Your residence among the Falcons

Islamabad diary

By Ayaz Amir

In the national temple dedicated to the worship of the leading Pakistani deity, the holy glitter of real estate, how could Pakistan Air Force be left behind? Iqbal, the national poet – whom we’ve given sufficient reason to turn in his grave – saw the Falcon, the Shaheen of his poetry, dwelling on the peaks of the highest Himalayas. PAF has slightly amended the image. The Shaheen henceforth will be mostly found among the luxury apartment blocks erected by the PAF’s own housing society, Fazaia.

Tu shaheen hai basera kar fazaia kee chatanon par.

In the beginning was the Word, saith the Bible. Everything else followed. In Pakistan it was slightly different. In the beginning was the Defence Housing Colony, Karachi, made into the Defence Housing Authority through military statute by that defender of the faith, General Ziaul Haq. As a colony it was like any other housing colony. As an authority it was endowed with statutory power – lord in its own domain, answerable to no civic body.

The property in its jurisdiction was already valuable. With the bestowal of authority status, it became still more valuable.

The British set aside vast tracts of land for cantonment purposes. In the Lahore cantonment area there used to be firing ranges, drill areas and regimental locations. The eye of the Momin was more ingenious and found other, more lucrative uses for those rolling fields. If Karachi had developed a choice defence housing colony by the sea, how could the Lahore Garrison stay behind? So Defence Lahore came up, which through another military statute was given authority status by that other soldier of Islam, General Pervez Musharraf.

His then Lahore corps commander, Lt Gen Zarrar Azeem, opened up so many defence housing sectors that in military circles he came to be known as Zarrar Zameen.

Pakistan acquired a unique distinction. Whereas elsewhere on the planet the word ‘defence’ conjured up a vision of cannon, tanks and earthworks thrown up against threatening armies, in its case defence came to symbolise real estate. That unknown wag deserves a prize who first said that F-16 was a corner plot.

Somewhere in the 1990s in the time of that enterprising naval chief, Grand Admiral Mansoor-ul-Haq, the navy, bahria in Urdu, following the army footsteps, entered the real-estate business in partnership with that legendary figure now the uncrowned king of this holy endeavour. The navy provided the logo, which gave the partnership credibility; from the budding tycoon came the drive and the expertise.

Soon a dispute arose over the ownership of the logo and the matter went to court. Students of jurisprudence can mull over the fact that for the past 20 years Pakistan’s fast-track judicial system has been unable to resolve this dispute.

To return to our story, if Karachi and Lahore had entered the golden age, how could Islamabad stay out? So in due course there came into being Defence Islamabad which too would have got authority status if circumstances had not conspired to bring about Musharraf’s downfall. So the good work was left unfinished.

To finish it, the defence ministry brought a bill in the National Assembly during its last tenure to give authority status to Defence Islamabad. In the standing committee on defence I, as a committee member, questioned the need for any extra-constitutional favour to a housing colony and put up a dissenting note. My stance, after I had explained matters, was adopted by my then party, the PML-N. This made the opposition to the bill more serious.

But the army has a way of getting its own done. The defence ministry managed to work on the strategic duo of Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar and before we knew it the PML-N was supporting not one but two DHA bills, one for Islamabad and the other for ‘Pindi. To smooth matters, it was said in the preamble of the bills that the DHAs were necessary for the families of shuhada (the martyred), which was the biggest fiction imaginable because DHAs, all of them, are commercial enterprises, a subsidised means of acquiring wealth and property. As every property agent knows, they have nothing to do with cheap housing for the families of military martyrs.

Soon a Defence Peshawar also came up, the provincial assembly passing a DHA bill in double quick time. Recently we’ve seen the emergence of Defence Bahawalpur. The Intelligence Bureau has also entered the real-estate market in a big way, its housing colony ads plastered all over Islamabad. I once took the name of its housing colony but my editors, conscientious souls, cut it. In my younger days I would get angry at such things. Now I just screw my eyes and mutter a silent imprecation…the onset of wisdom, I suppose.

With the army scoring bigger victories in the real-estate sector than in any of its external wars, Bahria entering the picture too and leaving other competitors behind, the Intelligence Bureau creating a splash with its own housing colony, only PAF remained out of the holy temple, the pillars and arches of this temple loftier than that of any other, including, and this is saying a great deal, the temple of national security. Now, Allah be praised, the Shaheens are making their entry into Valhalla and, to judge by the frenzy of the music accompanying their march (or should it be flight?), making up for lost time.

No other military, anywhere, has gone about the real-estate business in such an organised manner. The Russians, the Chinese, the Americans, indeed our Indian friends, could take lessons from us in this field. The higher conduct of war by our general staff may leave something to be desired – as the history of our wars testifies – but no military comes close to ours in the matter of defence housing colonies.

Only problem is, while real estate and corruption may walk hand in hand, and quite often do, can war and real estate go together? At a time when army and air force, and the security agencies, have declared war on terrorism, and the army is being praised for its endeavours and the nation looks proudly and with the deepest respect at the sacrifices of jawans and officers, do all these advertising campaigns about defence, bahria and fazaia housing colonies go with this mood?

Let me repeat that these housing colonies are commercial enterprises which have nothing to do with troop welfare. When most of Pakistan is mired in poverty and backwardness these over-the-top ad campaigns promote a consumerist and acquisitive lifestyle, glorifying a culture for the rich and the privileged. Is this not an insult to our jawans, a mockery of the army’s sacrifices? Don’t senior officers – generals, air marshals, admirals – have a sense of what is appropriate? Or is this what PMA Kakul and Staff College Quetta instruction has come down to?

Fortress of Islam indeed…is this what Islam teaches?

The army finally is doing the right thing, and the public is on its side because of this. Pakistan was on course to become another Iraq or Syria if, against the wishes of the politicians, the army had not moved last year. We say we are in a state of war. Indeed we are. This is a war of our survival, a war for our future. Do obscene housing ads – and there is no other word for them – go with this war?

Or did Churchill cut housing colony tapes during the Second World War and Ho Chi Minh inaugurate residences for falcons during Vietnam’s war of resistance against the American Empire?


Courtesy: The News
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