Dr Chad Haines provides a brief history of Islamabad and its development and evolution.
What was the purpose behind creating Islamabad?
Chad Haines: Islamabad is a city that reflects its time. It was a product of the authoritarian demands of the military dictator Ayub Khan; a reflection of the postcolonial condition of Pakistan born out of partition with serious ‘cartographic anxieties’; the international regime of ‘Third-Worldness’ institutionalised in the planning/development regime of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the US Agency for International Development; and mid-century modernist ideas about the urban that were the basis for Constantinos Doxiadis’ vision.
Islamabad, at heart, is an authoritarian city that reflects the need of a militarized state.
The grid layout, the area set aside for all the government buildings, and the ability to control all entries into the city reflect this reality of the city. Originally the plan was to place the government sector at the center of the city.
However, that was rejected by the military government. Placing the Parliament, Courts, secretariats, and the President’s home on the edge of the city creates a visible presence of the state. Islamabad is not a democratic city.
Can you please elaborate the idea that Islamabad represents the military mindset?
There are several examples in which Islamabad is an authoritarian city, rather than a democratic city.
Several features of its design are based on security issues of controlling public spaces and movements rather than the more democratic principles of urban planning. One example is the grid layout itself, which is easily policed and controlled.
I remember staying in the old city of Lahore, in the inner city, near Shalmi Gate, at one point in the 90s when the PPP was in power. The PML had taken to the streets to protest, but they held the protest near the inner city.
When the police raided the protesters, they fled into the narrow, twisting alley ways of the inner city and the police refused to pursue them out of fear. The chaos of the inner city of Lahore is in fact more democratic than the grids of Islamabad.
A second aspect of this is that the entry points into Islamabad are limited and thus easily controlled, as they were during the Long March in the spring of 2009 (when I was in Islamabad). The city was completely shut down to keep the protesters out of Islamabad.
A third aspect of this is the placement of the “Red Zone”. The original plan by Doxiadis was to place the Red Zone in the centre of the city, along the Blue Area, between G7 and F7, if I remember correctly. Ayub Khan moved it to the edge of the city, with particular interest in placing the Aiwan-e-Sadr in a prominent and visible location.
In comparison to Washington DC, for example, the White House is less prominent than the Capitol building, reflecting, at least in principle, a more democratic idea, rather than asserting the authority of a single power/authority figure.
The original building plans for the Cabinet Secretary and the Parliament Building were very open designs, with a park for people to visit with fountains. Those plans were rejected and the buildings were placed behind security fences and gates (which were not part of the original plans).
Why did the government feel the need to shift the capital from Karachi?
Karachi was viewed by the Capital City Commission, headed by Yahya Khan, as too congested to construct the necessary government buildings. Like Lahore and Dacca, it was viewed as a provincial capital, but unworthy of a new nation.
The new site was also a clear move to ‘Punjabise’ Pakistan, moving away from the city of the muhajirs. One of the ideas of the site chosen was that it was also along the Grand Trunk Road, grounding the new capital into an ancient history.
This is symbolically significant as it creates a cartographic and historical continuity for the country, that otherwise has no history as a territorial entity.
What led to the rapid boom in Islamabad’s population in the 90s?
There were multiple forces, both national as well as global, that led to the growth of Islamabad in the 1990s.
One of the major driving forces was the returning migrants and investments of Pakistanis who had moved to the Arab Gulf countries in the 1970s and 1980s. This also included a significant number of military personnel who were on rotation to countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where they served on loan in their militaries.
Having earned huge amounts in tax-free salaries, the migrants, businessmen, and military personnel sought to return to Pakistan to new homes. While Karachi was seen as the financial capital of Pakistan, in the 1990s, it was burning with ethnic violence.
Islamabad, on the other hand, was desirable for two reasons: first, it was safe and secure; and, second, it was modern and new, very similar to the cities of the Gulf. Thus it was a place they could reproduce their luxurious lifestyles in Pakistan.
You have said in the past that the term 'land mafias' is a misnomer. Why? What would be a better term?
I don’t remember my exact thinking on this matter when I first wrote about it. It is something I have not fully researched yet.
While the emergence of the ‘land mafia’ counters the original idea of Islamabad being controlled solely by the government, it is not an unexpected development as people began to see land as an investment and not just a home.
As well, it reflects some of the contradictions and problems of building a city on land originally owned by other people. While there is extensive corruption in regards to who actually owns the land and people occupying it, and reoccupying it, in attempts to get compensation and selling it off at huge profits, it is a natural part of turning land into a commodity.