Creek City, Bleak City

Breath-taking plans were recently unveiled for real-estate development adjacent to the sea-front falling in the area of Karachi’s Defence Housing Authority (DHA). Decidedly futuristic, extremely visionary and commercially attractive, the “Creek City” project will revolutionize the facade of the metropolitan city of Karachi. Attempting to emulate the real-estate boom in Dubai, the apartments are architecturally beautiful and embody sophisticated high-tech living. Without any doubt, it is a tremendous undertaking. When compared to Dubai the price is high, even then there were about 7000 or so applicants for the 600 plus apartments in the first phase of the 7-phase project. DHA Karachi has already earned Rs.35 million (Rs 5000 of the fees are not refundable) on the initial Rs 1 billion in the kitty (the first phase is worth about Rs 5-6 billion), more than covering the initial costs of planning and advertising the project. With quite a sum left over, DHA should be laughing all the way to the bank.

After years of motivated economic slumber mainly protecting the vested interest of the automobile mafia, Government of Pakistan (GOP) has woken up to the fact that loans for “housing starts” will invigorate the economy far more than loans for the import of foreign manufactured luxury products. About 14 years ago, Maj Gen Hedayatullah Khan Niazi, then Administrator DHA Karachi, tried to put in place the first cog of increased housing in DHA Karachi by enhancing core civic facilities, he signed off on a barge-mounted power cum desalination plant based on waste (garbage and / or wood) as a fuel that did not materialize. Siemens is now putting up a power cum desalnation project in DHA based on gas as primary fuel, better late than never!

The problem with the Creek City Project is the uniform being associated with the publicity. In similar circumstances in 1989-90 then Commander 5 Corps Lt Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua kept a low profile and let the Administrator field the publicity. Even the civilian Secretary of Defence, Salim Abbas Gilani, preferred to stay out of the picture. That is the usual norm, uniformed personnel should not (and normally do not) associate themselves publicly with business in any country of the world, except may be for a few countries like Indonesia. Pakistan must be the only country in the world where a Corps Commander is in the business of selling apartments. Given that the Pakistan Army has been getting a very bad name with respect to acquisition of land, most recently because of the Okara Military Farms, Commander 5 Corps Lt Gen Tariq Waseem Ghazi had no business flaunting his association with the Creek City Project so visibly, such acts tend to demean the uniform. What was the need of his appearing as overlord of the project in the print and electronic media? Defending the uniform is difficult enough without the Ghazis of this Army putting paid to such effort un-necessary grandstanding for crass money-making causes.

Uniformed personnel have to lean backwards to ensure that nothing happens that will give added ammunition to those who make it their business to criticise the uniform, at the very least they should exercise discretion in such ventures. For the sake of their operational mission statement, I put it to the President in his capacity as COAS, kindly disassociate HQ 5 Corps from DHA Karachi and HQ 4 Corps from DHA Lahore with immediate effect. If not, give them a Deputy Corps Commander each to persue the Corps operational mission statement. If the Monthly Security Intelligence Reports (MSIR) does not convey the outrage of military and civilian personnel alike, the MSIRs are not worth the paper they are written on. There was a time in the Pakistan Army we were contemptuous of the Indonesian model “Golkar”, the Armed Forces officially in business and politics. Regretfully we may be developing into a worse version of “Golkar”.

Even though he is a well educated military officer, Ghazi still needs tutoring on the impact of luxury projects on the socio-economic dynamics of the poverty-stricken masses of Karachi. Civic facilities being non-existent, the less than affluent eke an extremely miserable existence in horrendous conditions. The Creek City ads remind one of Marie Antoinette, who when apprised that the hungry masses were protesting for bread, asked innocently, “why don’t they eat cakes?” The much maligned Meteorological Department had been forecasting heavy rains for some time this summer, there was talk of precautionary measures to be taken. Since the drainage system is atrocious despite billions being spent on it, rainwater accumulated in widespread areas of the city, particularly arterial roads. The result was horrendous, stalled vehicles caused traffic jams in many places, commuters got home 12é15 hours after starting their journey of 30 é 45 minutes. If the traffic police had kept arterial roads open, and things moving, Karachi’s population would have been spared this trauma. It required the Pakistan Rangers to physically intervene to keep the critical Shahrah-e-Faisal to the Karachi airport open. KESC kept the breakdowns to a minimum, give them credit that the apathy of previous years was not repeated.

Another downside of the “Creek City” Project is that when complete it will add almost 15000 more housing units to DHA, an average of 2 cars for every affluent household, will mean 30000 more cars, the daily commercial and administrative support vehicles would mean an extra 5000 vehicles. Where are the roads, overpasses, side lanes, addresses, etc for these? Even the present DHA facilities cannot bear the load, there are horrendous chokepoints. Will the Pakistan Rangers permanently be employed on traffic duties? For that matter what is the state of the electricity, water, and sewerage problem in DHA Karachi today? Dubai is able to offer such projects because it has surplus civic facilities available, is this true of Karachi? And what about the breakdown of social compact, already teetering on a fail-safe line, what would be the reaction of the have-nots in Karachi when the already scarce resources are diverted so blatantly to the rich and the elite?

Ghazi should take a trip in a car, not a 4×4 jeep, through his DHA fiefdom. The main arterial road entering Defence from the Clifton-side (Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s Mazar) is the 26th Street. As it enters Defence it crosses E Street, if his car can manage to turn left into E Street (which is a double road) without damaging an axle on the potholes there, he will find the left lane of the double road unusable as it is completely taken over by the shopkeepers of Shah Rasool Colony, it vies for being the dirtiest street in Karachi. One hundred yards on the wrong (but right) lane through the garbage, potholes, street vendors with pushcarts, etc and he will reach 22nd Street, that is only 100 yards short of the Touhid Park, where all the roads are doubly metalled and the area kept squeaky clean, I will refrain from publicly commenting why. For the sake of the uniform I shall also refrain from making a score or so more observations about how DHA practices discrimination without discretion. Can Ghazi honestly propagate “Creek City” while the DHA is in such a civic holy mess? Cosmetic changes on the seafront faéade will not obscure the ravages of the years on the DHA township.

We need Musharraf to stay in uniform for the foreseeable future governing the country, we don’t need the others making his life more difficult politically by publicly associating “khaki” with business and commerce. Hamid Nawaz and Ghazi should not have presided over the spectacular fireworks that marked the launching of Creek City, soon after that Karachi drowned in rain and became a BLEAK CITY. Unfortunately the opposite analogy is of Nero fiddling while Rome burnt!

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).