Posted by Mahim Maher
Today all eyes in Pakistan are on Bilawal Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto’s son, who is expected to launch his political career at a massive gathering in Garhi Khuda Bux – the place where his mother was buried five years ago.
December 27 marks Benazir’s death anniversary. Slowly, as the date approached, billboards started going up across Karachi and wherever I drove BB, as we all refer to her, looked down on us. It still seems unreal.
She was killed shortly after her triumphant return from self-exile in London to Pakistan in 2007. Her homecoming parade from Karachi airport was targeted by twin bomb blasts. Three months later they assassinated her in Liaquat Bagh in the city of Rawalpindi up north.
This time, at least I had thought, after being prime minister twice, BB would have been different. She returned a seasoned politician with a different agenda. But the gun-and-bomb combination ended that speculation.
Given the tide of sentiment over her death – and almost every Pakistani mourned her in some way - her political party swept the 2008 elections soon after and her husband, Asif Zardari, was made president. Bilawal was put in charge of the party, even though he was still in university. Zardari chaired the meetings in his absence. And while it was clarified yesterday that Bilawal would be too young the contest the elections that are around the corner in 2013, he is expected to make some kind of announcements today at the gathering.
Bilawal has spent most of his life outside Pakistan and I hear that his Urdu speech has been written in English lettering. I’m not sure he speaks Sindhi and will be watching to see if he ventures into this linguistic territory.
Benazir Bhutto’s party, the PPP, has for the first time completed a full term in office running the government. It was not as lucky before. In 1986 she returned from exile to lead the PPP in a campaign for fresh elections. In 1988 the PPP won the elections, but she was dismissed as PM by 1990. In 1993, the president and PM at the time resigned under pressure from the military. General elections brought Benazir Bhutto back to power but for a second time her government was dismissed in 1996.
Much of the talk today is about Bilawal’s speech, but I do not expect him to say much aside from some emotional recall of his mother’s sacrifice. He may go over the ‘achievements’ of the PPP government at the federal and provincial levels.
What would have really made an impression and indeed given Bilawal’s career a real ‘debut’ is the disclosure of who killed BB. There have been investigations but till today no one has clarified to the country who was behind her murder. For the PPP government there has been little excuse insofar as they have been in power and could have pursued the matter properly and made it public.
All I can assume from the lack of disclosure is that either the information implicates people/entities they cannot disclose for security reasons or they simply don’t know. I find both scenarios hard to believe. I don’t feel we will ever gain closure until we actually know.
As for the men, women and children on the street and in the neighbourhoods of Pakistan’s cities and villages, conspiracy theory is all they have to go by.
My grandmother told me just yesterday that she was convinced it was an American plot with Jewish/Israeli undertones. I didn’t really have much to counter her theories because no hard facts have been properly brought to light.
I would have hoped that as the PPP government wrapped up its tenure for the first time in history, they would have commemorated her sacrifice by naming her killers.
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December 25, 2012 | 12:24 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
My three nephews, aged 1.4, 3 and 5 years, are on school break. Their mother is going out of her mind. “I’ve got to get them out into a green space to run around till they drop,” she said. And then, before I could even perish the thought, she added in a stiff voice: “I don’t want to take them to a mall.”
I started thinking, green spaces, green spaces, green spaces in Karachi. There is a beautiful small park near my house, in fact just a stone’s throw from Benazir Bhutto’s residence, 70 Clifton. I had noticed that its boundary wall had been pulled down and some kind of reconstruction was going on. But every time I passed I couldn’t help but think it was so much better just borderless. A boundary wall and gate deterred people from thinking of entering. And it seemed closed all the time. With nothing between it and the pavement, it was just a lush green expanse. I decided I couldn’t take them there with all the construction material spilling over.
A few weeks ago a non-profit in Karachi that works to save its environment, Shehri-CBE, published an 11kg two-volume exhaustive listing of Karachi’s parks and how they have been taken over the land mafia. Take the example of Huzuri Bagh (bagh being garden), which was six acres in the late 1960s.
Satellite images prove how it was completely constructed over by 2010. “Can you imagine the Central Park in New York allowing citizens build houses over it?” asked Shehri’s Roland deSouza at the launch of the book which was covered by The Express Tribune reporter Rabia Ali on my desk.
To give you an idea of how parks have shrunk I’ll give you the example of the neighbourhood of North Nazimabad that is one of Karachi’s few well-planned schemes, dating to 1953. Five decades have passed but the proportion of parks to layout has not gone up in line with the population growth. It has dropped from 4.48% to 4.26%. This area was meant to accommodate a population of 71,244 people but now has 0.2 million people. (Classification and Standardization of Parks North Nazimabad Town - Karachi, Pakistan in the Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, 3(2): 853-865, 2009).
I was in London over the summer with my sister and she kept exclaiming in amazement how there was a park every two blocks or so. There was no entry fee either. And they were kept clean and green by municipal staff.
But it would be unfair not to mention one park in Karachi. Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim near the sea front and Lady Lloyd Pier in Karachi is still a good space. It is spread over 130 acres and is beautifully landscaped but every time I’ve gone there it has felt kind of fake. I suppose I like rough, overgrown and natural greenery. Still, this park is amazing for the inner city kids and large families who can’t afford to pay to enter other entertainment spaces like the cinema. They often head there in the hot summer nights to catch a bit of the sea breeze. It’s a safe space and only families or couples are allowed to enter, no stags. But it’s not enough.
Neighbourhood parks just don’t have enough for children. They are not well maintained and in some cases have been taken over by drug users, rag pickers and the homeless.
But I had to take my nephews somewhere. A little research revealed the University of Karachi botanical garden. My sister’s face lit up. Biscuits were packed, water bottles filled and mosquito repellent was applied. The botanical garden is open for vistiors 4pm to 7pm Mondays and Thursdays. It is located off university road just after NED university and has a gate of its own. There isn’t much parking space, but as we discovered, not a lot of people actually go there. Aside from one decent greenhouse, the rest of the botanical garden was quite disappointing. A broken air conditioner wheezed in the alpine house where a few weeds straggled. I couldn’t find the pond the man at the gate had pointed to vaguely.
Still, my nephews had a good romp. They rolled down the hill, which amused them to no end. They had to be wrenched away from the cactus. They drew a few fronds much to the delight of their mother. Next we plan to take them to Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s mausoleum, which is set in a huge space in the center of the city. Safari Park offers a train ride to a zoo enclosure. The Karachi Zoo is also on the list. There might not be enough out there but for whatever it is worth, we’re going to hit them all.