Capital encroachment: Laws, promises and a delicious piece of pie

Published: June 26, 2011
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Capital Development Authority (CDA) promised to stop allowing the use of private property as office space.

“Silence is a source of great strength” – Lao Tzu

As an optimist will confirm, waking up is supposed to be the best part of the day. It doesn’t matter what time you wake up, or what sleep cycle your body follows, waking up full of energy is part of the charm of facing a new day and the new challenges that come with it.

So why this weak feeling?

Maybe it’s the school up your street. Maybe it’s the office next door. Maybe it’s the VVVVVIP next door (they love their V’s don’t they?), or maybe even the kids playing cricket in the street, though having been guilty of participating in the latter during my own childhood, I’m willing to grant the little sportsmen a free pass.

The problem is with the real lawbreakers (or to be more precise, ‘bylawbreakers’), who have converted residential land into office space. Unfortunately, the competent authority has shown an awe-inspiring degree of incompetence as far as following its own rules is concerned.

Bylaws on use of land have existed as long as this city, and it’s been years since the Capital Development Authority (CDA) promised to stop allowing the use of private property as office space, which includes schools and embassies. Unfortunately for most of us citizens, nobody seems to have told the city administration or the police.

For the lucky few who don’t have any such annoying neighbour, let’s set the scene. You try to reverse out of you house, but you can’t, because someone from the office next door has parked under the tree across your driveway, making reversing feel like a driving school test (and if this fellow had taken and passed it, the problem won’t have risen). Later, you get stuck in traffic because a school inside the street has a traffic jam in front of it (isn’t it wonderful how three bad drivers can create enough havoc to make everyone swear like a cabbie?).

Finally out of your street, you have to cross an embassy, with fortifications more reminiscent of a templar castle. By the time you get to your destination and try to park, a man in blue pops by and asks you to move your car because it’s too close to a (gasp!) VVVVVIP’s house, or (double gasp!) a UN office.

This is where your anger level goes all over the place. Here is a cop, paid with taxpayer money to uphold the law, facilitating a flagrant violation of that very law (don’t worry Mr Constable, it’s your bosses I take issue with, not you).

The counter argument to this is usually cost related, a painful tirade about land values and rent in Islamabad and how it’s cheaper and more convenient to open offices and especially schools in residential areas.

The problem is, since when did the UN, a throng of embassies, and of course the Government of Pakistan, become struggling small businesses? Granted that the latter probably has a lower credit rating than most small businesses, but in terms of size, both of the organisation and the proverbial pain-in-a-certain-body-part that their presence causes, these offices need to be relocated post haste.

The VVVVVIPs are no different of course. Taxpayer money is already paying for their posh apartments in the parliamentary lodges, yet many are not even staying there. They choose to stay in the private houses, which is well within their rights and may even be commendable in the case of those who forgo the lodge option. The problem is, they are so afraid of the public they represent that a sea of uniforms floods the streets in front of their houses (talk about inconspicuous).

Logic dictates that the CDA, ICT and police will do something about it, given that they are jointly mandated with administering and maintaining order in the city. And they have. The problem is, they took the “if you can’t beat em, join em” approach and set up their own offices in residential areas.

As Jonathan Swift wrote:

“Promises and pie crusts are made to be broken.”

Vaqas Asghar

Vaqas Asghar

The author is a senior sub-editor on the Islamabad Desk and also reports on diplomatic events. 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.