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Once upon a time in Islamabad

November 10, 2012

Residents, who consider a decent conversation in the evening ‘a nocturnal sport’ worth pursuing, should consider themselves lucky if they get invited to the house of former foreign minister ShahibzadaYaqub Khan (SYK).

The result is a conversation imbued in philosophy, politics, literature and history.

Although if one is not able to secure an invitation, no problem, SYK is not the only conversationalist living on the street. In fact, the city's most sought out conversationalists live in the same neighbourhood: Syeda Abida Hussein, Humayun Gauhar, Roedad Khan and not long ago American diplomat Bryan Hunt, who was the Pakistani version of William Dalryrmple's White Mughal.

But the quality of the conversation on the street has changed ever since the Malik family - Interior Minister Rehman Malik's brother Khalid Malik - moved into the neighbourhood.

There is a park in the neighbourhood, which overlooks four restaurants.

One fine day, residents woke up in the morning and saw a Khoka - like a Trojan horse - perched inside the park.

For some odd reason, all eyes fell upon 'Malik House' that overlooks the park.

A conscientious resident, a retired Admiral, petitioned against the structure.

Islamabad High Court without much ado declared the Khoka illegal and ordered its demolition. At this point, another resident stepped in: Wajihuz Zaman (WZ), MPA from Mansehra.

He walked up to the Khoka staff and questioned the legality of the facility, including the electricity connection, which according to him appeared to be "illegal."

What happens next? In the words of WZ: "The goons were let loose on me."

Though WZ put up a fight, he was overwhelmed.

The police were approached and a full blown crisis erupted. Khalid Malik denied then that the Khokha was his.

But another restaurant owner, whose establishment overlooks the park, claims that the Khoka is not the real problem. The real crisis is on the opposite side of the park.

On the opposite side, there is a school. Fourteen to fifteen year old students, for months have been coming to the park, after school, and harassing women customers, families and indulging in fights.

According to one restaurant staffer, even the police can't do anything: "Once a police squad came but the 14-15-year olds beat them away."

When a senior police officer is approached, he tries to laugh the matter off first and then recommends approaching the principal of the school.

The school is located opposite Roedad Khan's house.

Entering the school Principal's office, one feels as if one is witnessing a performance in 'black comedy' - a literary genre popular in Stalin's era, when one had to hide behind humour to express oneself.

The principal appears busy installing state of the art cameras on the school premises, in order to 'keep an eye on the boys.'

When informed that his 'boys' are up to no good, the principal's first reaction is denial - he claims that the boys are not his. But then he adds that the bad boys have been suspended.

If the boys are not from his school or are suspended, then why are they walking around in the park wearing school uniforms?

Suddenly the autocratic facade disappears and one gets a sneak peek into the life of a bureaucrat in Islamabad trying to maintain appearances, a family and a job: "They have attacked the school staff in the past."

The Principal confesses how out of control the situation has become. When he sent a team to catch the boys, they run away.

The media, residents, politicians and the administration exuded so much energy over a Khokha, just because it allegedly belonged to a minister's brother but why do other issues get no attention.