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DAWN - Features; August 8, 2002

August 08, 2002

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Rifle in Clinton’s hands: COMMENT

By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi


FORMER US President Bill Clinton’s emotional words at a fund-raising event for a Jewish charity must amaze all, especially his countrymen. Speaking in Toronto, Clinton said he would have died for Israel if it were attacked by Iran or Iraq.

The Israelis knew, he said, that “if the Iraqi or Iranian army came across the Jordan river, I would personally grab a rifle, get in a ditch and fight and die.”

The amazing point about the resolve to die is Clinton’s record vis-a- vis his own country, for the former Democratic president dodged the draft when America was at war in Vietnam.

Clinton repeatedly denied that he had avoided the draft, saying he had gone to Europe after being selected as a Rhodes scholar. The draft-dodging issue figured prominently in the US media when Clinton was seeking a Democratic ticket for nomination as presidential candidate. The incriminating piece of evidence was a letter Clinton wrote from Oxford to the director of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at the University of Arkansas. The letter thanked the director for “saving” him from the draft.

His political opponents alleged that he had gone to Europe to avoid serving in Vietnam. What the motive was only the former Arkansas governor and US president knows. But the incontrovertible fact remains that he failed to pick up a rifle, get in a ditch and fight against the Vietcong in America’s own war when thousands of fellow Americans of his age were getting killed, wounded, maimed for life or returning home as psychiatric patients.

Now, having enjoyed two terms — and much more — in the White House, William Jefferson Clinton said he would have picked up a rifle and died for Israel if the Iranian or Iraqi army had crossed the Jordan river.

If an army crosses the Jordan river, it does not enter Israel; it enters that part of Palestine — the West Bank — which Israel has occupied since 1967. Any person who believes in freedom should welcome such an army, because it would liberate at least a part of Palestine which has been under the occupation of foreign settlers for more than 35 years.

However, a Clinton who would not grab a rifle in the defence of his own country and stare the Vietcong in the face would have the world believe he would have done so for the sake of Israel! Bravo!

After all, it was a fund-raising event, and what matters is how much money you raise — bravado notwithstanding!

Lyari Expressway: woes of displaced families: COMMENT

By Rabia Asif


ROUGHLY 40 years ago when migrants from Punjab, Sindh and the Frontier began to settle here, Lyari River held clean water and fish, and much farming activity. Its earliest settlers from Balochistan had established village Hasan Aulia almost 200 years ago, being among the first few communities to settle in Karachi. Gradually as Karachi’s population grew, the river was converted into a sewerage channel for the city.

Today the total population of katchi abadi dwellers along the Lyari corridor stands at approximately 200,000, all of whom are being removed while their land is being taken over by the government for the construction of the Lyari Expressway. The cost of the project is estimated at Rs5 billion, and a total of 25,000 houses (98 per cent of which are pucca construction), 3,600 shops/commercial units, 50 mosques, 5 churches, 8 temples, 10 schools, 38 clinics, 1 hospital, and 66 factories will be bulldozed.

While the validity of the Karachi Northern Bypass is agreed upon, experts and analysts maintain that the Lyari Expressway is a project without need. Architect and urban planner Arif Hasan who has studied Karachi’s urban issues and the Lyari Expressway project at length, maintains that he is “totally against this project because it is not required”.

The Northern Bypass was conceived in 1980 as a much-needed means of linking the Karachi port to the Karachi Superhighway which connects the city to the north of Pakistan. The purpose of the bypass was to redirect all port related traffic — which constitutes 20,000 heavy diesel vehicles passing through the city daily — to the Superhighway. Because the Bypass project never took off, in 1989 the then government proposed the Lyari Expressway (an expressway along Lyari River) as an alternative. This proposal was severely opposed by professionals, NGOs and Lyari community groups as the expressway — like Lyari river — would pass through the centre of the city, hence enhancing the very problems that a transit bypass was to solve. In 1995 and 1996 after a dialogue between citizens and the then elected government, the Lyari Expressway project was cancelled.

In June 2000, however, it was decided by the military government that both the Northern Bypass and the Lyari expressway would be built. On April 27, the ground breaking ceremony for both projects was held. And while ceremonies and celebrations for these projects proceeded, residents of the Lyari embankments were undergoing threats that their homes were going to be razed to the ground. Those opposing the project primarily argue that, as reiterated by Arif Hasan, “when the Northern Bypass is being built for port related traffic there is no justification for building the Lyari Expressway”.

Officials of the National Highway Authority — to which contract for construction has been given — give various reasons for the Expressway’s feasibility: “unauthorized people are living in the Lyari bed and are in the right of way: they are going to be resettled in a proper environment; port traffic is going to be diverted to the Expressway at high speed; and the Expressway will beautify the city as per the beautification programme”. They also assert that the Northern Bypass project “is not at all the same — the Lyari Expressway is more important particularly for Karachi”.

Arif Hasan gives further reasons for the Lyari Expressway being entirely without validity: “The Lyari Expressway is in no way a priority for the city — Rs5 billion is being spent when there are no bus terminals for the city, the main corridors are broken and there are no footpaths, there is no traffic management. Many link roads connecting the corridors that were planned in the Master Plan haven’t been built; if these were done it would ease traffic much more than building the Expressway and would benefit commuters and neighbourhoods rather than just motorists”.

There are also fears that the expressway will cause congestion and environmental pollution. “This traffic is going to pass through the most heavily congested areas of the city. You don’t build expressways through city centres. Cities that have, like Bangkok, regret them. The Europeans also learnt a long time ago that traffic should be by-passed,” says Arif Hasan. In addition, as far as the Expressway’s proposed design goes, he says that “it is a vulgarity because in its journey of 16.5km, there are going to be 16 bridges and 4 interchanging flyovers.”.

In the eviction drive, the Lyari Expressway project is responsible for large scale dislocation of communities along the Lyari bed and the Lyari corridor as well as the destruction of businesses, social facilities and physical infrastructure. This displacement of 200,000 people is a great humanitarian problem. Aside from the immense financial loss and physical and psychological trauma suffered by all residents, the evictions are causing a direct increase in homelessness and joblessness. The 36,000 commercial enterprises being demolished provide jobs to over 40,000 workers. Most inhabitants also held jobs within reasonable distance from the Lyari corridor. “The government is cruel! These are all ghareeb mazdoor (poor working-class) — who work all day and come home to eat and sleep at night — they are stealing our Sakoon (peace) from us,” says a resident.

Also according to studies conducted by the URC (Urban Resource Centre) Karachi, the expressway would not provide the much-needed space for cargo terminals and warehousing, which the Northern Bypass will provide.

Since Jan 20 2002 over 4,000 residential and commercial units have been demolished. With the help of army, rangers and police, bulldozing is being done by the department of City District Government Karachi, which claims that the project is “under direct orders and monitoring from General Musharraf” and confirms that “the demolishing operation will continue until all ‘encroachments’ are clear”.

Residents whose houses were demolished on June 27 say that although they had been aware of the threat, they were given no notification prior to the bulldozing operation. “Early in the morning we were awakened by teargas ‘grenades’ and the lady police were saying apni jan bachao (save your lives). We weren’t even given the chance to collect our samaan (belongings)”. Another resident exclaims: “That day it was like qayamat here!”. On July 11, the ongoing bulldozing operation took the life of 13-year-old Rehman, who was caught underneath the collapsing wall of his house while trying to secure his belongings. In two separate instances, two women died of heart attack while their houses were being bulldozed, bringing the death toll to eight.

The less revealed truth about the Lyari Expressway is that all land along Lyari River is a gold-mine for land-builders and investors. Many professionals opposing the project as well as affected residents, agree that demolishing is being done for the purpose of selling the land to land-builders — since bulldozing is taking place over an area far greater than that required for the road. In the pattern of many such ‘development’ projects countrywide and worldwide, as soon as the value of property increases, land becomes prime commercial property and consequently whatever stands in the way of its commercialisation, is eliminated. The affected are usually katchi abadi dwellers who, due to the government’s failure in fulfilling the housing needs of the poor, settle on land sold to them by the city’s land mafia (land grabbers). Thus contrary to the misconception that katchi abadi dwellers live free of cost, both land and services such as electricity, water supply, and gas are sold to the them by informal agencies or mafia, most of which are closely linked to government agencies and police.

Canal breach: fixing the responsibility: DATELINE HYDERABAD

By Aziz Malik


THE Rohri canal breach was quite a shock for those who are still reeling under its impact. On the night of July 28 the people of four dehs of Union Council Faqir Nooh Hotiani of the Matiari taluka, when they were sound asleep, were hit with the deluge like a bolt from the blue in the same way they were hit 11 months back in June 2001 when the breach had occurred in the same canal and almost on the same spot.

To gauge the extent of damage and the cause of the breach, we have several versions on record, including the one of the superintending engineer of the Rohri canal, Jam Mitha Khan, who has ominously claimed that the breach was engineered. The PPP leadership of the Hyderabad district, many of whom belong to the Matiari taluka, claim that over 50,000 people have been affected and standing crops of cotton, sugarcane, orchards and vegetables on 20,000 acres have been destroyed. They further say that many cattlehead have been washed away in the gushing water.

They deplore the fact that while the breach has caused a loss of some three billion rupees, the government has announced a relief package of five million rupees only. They call it a cruel joke with the poor villagers and settlers. These leaders blame the breach on the inefficiency of the irrigation department officials who were forewarned of the danger. Moreover, they say, the waterways were closed without any scheduled programme, as a result of which the Rohri canal could not withstand the increased pressure of water.

They claim that the breach was plugged for an hour when the governor visited the site but as soon as he left, it appeared again because of the indifferent attitude of the irrigation officials. The leaders fear that the water that has overflowed because of the breach cannot be drained out even for the next three to four months because there is no outlet for its disposal.

Moreover, Sindh Abadgar Board president Abdul Majeed Nizamani, additional secretary-general Dr Zulfiqar Yousfani and information secretary Mehfooz Ursani have held the irrigation department responsible for the breach. According to them, one-and-a-half months back they had requested the Sindh irrigation secretary to strengthen the embankments of the Rohri canal before releasing full supply of water because over the years the embankments had weakened in the absence of acute water shortage, but their request was ignored. Not only this, they have been demanding for the last three years that embankments be strengthened.

The other reason they cite is no less important, that is the large-scale transfers of the irrigation officials during fnAbkalani (monsoon season).

Further, the district Nazim and scion of the Makhdoom family of Hala, Dr Makhdoom Rafiquzzaman, who incidentally belongs to the same area, told the governor on his visit to the breach site on Aug 1 that it was due to the negligence of the irrigation officials that huge losses were caused. He said he knew the canal would not withstand the pressure of water and had, therefore, told the irrigation authorities about this in advance.

The district Nazim, who remained at the breach site till it was plugged after six days, criticized the irrigation officials’ failure to undertake precautionary measures though he had held meetings with them before the start of the monsoon. He recalled having told the officials that the Rohri Canal is a small river and the irrigation officials should be prepared for any eventuality in case of a breach or flood. He regretted that even after the breach, the irrigation officials were least concerned about the course the gushing water would take.

He also deplored the lack of coordination between the various government departments and added that the forest department had supplied wood for fencing the breach only after he put his foot down. About the state of unpreparedness, he said he had to send for a bulldozer from Latifabad taluka council Nazim Abdul Jabbar Khan. He told the governor that even after the breach had occurred, a dispute arose over the jurisdiction between the irrigation officials.

He deplored that the irrigation officials kept him and the DCO in the dark about the breach when they were in Karachi in connection with a meeting. “There is nothing serious about the Rohri Canal and everything will be controlled,” the officials had informed him.

But the most stunning report, however, is attributed to the superintending engineer, Rohri Canal, Jam Mitha Khan, who, according to published reports, has opened a Pandora’s box by claiming that the breach was engineered. He was transferred from Wapda just a week before the breach occurred and has now been placed under suspension, with the concerned executive engineer, sub-engineer and Darogha. He denied that the breach was the result of inefficiency of the irrigation officials or weakness of embankments.

He said the breach was made to occur and added that he had many secrets to disclose provided a judicial inquiry was ordered to find out the causes of the breach. He said that in 2000 six breaches had occurred in the Kheer Thar Canal but those were plugged in eight hours. “Why has this breach not been plugged even after six days?” he asked. There were sinister designs behind the breach, the he insisted and added that only a judicial inquiry could separate the chaff from the grain.

Coming from the superintending engineer, these are indeed serious allegations. The government has appointed two different committees to investigate the ‘causes and effects’ of the breach but unfortunately the people have a very bitter experience of such committees whose findings are seldom made public. It is thus of paramount importance that this inquiry is entrusted to a retired judge of the superior judiciary, specially in view of the allegations of the superintending engineer, to find out the truth.

The Rohri Canal, as the district Nazim has rightly said, is a mini river. It flows with the majesty of the Indus when filled to capacity and irrigates 300,000 acres. Two breaches have occurred at the same place just in 11 months. There is something wrong somewhere and that is what the judicial inquiry must determine.

Let us admit that the PPP leaders are not very wrong in saying that the Rs5 million aid announced by the government for the affected people is just a peanut. An area of 25km has been submerged in water and the people of 35 villages have lost everything except the clothes they were wearing when the calamity hit them. They have to start from a scratch. Declaring four dehs as calamity-affected area is not enough.

Yet another important matter is to pump out the standing water, which cannot be disposed of for want of an outlet. The water will have to be thrown back into the canal. If this is not done on a war footing, thousands of acres of rich agricultural land will be rendered uncultivable for the next three to four years due to waterlogging and salinity, which will be a great national loss.

And, lastly, why has a non-engineer been appointed irrigation secretary?