US consulate general as neighbours: no please!
Finally, there is a move that the US consulate general located on Abdullah Haroon Road, is to be relocated, and a site under consideration is near the Boat Basin and the Karachi Grammar School, Clifton. As one contemplates on this, I must reproduce what one Karachiite remarked "there was a time when being close to the US consulate general would be a preferred option, and regarded as a matter of privilege. It would enhance the value of the place. Now it seems that it is perhaps quite the contrary!"
He explained that the perceived security threats that were faced by the US consulate general was now transferred to the neighbours too, plus there was the inconvenience of road closures, diversions and resultant traffic stoppages.
As one reflects on this concern being expressed by a section of Karachi residents, mainly those residing in the proposed upper class locality, it is imperative to mention that Karachi has a ugly past when it comes to losing amenity plots to commercial enterprises or cultural places to shopping plazas, or parks to influential (read politically especially) individuals, and so on.
Walk down memory lane, and you can recall the sustained campaigns the newspapers in town have carried on over the last five decades plus, as land grabbers and encroachers were identified and targeted for operating all over the city. The role played by the "inefficient or corrupt or both" officials and staff of either the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, the Karachi Development Authority or their subsidiary organizations or the manipulations by the provincial and federal governments in the domain of land management is much too well known.
In fact what is evidently happening in the case of the US consulate's interest in the present Boat Basin site is in a way nothing new. It is more of the same? Yet another instance where an amenity plot is being plotted against. And vocal affected residents of ostensibly the elitist Clifton DHA ambience, likely to be having their lives disturbed, are shouting protest.
One does not, in this column, advocate the shifting of the US consulate general to the Boat Basin site, or for that matter oppose it. But one certainly uses this instance to reflect the way the city is being managed, by all those who have a stake in it.
And one reflects with bitterness of course the way we have lost parks, and playgrounds, and other amenity plots to commercial (this time diplomatic?) ventures. Try and imagine, if you have lived here as long as I have, of how proper and environmentally sound Karachi could have been, if our planners and decision makers (many of whom have had foreign education) had done their jobs professionally, and only that.
If they had spared the political pressures and resisted bureaucratic manipulation the situation could have been very different. For all the expose that media is currently doing, and well, it would be a splendid idea if someone probes and refreshes our memories of how a particular amenity plot gets grabbed in this society. Or for that matter, how prime land has gone to the rich man rather than the poor soul in this "get rich quick" environment.
A thought goes out to the Karachi Grammar School in Clifton, and memories come alive of the traffic mess that was created when the prestigious school was located next to the Empress Market in Saddar. For years, while the institution produced those Grammarians, the Saddar traffic chaos the school created regularly especially in the afternoon, was something that could never be sorted out, until the school itself chose to move out.
Now the situation has come where parents of the schoolchildren who go to Karachi Grammar School daily are saying no to the US consulate general at being its neighbour. So where should the diplomatic mission go? That's an interesting, but difficult question, and the city is going to watch carefully all the moves that will be made. There is no diplomatic enclave in the town, and whether it is possible to have that in this poorly planned and almost shabbily treated city is something doubtful. Someone has suggested Malir.
The residents, who protested with placards and slogans, had said according to a news report that they had nothing against "US consulate authorities, but against public servants who were committing serious violations". Amber Alibhai, a spokesman of Shehri, reportedly condemned the provincial and city district governments for what she described as a "blunder".
The blunder being that of allotting amenity plots to the US consulate, as the plots selected for the consulate had already been designed for parks in the master plan. She has also appealed to the prime minister to look into the matter, of "violating the rules". She stressed a relocation of the site for the US consulate.
The US Consul-General, Karachi, Douglas C. Rohn, in a statement on this subject said: "We understand the objections by the neighbours of the Khayaban-i-Saadi Road, which is being considered for the construction of a new consulate. I have met the representatives of the protestors and assured them that we are willing to work to resolve the issues arising from the planned construction."
The US Consul-General has revealed that they have been "searching possible properties where it could build new facilities". He said that the present location on Abdullah Haroon Road, was "exposed" (in terms of security presumably) and was small (less than two acres) which made it necessary for the police to limit traffic and often even close Abdullah Haroon and Fatima Jinnah roads.
He further said that the search for a possible place for the consulate general was coordinated with the provincial and city governments. He acknowledged that there were unresolved legal issues regarding the designation and other aspects of the property for which they were working with the appropriate authorities.
As I write this I am conscious of the way in which the city is getting congested and claustrophobic, and the manner in which even five star hotels are now bottlenecks, or other important buildings and residences that create environmental difficulties, arising out of visible and invisible security measures.
The vulnerability, we have, due to insecurity (terrorism and crime both), is something that has to be accepted as one of the integral factors in the society that we now seek to recreate. The world is getting smaller, but insecure. Globalization suffocates?
The traffic mess created by the closures (partial and complete) of Abdullah Haroon Road on account of the security needs of the US consulate, especially after 9/11, is a subject of concern, and hence conversation. One has heard that a former provincial ombudsman once observed that if the US consulate general sought cent per cent security, it could relocate itself in the Karachi Central Jail! This was said by one of the speakers at a programme organized during the week, by the Sakinane Shahr-i-Quaid, who made the above interesting disclosure! Evidently that comment is a way of emphasizing that there is no such thing as fool proof security!
As one who has been a regular visitor to the American centre and its library for over three decades now, it is a rather sad thought that those days are no more. As security concerns expanded at the consulate, the library and the centre began shrinking. If that library and cultural centre were still operational, perhaps the people's response might have been different?
All in all, this is truly a high profile instance of an amenity plot becoming controversial and an influential, enraged public opinion from the upper middle and upper classes is tagged to it. It is yet another occasion to keep one's fingers crossed.
Mubarak Haveli and its remarkable history
If ever there was a haveli that could be labelled as among the oldest, and also the finest, without doubt it would be Mubarak Haveli, just off Bazaar Hakeeman inside Bhati Gate. It was here that the Koh-e-Noor Diamond was recovered from a trapped Afghan king. This 'haveli' has stories galore, ones that make history so interesting.
Our story begins from three brothers by the name of Mir Bahadur Ali, Mir Nadir Ali and Mir Bahar Ali. All three were well placed and on the death of their father, a well-known 'tabeeb' and 'hakeem', they decided to build a colossal 'haveli' to house all three brothers. This was the time of Moghal emperor Muhammad Shah. It took three years to build and when the three brothers moved in, Bahadar Ali's wife gave birth to a son. This was seen as a good omen and the 'haveli' was named Mubarak Haveli.
The family continued to prosper in the field of 'medicine' and business. With time they branched off into two major components, the Fakir family and the Syed family. The Fakir family built their own havelis near the Mubarak Haveli, one of which stands even today and is known as the Fakirkhana in Bazaar Hakeeman. There are three other properties of the Fakir family still near Tehsil bazaar-Bazaar Hakeeman crossing.
The Syeds owned the properties from both sides of the right edge of Tehsil Bazaar right up to the entrance of Mubarak Haveli. The land going right to the back of Lohari Gate Bazaar formed their western edge. So the haveli, in its original form, was between the main Bhati and Lohari bazaars. One could call it the prime land in the old walled city of Lahore.
With the start of the Sikh period began years of pillage and looting. Sikh mobs would come and loot whatever they could lay their hands on. While the Fakir family, because their influence in the Lahore Darbar remained in power,it was seen that the Syeds had to flee. The grand Mubarak Haveli remained empty for a few years and people inside the city began to steal the bricks of the western portion of the haveli. It presented a deserted look, prompting Maharajah Ranjit Singh to take it over, for himself and his guests.
The Maharajah is said to have held wild parties here. One account tells us that a seer informed him that as the original owners were Syeds, it would bode badly for him. Being a man who heeded caution, the Sikh maharajah decided to use it as a guest house.
It was during his reign that the Afghan king Shah Shuja and his family, who were fleeing from Kabul because of fighting over the Afghan throne, were his 'guests'. The crafty Sikh ruler made them his prisoner and decided to release them only after they gave him the unrivalled diamond called Koh-e-Noor.
Initially the Afghan king refused to admit that he had the diamond, but a team of Sikh spies informed him that it was hidden within the clothes of a Royal Afghan princess. This led him to ask his female khalsa warriors to search each and every woman, but to no avail. It was decided to make them prisoners in the Mubarak Haveli till such time they yielded the diamond.
This tired the Afghans, who wanted to move to British India in order to amount a challenge to the throne of Kabul. Eventually the diamond was produced and the maharajah finally smiled.It had been an immense game of patience. But the Maharajah decided that they still had other gems and jewels, and he again decided to harass them.
Over the next three weeks the Afghan royal family women escaped dressed as local women, while the remaining men one night knocked down a wall of the western portion of the haveli, and escaped from Lohari Gate. Five days later they landed at Ludhiana and began their conspiracy with the British to regain the Afghan throne. The maharajah was very upset at this escape and decided that he did not need Mubarak Haveli any longer, and handed it over to Sardar Khar Singh Sindhuwala.
But Sardar Khar Singh also did not want to handle the property of the Syeds lest bad luck comes his way. He handed over the property, on lien, to Ghulam Mohyuddin Shah Qureshi, who managed to build a few houses for himself on the south-western portion of the huge lands of the haveli. With the coming of the British the Mubarak Haveli was taken over and handed over to Nawab Ali Raza Qizilbash. The Nawab, out of respect to the original owners, rebuilt the haveli and converted a major portion into an Imambargah, which is considered among the finest in Lahore.
The haveli then went on to his son nawab Nawazish Ali Khan and his brother Nawab Nasir Ali Khan. These brothers also managed to rebuild major portions to help the old haveli regain its original glory. But this time the ancestors of the original owners moved to regain their rights of a property abandoned out of fear for their life. They managed to get the haveli back. But the number of owners was so large that it was decided to sell it off as one block to pay off all those who claimed a slice of the cake.
It so happened that Syed Maratab Ali Shah, one of the ancestors of the original owner decided to acquire the entire property of his mother's family. His own wife's name was also Mubarak Begum. So the Syed, in this grand gesture of preserving their family property, regained what was originally theirs. Syed Maratab Ali decided to form a trust, and the property now belongs to this trust, whose objective is to preserve the main haveli, to further the traditional skills that made Lahore among the eight great cities of the old world.
Syed Maratab Ali's son, Syed Babar Ali, has proven his immense love for Lahore by building a School of Calligraphy at the edge of the entrance of Mubarak Haveli. Built in small brick, it is a testimony to the creative genius that the man is. Two years ago another school inside the haveli, dedicated to preserving the paintings and old art forms of Lahore, was completed. Today it is, without doubt, well kept and is a testimony to the immense respect this very old Syed family have for Lahore and its history.
The other side of Babar
An interesting book has landed at my table. As the title, Zaheeruddin Muhammad Babar, is about the person who laid the foundations of the Mughal Empire in the sub-continent. Written by the eminent Indian educationist, Qamar Rais, it gives a different picture of the man from what we gather about him from his self-written, Tozak-i-Babri.
However, the version by Prof Qamar Rais cannot be brushed aside as he has written the book after a long stay in Uzbekistan. The book was first published in Delhi but its second edition has now been produced by Irtiqa Matbuaat of Karachi and has reached me through the courtesy of Dr Agha Suhail, a close friend of the author.
As Prof Qamar Rais says in the foreword, he had for long been studying the works of Ali Sher Nawai and such other classical poets of Uzbekistan but realized during his stay in that country that those people revered Babar more for being an intellectual and a lyrical poet. In fact, even during the Soviet era, he saw Babar's pictures hung in most homes showing him holding a book and sunk in deep thought. As a consequence, he directed his studies in that field.
Prof Qamar Rais further says that even today, Babar is held in esteem and considered a hero both in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. He even quotes Pandit Nehru as having said that the greatness of Babar lay not in capturing India but in capturing the hearts of Indians.
Proceeding further, the author says that among the rulers of Central Asia and India, one of the most colourful personalities was that of Zaheeruddin Babar. Even Western historians and intellectuals have spoken highly of him. Apart from being an expert in the art of warfare and conquest, he was a noted writer of Uzbeki prose.
In addition, he had a critical appreciation of poetry and fine arts. It is on record that he wrote several books on prosody, music and the art of war. He is also credited with having invented a calligraphic writing known as Khat-i-Babri. Outstanding among all those who ruled the Central Asian states, the multifarious qualities which he had were not found in the rulers of the middle ages.
Born on February 14, 1483, in the town Andejan situated in the Farghana Valley, Babar was sixth in the line of Amir Taimur's descendent, while his mother belonged to the family of the Mongol, Changez Khan. It was the mother who took a leading part in the upbringing and nurturing of Babar. Well acquainted with the literature of Turkish, Arabic and Persian, she could melodiously render folk songs. Babar's unusual interest in music could be because of her.
Following the sudden death of his father, Babar was declared his successor and ruler of the Farghana Valley. At the time, he was only 11 years of age. However, he had soon to face several challengers to the throne but succeeded in keeping everyone at bay. The author, however, does not feel those episodes worth consideration or mention, as he wants to concentrate on other aspects of his colourful life.
In 1995, when the author visited Andejan, the birthplace of Babar, he stayed with Zakir Jan Mashrab, the president of the Babar Foundation. The town, he says, as it appeared from the air while landing, was lost in a cluster of glorious trees. He could only see greenery all around. It tallied with the description of his motherland as given in Tozak-i-Babri.
During this visit his host first showed him a recently laid out garden which had been named after Babar and then took him to the spacious building housing the Babar Museum. A lifesize statue of Babar stood at the crossroads close to the museum while another was placed in its compound.
The museum is close to the location where Babar passed his childhood and has been erected on the site of the madressah where he received his early education. According to the Western historian, Herald Lamb, it was among the fruit shrubs of this area that Babar sat on his haunches to learn his lessons.
It becomes evident that Babar's education ended with his initial years of life as he never again found time to indulge in it. Interestingly, he has also accused his teachers of lechery.
Lamb further writes that Babar had no difficulty in becoming fluent in three languages. He picked up old Turkish which was spoken by the villagers, while Persian was commonly spoken in the bazaars. However, he also managed to master Arabic. The author also notes that Babar's memoirs contain no less than 412 words of Urdu-Hindi origin. He even claims the existence of a verse by Babar which is in a mixture of Urdu and Chagtai-Turkish.
The book goes further to tell us in detail about the poetic prowess of Babar. But that would be a long story and beyond the scope of this column. In fact, the second part of the book contains translations in Urdu verse of Babar's ghazals and some other verses. These cover 42 pages. I might revert to them some other time.
Saarc summit postponement remains talk of the town
It is more than a week that the 13th Saarc summit, scheduled to be held in Dhaka, was postponed for the second time on January 2, due to India's last minute decision to pull out from the meet, and that too without any prior consultation with the host country.
But India's sudden decision to withdraw from the summit, on the pleas of 'recent developments' in Kathmandu and the 'deteriorated security situation' in Dhaka, still remains the talk of the town here, particularly in the political, academic and media circles.
However, as expected in a sharply politically polarised society like Dhaka, one hardly requires to take any trouble to find people that the opinion on the Indian behaviour is divided, with some finding 'justification' in the Delhi's attitude and the others discovering Delhi's traditional 'enmity' to Bangladesh.
Again, the tone of the public debate was set, although to different degrees, by the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party and opposition Awami League.
"Summit was postponed mainly for security concerns for the heads of governments of the Saarc nations during their stay in Bangladesh, and ...cancellation of the summit proved our claim that leaders of the foreign countries had no confidence in the Bangladesh law and order," a visibly happy Abdul Jalil, general secretary of the League, told media men few hours after the Indian announcement.
While the government of Khaleda Zia officially found the Indian arguments for staying away from the summit a couple of 'mere lame excuses', her BNP and its allies in the ruling coalition did not take time to exploit issue for 'gains' in the domestic politics, by blaming squarely the opposition Awami League to sabotage the summit by means of 'influencing' the latter's 'political masters' on the one hand and calling a country wide general strike for February 6, the day the summit was scheduled to commence.
The tones set politically by the opposing political camps generally found expression in the politically divided media -- a couple respectable exceptions excluded.
The Inqilab, which is known as a pro-government media outfit, carried a three-column item on its front page, on February 7, the coloured heading of which said, "it is time to form regional economic group excluding India".
The next day, the newspaper carried 'reactions' of some eminent civil society members, in which Prof Emajuddin Ahmed, former vice chancellor of the Dhaka University, observed, that India's decision to pull out from the Saarc summit 'is unacceptable to us'.
Observing that the King's takeover in Nepal or the murder of Shah Kibria in Bangladesh have not stopped the political processes in either of the two countries, he said that prime minister Manmohan Singh 'has made the decision [to stay away from the summit) on the basis of suggestions from the pro-Indian political parties based in Dhaka and Kathmandu".
The Naya Diganta, a young but widely circulated Bangla daily believed to have tilt towards the BNP, in its first editorial on February 5 commented that 'it is not acceptable that the Saarc summit will be postponed again and again, and that too on lame excuses - thanks to India.
The next day, the daily carried a full page of 'readers reactions', containing as many as 123 letters from cross section of the Bangladeshis, ranging from students and house wives to small traders and to social workers, providing a couple of sharp message: India has pulled out from the Saarc summit out of enmity towards Bangladesh, and the pro-Indian Awami League has helped its masters in Delhi particularly by means of calling general strike on February 6 - the day summit was scheduled to commence.
DIFFERENT VIEW: The dailies toeing political line of the Awami League took a different view.
The Bhorer Kagoj, a Bengali-language daily published by Saber Hossain Chowdhury, who happens to be the 'special political assistant' to AL chairperson Sheikh Hasina, editorially said on Feb 4: 'The security situation in Bangladesh is just the opposite to the government's claim that it is fully prepared to offer foolproof security [to the foreign dignitaries]."
It further observed that the 'government should have rescheduled the summit, particularly after the opposition had called for a general strike on Feb 3, 5 and 6 in protest against the murder of Kibria'.
Still, the newspaper also observed that the things could have been different had the governing coalition sought advice from the opposition on the holding of the summit and stopped blaming a neighbouring country' for various abnormal incidents inside the country.
The Jugantar, edited by A B M Musa, who is known to be a close confidant of Shaikh Hasina, did not write any editorial on the issue, but the editor, observed in his personal column, on February 5, that there was 'no reason to take Saarc seriously'.
Terming the organization 'a mere forum for the heads of South Asian governments to exchange pleasantries', he said that the 'government [of Bangladesh] should have cancelled the summit immediately after the murder of Shah Kibria on Jan 27'.
However, the newspapers enjoying the reputation of being middle-roader were also critical of the Indian decision.
The Daily Star described the postponement of the summit as a 'disappointment'. In its editorial on February 3, the newspaper said that the 'Bangladesh government which had made elaborate preparations for the event has reasons to feel frustrated.'
"We understand the question of security but given all the assurances of the government of Bangladesh and presence of India's security teams, the visit [of Indian Prime Minister] could have been possible, more so in view of the exhaustive measures put in place in Dhaka for the safe movement and sojourn of the delegates to the SAARC Summit".
The New Age, in its editorial on Feb 4, said: "(Indian premier) Manmohan Singh and his Congress Party ... have cast the die not only against SAARC, but have chosen to take sides in the internal political affairs in Bangladesh and Nepal. We object to it ... without mincing words.
Recalling that 'of the seven SAARC summits deferred earlier, five were on account of India', the editorial said, "It must be said that a more positive Indian approach towards, and involvement with, the Saarc processes ...are critical for the regional cooperation to succeed in its agenda to benefit from each other's core competences, comparative advantages and intra-Saarc trade and investment volumes. But somehow the Indian obsession with bilateralism first, and Saarc next, ... have always proved a hurdle to the multilateral arrangements within the Saarc framework'.
However, it is perhaps time for all conflicting parties in South Asia to recall what former Indian premier I.K Gujral said in Dhaka on June 30, 1998: "History indicates that the road to peace in our Sub-continent passes through Saarc...it requires that we sit together as do family members, and address our problems in a collective spirit, or what one may term is Saarc spirit".