Islamabad needs special care

Updated September 27, 2018

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I.A. Rehman
I.A. Rehman

(A human settlement is completed in countless phases) — An old gem of folk wisdom

NOT many tears were shed at the abolition of the Capital Affairs Division (CAD) of the federal government, perhaps due to its failure to create a niche in the hearts of the people, but the decision to hand over the capital city to the interior ministry must be reviewed.

The first reason is the expansion of the interior ministry’s burden without looking at the adverse effects on its efficiency. The responsibility to oversee the law-and-order situation, internal security and implementation of the National Action Plan to counter terrorism is a serious and heavy task for the ministry. Burdening it with additional charges will unavoidably reduce its capacity to perform its primary duties. An obsession with security has already affected its development and benevolent functions. Instead of enabling the citizens to better enjoy their fundamental freedoms it often tends to restrict them.

Take the sector of immigration, passports and human smuggling. Whereas the ministry is expected to make foreign travel for Pakistani citizens and foreigners’ travel to Pakistan easier, it adopts an apparently obstructionist approach, and operates the Exit Control List beyond the limits allowed by the law. Measures to control human smuggling from and through Pakistan or to look at the plight of Pakistani nationals in foreign lands are quite unsatisfactory.

Every few years since 1988-1989, the authorities wake up to the need for jail reforms. As a result, huge piles of files have been added to the ministry’s shelves. Except for some action on the Channa report in Sindh, recommendations made by various committees remain unimplemented. The contradiction between the president’s constitutional power to pardon convicts and remit their sentences and the practice under the Qisas law has never been addressed.

The decision to add the capital’s affairs to the interior ministry’s charge betrays a lack of comprehension.

The Central Police Bureau — a key institution for compiling data on crime and criminology, and conducting research on punishment and the reclamation of convicts, especially women and juveniles among them — appears to be handicapped for want of will and resources both. Then there is the huge task of registration of citizens and guiding Nadra to meet the multifarious calls on it and the increasing tasks for the FIA.

If one looks at the huge workload the interior ministry’s staff has to bear, criticism of their shortcomings has to be tempered with sympathy for them.

The results of adding to the interior ministry’s portfolio are not impressive either. It was given the task of dealing with enforced disappearances that should have been assigned to the law and justice ministry, and it has won very little credit for that. Then international NGOs and civil society organisations were added to the interior ministry’s roster, a decision that is going to cause Pakistan incalculable harm. It is indeed time that the practice of dumping tasks that are not directly related to security and policing at the doors of the interior ministry was stopped.

The decision to add Islamabad’s affairs to the interior ministry’s charge betrays, more than anything else, a stunning lack of comprehension of what the capital city needs, and of which security is only one part.

No more than approximately half a century old, Islamabad is still a city in the making though some of the essential foundations have been laid and the earlier labels, such as its being a diplomatic village or a haven for serving bureaucrats to enjoy the pleasures of retirement, are wearing off.

Islamabad is becoming the hub of civil and military organisations. With the shifting of GHQ to the capital city, all the three services will have their headquarters in Islamabad, and at least the physical distance between the civil and military leaderships will disappear. The city is already the country’s legislative and judicial capital. It houses some of our leading universities. The Quaid-i-Azam University and Allama Iqbal Open University have been joined by the University of Development Economics, the National University of Science and Technology, Bahria University and the International Islamic University. The Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences is in this city and so is the Institute of Parliamentary Services.

The city is justly proud of its centres of art and culture: the National Gallery, the Pakistan National Council of the Arts and the Lok Virsa. The National Commission for Human Rights and the National Commission on the Status of Women are based here. The city has a National Archives and a National Library. It may soon have a commission on the rights of the minority communities and possibly another one on the rights of children. The principal task for the Islamabad administration, in addition to security arrangements, will be to nourish these institutions and enable them to scale new heights of excellence.

Islamabad’s acquisition of the soul and character of a living, free and dynamic human settlement, that the people would wish it to have, will depend on how progressive and humane policies and practices of governance can be evolved by our parliamentarians, how soon the oppressive inequalities can be removed, how fully the courts can establish citizens’ equality before the law, the extent to which its centres of learning and arts and culture can give expression to the people’s genius in these spheres, and how elegantly its architects can blend the requirements of modern living with our cultural heritage, and this at a cost a resource-starved people can afford.

All of this will take decades, perhaps a century, but the course has to be set now and the priorities clearly defined. No single ministry can possibly accomplish this Herculean task. Much will depend on Islamabad’s political structure. It perhaps needs a high-powered chief commissioner or even a lieutenant governor as its head. All affairs of the capital will have to be entrusted to a special body that must include experts on housing, transportation, education, human rights, art and culture — experts who are not afraid of listening to the people about what they want.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2018