest that lasted for months.

“We received information that Zahir-ul-Islam, the DG ISI, was mobilizing for a coup in September of 2014 [during Khan’s protest in Islamabad.] [Army Chief] Raheel [Sharif] blocked it by, in effect, removing Zahir, by announcing his successor,” Olson was quoted in the recently launched book ‘The Battle For Pakistan, The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighborhood’ by Shuja Nawaz in its chapter titling, Mil-to-Mil Relations: Do More. “[Zahir] was talking to the corps commanders and was talking to likeminded army officers… He was prepared to do it and had the chief [Raheel Sharif] been willing, even tacitly, it would have happened. But the chief was not willing, so it didn’t happen.”

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Blinding Justice and a Case of Uniforms

Former dictator and president Pervez Musharraf has been sentenced to death by a special court in a high-treason case. What does it mean for Pakistan and its institutions?

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General Pervez Musharraf

‘Former Dictator Pervez Musharraf has been sentenced to death,’ read the English newspaper in bold against white, folded cleanly, and displayed on one of many wooden stands that housed every publication from Urdu masalas to the high-end European fashion magazines, ‘The time for democracy is now,’ read another. The Musharraf High-Treason Verdict had taken the country by a storm, so much so, it had everyone talking – some had been left appalled by the traitorous decision to hang the former Chief of Army Staff and President and some welcomed it with open arms, all in all, the public response was mixed, but for the first time in the country’s history, the powerful armed forces were being discussed and this time behind no curtains.

General Pervez Musharraf had been handed down a death sentence by a special court, in absentia, in a high-treason case that took six years to complete. The special court, in its detailed judgment that it published days later, directed law enforcements of the country to apprehend Musharraf, who is currently receiving medical treatment in the United Arab Emirates, to ensure the death sentence is carried out and if the convicted is found dead beforehand, “his corpse be dragged to D-Chowk [in front of the Parliament House,] Islamabad, Pakistan, and be hanged for three days.”

READ MORE: Remembering Pakistan’s first foreign agent Fatima Jinnah

The decision was first of its kind for Pakistan, a country more or less ruled, rather dictated, by the military for most of its history. “It’s almost unbelievable that a former dictator has been sentenced to death in a country where the military enjoy absolute immunity legally, financially, and socially,” commented one Mustafa reading the partially banned newspaper DAWN. “If anything, I am hopeful for the future of the country.” But not everyone shares Mustafa’s sentiments especially the military and the serving government.

The army’s public relations reacted angrily to Musharraf’s verdict, saying in a statement that someone who served the country for over 40 years, fought battles, and made sacrifices in the defense of the country “can surely never be a traitor.” DG ISPR General Asif Ghafoor went on to state that the verdict “[has] been received with a lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of Pakistan Armed Forces,” and noting the military expects justice will be dispensed in line with the constitution saying, “The due legal process seems to have been ignored.”

The serving government under the populist leader Imran Khan has also been critical of the court’s decision. Farogh Naseem, former Minister of Law, went on to say that the government is the process of filing a reference against Judge Waqar Ahmed Seth, one of the three judges responsible for handing Musharraf the death sentence, under Article 209 of the constitution in the Supreme Judicial Council for the inhumane comments that came with the detailed verdict. Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI,) however, wasn’t always in support of Musharraf, so much so, Khan had lambasted the former dictator in a number of public rallies and gatherings before coming into power. In a recorded interview with Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s top journalists and anchors, Khan can be heard saying that Musharraf should be hanged for breaking the constitution not once, but twice. “Khan had a change of heart,” commented a legal mind on the condition of anonymity. “The only reason the man is the prime minister of Pakistan is because of the backstage handshake his party has cemented with the military. How else could someone like Khan come into power after only five or six years of political rallies?”

READ MORE: Mr Khan, keep your Naya Pakistan to yourself 

All-in-all, the death sentence handed to Musharraf is unlikely to be carried out right away as he is currently not in the country and has no plans of coming back anytime soon to face the death sentence. Despite that, independent Pakistani analysts believe that for Pakistan, as a whole, the verdict is a good and concrete step towards a true democracy. “The Pakistan Army and its associated parties have been ruling the country directly and indirectly,” commented another legal mind on the same condition of anonymity. “The verdict has shaken the very foundation of this so called “democracy” and has the generals as well as the government running. This is surely a victory for the sane ones. No wonder the verdict has taken the country by a storm.” To some extent, it’s an open secret that the country’s powerful military has been calling the shots ever since Ayub Khan imposed the first ever martial law that the country saw and to this day, the military has never as much as flinched before branding the critical politicians and journalists as ‘traitors’ and ‘foreign agents’ working for either India’s RAW or Israel’s Mossad.

The public response to the verdict was mixed, it rather pleased the general population than anger them, as is Musharraf’s reputation in Pakistan with one section of the population hailing him as a hero who saved Pakistan from its most desperate of times and corrupt politicians while others look down on him as a traitor who sold, maimed, and killed his own people to please the West in order to solidify his position. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that after former dictator Zia-ul-Haq, Musharraf is the most hated leader in Pakistan and he has richly deserved the title: from the murder of former Governor and Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006 to his short-sighted diplomacy and politics, which pushed Pakistan into the whole Afghan quagmire resulting in the loss of thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and a broken international image that deprived Pakistan of tourism, international sports, business, and commerce.

The verdict has also developed major differences between the two most powerful institutions of the country: the military and the judiciary. The matter of the extension of General Javed Bajwa, serving Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, was the first blow the judiciary had handed the military in Khan’s time ordering the government to ask the approval of the Parliament in order to get a three year extension in Bajwa’s tenure. In the past, as well, the judiciary and the military have been doubtful of each other – Musharraf himself was forced to resign as president following his dismissal of the then-Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry.

Whatever may happen in the near future, the verdict has clearly suggested, rather shown, that no one is above the law in Pakistan – anyone, including General Pervez Musharraf, once one of the most powerful men in the world.

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Remembering Pakistan’s first foreign agent Fatima Jinnah

“They call her the Mother of the Nation,” sniffed Ayub. “Then she should at least behave like a mother.” For Ayub, well-behaved women didn’t make history.

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Fatima Jinnah

Soon after Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination and Pakistan’s plunging into absolute political and economical abyss, The Mother of the Nation Fatima Jinnah decided to retreat to her Flagstaff House in Karachi. Her hair textured shades of grey and her eyes a little more tired than usual, Miss Fatima had fallen silent for a moment. With the memory of her dear brother fresh in her mind, she found herself aghast over the wreck they had made of her brother’s Pakistan, but the silence endured.

The silence endured Iskander Mirza’s mocking of the constitution, the silence endured the fading of the once-great Muslim League, the silence endured when the country entered its first martial law, and the silence endured the mistreatment of the East by the West. Miss Fatima was, in fact, one of the fiercest critics of the government’s neglect towards East Pakistan, so much so, when her good conscious couldn’t allow it anymore, she broke the silence.

READ MORE: Mr Khan, keep your Naya Pakistan to yourself

“The Big Stick” The Times called her as white-haired Miss Jinnah, 71, the candidate of five usually disunited opposition parties, entered the arena facing the powerful dictator Ayub Khan. Thousands over thousands chanted Jinnah’s name once again as Miss Fatima’s razor-tongued attacks on Ayub’s illegitimate reign left the authorities in utter shock. The eastern city of Dhaka cried END TO DICTATORSHIP as students enthusiastically proclaimed Miss Jinnah Week and in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, unrest forced the government to close all the schools indefinitely. Miss Jinnah’s sentiments saw the legal community come into one as well and when they did, they were quickly denounced by Ayub as “mischief-mongers.” In reply, the Karachi Bar Association overwhelmingly adopted a resolution urging “the party in power to get rid of the notion that wisdom, righteousness and patriotism are the monopoly of their yes men.” The media, for once, also refused to follow the dictator’s orders and the usually complaisant newspapers editors defied the regime’s attempts to make them endorse a restrictive new press law. Ayub soon started regretting ever calling the elections in the first place and on the other hand, Miss Jinnah was never stronger. It is often said, and advised, never to tackle a tiger into a corner for when the tiger stings, and it will, the hunter becomes the hunted. And Pakistan had found her tiger in Miss Jinnah.

In no time, Miss Jinnah had Ayub running scared for after six years of insisting that Pakistanis were not ready for democracy, Miss Jinnah’s fierce campaign had only shown Ayub that he was the only one not ready for it. Miss Jinnah had managed to focus every form of discontent in the country and political gurus predicted the election was hers. To brake her bandwagon, Ayub abruptly decreed that elections would be held January 2, instead of March, as originally scheduled. Explaining lamely that the situation is “a little tense,” the government also rescinded a law specifying that political rallies must be open to the public. And when it didn’t work, Ayub, as uniformed cowards do, set out to portray Miss Jinnah as pro-Indian and pro-Pakhtoonistan. Dozens of columnists were paid to paint Miss Jinnah in colors of blue and saffron. In one pamphlet, Miss Jinnah was accused of conspiring against Pakistan alongside Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan by trying to establish Pakhtoonistan and in another episode, full page government ads claimed “Miss Fatima Jinnah was greeted in Peshawar with the slogans of ‘Pukhtoonistan Zindabad.’”

At closed meetings with groups of electors, Ayub answered practical questions sensibly enough, but kept lashing out at the opposition with growing anger. “They call her the Mother of the Nation,” sniffed Ayub. “Then she should at least behave like a mother.” For Ayub, well-behaved women didn’t make history.

Despite the usual dirty tricks, Miss Jinnah marched on. To Ayub’s claim that he was trying to develop “basic democracy,” Miss Jinnah replied: “What sort of democracy is that? One man’s democracy? Fifty persons’ democracy?” As for Ayub’s charge that the country would revert to chaos if he was defeated, his rival snapped: “You can’t have stability through compulsion, force and the big stick.”

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The stage was set. It was the great Miss Jinnah against a field marshal who had never won a war, a president who was never elected, and an army chief only because his superiors had died in an air crash. Not in a thousand years could Ayub overtake Miss Jinnah but he did, anyway. Miss Jinnah lost the election amid allegations of mass rigging. Her only mistake was that she endured in silence.

And so did Pakistan. First, by perpetuating military rule, its democracy suffered. Ayub had given the armed forces a right, so much so, a privilege to rule the country. The army began to think that it was their duty and responsibility to take over the country whenever they thought right. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a prominent figure in Ayub’s government, was only the first politician used and thrown away by the army.

East Pakistan, which gave Miss Jinnah a spectacular welcome and where Miss Jinnah secured an astounding victory in the polls would be condemned to the most brutal blood and gore just seven years later, tearing the country in two. Bengalis had dominated Miss Jinnah’s electoral alliance. It is now left for us to wonder what could have been, had they been given their say. And let’s not forget that East Pakistan’s situation was much like KPK’s today: Bengali rights groups were only ever addressed with a stick and abuses, their rallies were censored, their foreheads carved with the words ‘traitor,’ and their houses searched and ripped apart in the dark of the night.

In Karachi, where the Urdu-speaking community came out for Miss Jinnah in droves and where, like East Pakistan, Miss Jinnah had swept the city, the voters were rewarded by a ‘victory parade’ led by Ayub’s goons. They were beaten red and blue, their houses raided, and their places of work destroyed and sealed. Karachi soon erupted in ethnic rioting that saw over thirty dead. It would be the first of many.

The aftershocks of Miss Jinnah’s rigged defeat against the tyrant Ayub are still felt to this day. Pakistan and her people have suffered greatly because of one man’s greed but all hope is not lost. By not forgetting Miss Fatima’s struggle against dictator Ayub and by revisiting Miss Jinnah’s fierce campaign against him, we, as a nation, can learn from our mistakes and flourish.

A dictatorship, a puppet government, or a selected one can never be healthy for a young nation’s growth.

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About the writer: Shahzaib Awan currently heads the Bisouv Publications and House of Entremuse Media Group. He’s an ex-Aitchisonian and is currently studying Computer Science at Jacobs University, Germany.

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