They paved paradise, and put up a cricket stadium and golf course

Published: May 14, 2012

With 10 courses, it is mindboggling why more state resources would be spent to develop another course.

There was some good news for the city’s sports fans following the announcements that new “world-class” cricket and golf facilities are going to be set up in Shakarparian. Hundreds of thousands of cricket fans would be especially enthused by the knowledge that the capital will finally be home to a cricket stadium as would a dozen-odd golf fans.

But I kid. Golf has more than a dozen fans in the city. Maybe even a few hundred.

While a cricket stadium has been a long-standing dream for many Islamabadis, a bit of an odd one considering the relative proximity of Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, they haven’t exactly been lamenting over the absence of golf courses.

Maybe that’s because there are already a half-dozen in Pindi and Islamabad —  each of the arms of the armed forces has one close to their respective headquarters, Islamabad Golf Club (Islamabad Club’s course), DHA’s course, and one each in Bahria Town and Bahria Golf City.

And here I was thinking chess is the game for military strategists.

Now, ignoring the fact that a city does not one course make, there are another three within an hour-and-a-half’s drive from the twin cities, namely those in Wah, Taxila, and Chinar. Plus there’s one in Abbotabad too if one doesn’t mind a slightly longer drive.

With 10 courses — half of which are directly or indirectly taxpayer-subsidised — easily accessible for the average golfer, it is mindboggling why more state resources would be spent to develop another course.

Golf can be great fun, whether one plays for the love of the game or the opportunity to socialise, but it is not a sport designed to be played by the masses, nor is it one that should be encouraged in a country already facing severe water shortages (amid intermittent nationwide surpluses).

Also, government-subsidised golf courses make little to no sense in a country where the average person can’t afford a half-good putter. This is money that could be better spent on upgrading existing public parks and sports facilities, or if nothing else, subsidising roti.

Instead, millions of rupees will be spent cutting down hundreds of trees, levelling terrain, building clubhouse facilities and of course, planting and constantly caring for grass.

As a counterpoint, while a(nother) state-funded golf course is an outrageous idea, there’s nothing wrong with a private party developing one, so long as the city actually recovers money for it instead of providing subsidies to an elitist cause.

If the project is entirely funded by the developer, if its environmental impact is properly considered, and if actually makes the city some profits, there should be no problem with it. In fact, the willingness or reservations voiced by a hypothetical bidding party and the Environmental Protection Agency may well be the easiest way to gauge the economic and environmental viability of such a facility.

On the cricket ground, the biggest obstacle in making the proposed “world-class” 50,000 seat stadium a revenue generator instead of a white elephant à la the Convention Centre.

Until foreign teams feel secure coming to Pakistan, there is little chance that such a massive infrastructure investment will pay dividends any time soon. Blaming them for not coming is hardly the solution. Few people are willing to go work in war-torn countries. Fewer still are willing to go there to provide entertainment, which is the essence of all spectator sports.

Offering assurances of “president-level” security are meaningless. We lost a former prime minister who was supposed to have such security. Musharraf narrowly escaped death, not once but twice. Salmaan Taseer’s security detail was essentially infiltrated by a fanatic. And then there are the dozens of attacks in which hundreds of people are killed every year.

Alternatively, “president-level” may mean guaranteed accommodation in a six-foot deep hole in the ground. You never know with Rehman Malik.

As a post-script, young Asim Khan, the CDA chairman’s son and the Prince of Islamabad, managed to get himself in the news for the second time in a week. This time he was threatening a girl, who another newspaper (quite unnecessarily) identified as his current or ex-girlfriend, while also repeating proclamations of his dad’s claim to the throne.

Although he did get booked this time, he has not been arrested or even held for a substantial period of time, and in spite of hurling abuse at the policemen who arrived at the scene, he was not invited into the “drawing room” (think of a drawing room out of Dante’s Inferno, or at your own risk, go misbehave with a cop for a personalised invite). Unsurprisingly, the investigating officer assigned to the case was out of town at the time and didn’t even know he is the IO. My credit to the King for pulling the strings to make that happen.

Oh, by the way, the king’s boss (because our king is as powerless as most 21st century European monarchs) had to show up in the Islamabad High Court to explain under what law he is exercising the powers of the CDA chairman.

His confident reply?

Give me some time (because apparently he doesn’t even know if he has any legal authority or right to do so).

Read more by Vaqas here, or follow him on Twitter @vasghar

Vaqas Asghar

Vaqas Asghar

A sub-editor on the Islamabad city pages of The Express Tribune, Vaqas holds a Master's degree in IR from Iqra University. Before joining ET, he taught history and was also a member of the editorial staff at Blue Chip Magazine. He tweets as @vasghar (twitter.com/vasghar)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.