A Window on Pakistan
By Narendra Luther
Last month I wrote about our trip to Pakistan in personal and emotional terms.
Only those who have undergone a trauma of the type which entails forced relocation and loss of entire property can appreciate that sort of reminiscence. The only saving grace for persons of my generation was that we were children and we had lost something which we had not created. I can now imagine the acute distress that our parents must have undergone.
This time I intend to dwell upon the comparisons and contrasts between the two countries.
The first point that struck me was that the people there were invariably not in favour of the military regime. Many had experienced similar spells of military dictatorship earlier and they did not relish any of them. They envied us our democratic system. Some asked me how we could stay free of military rule and whether there was any danger of the military ever taking over in India. I said that we were lucky in our earlier leadership both in their deep commitment to democracy and their longevity. Jinnah died within a year of the birth of Pakistan. The second in command and stature, Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated shortly thereafter in 1951. There was thus no outstanding leader left after that. It is a moot point whether military rule could have been avoided if their founding leaders had lived longer. Most people expressed their preference for political leaders like Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Shareef even if they were corrupt. There is something in the knowledge that you can throw the rulers out in a peaceful manner through the ballot box. Only a politician can have his finger on the pulse of the people!
Many persons from across the wide spectrum observed that India was a century or two ahead of Pakistan in terms of general progress which included industrialization and the emergence of the service sector. It was after going to Pakistan that I realized the importance of the presence of the public sector in some areas, like public transport. It was privatized some years ago, probably by Nawaz Shareef. A ‘common man’ told us that some ministers and their families and friends now run minibuses and taxis. This, we saw, caused serious inconvenience to the common man.
We were surprised to note the absence of official or cooperative dairies producing milk and milk products. You get milk either from the old conventional milkman or from the grocery shop in imported powder bags. Price of both milk and sugar are rather high.
We noticed the absence of indigenous industries in Pakistan. You get every kind of consumer good there because they are imported. There are many large malls and supermarkets and all sots of goods are available there. They produce good fruits and vegetables but there is a lack of food processing industries.
Though the penetration of cell phones is high, I did not find any cyber - cafe in Lahore. While I was there, the Prime Minister declared that a Technology Park would be set up soon and would be ready in a year.
I found the media rather insipid. Newspapers lack ads. Their contents are mild though here and there you find some strident ant-establishment columns. TV shows a number of India channels and our actors and singes are very popular there. Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen and some other Indian beauties are modelled in Pakistani textile shops. Local video and audiocassettes are of poor quality.
We did not see any purdah or burqas in the new part of Lahore, or in Islamabad. Even in the old parts of the cities, it wasn’t there to the extent that we expected. In colleges and universities, it is extremely rare. I delivered a lecture in the Lahore University of Management Sciences. Boys and girls moved around as freely together in the campus as they would anywhere in India. We saw some going about hand-in-hand and sitting in lawns or benches unselfconsciously. One sees more of burqas in some parts of some cities in India than we saw in Pakistan. The new upmarket colonies like Gulberg in Lahore have very elegant houses each with its own armed private security men.
All markets have banners put up by the traders’ associations warning terrorists that a camera is watching them. Similar banners are also are strung across in streets near police stations condemning terrorism as an unpatriotic and a dangerous activity. One sees all sorts of cars and bigger vehicles – all imported. The bodywork on trucks is generally redone to make a formidable front elevation. They are painted in garish colours. In Rawalpindi, Suzuki vans have their bodies removed before they are turned into brightly- coloured taxis which are invariably overloaded.
Pakistanis are very fond of good food. The older part of Anarkali in Lahore is virtually a food bazar. A neighbouring street is full of food courts. Some restaurants specialize in fish. We went to one such joint where a large queue waited for their turn for take-homes or to eat there.
Lahore is a city of gardens and that character has been maintained in spite of large-scale construction in recent years. No land has been taken away from some of the old sprawling institutions like the Aitchison College which covers 200 acres in the heart of the city. On both sides of the Upper Bari canal rows of trees have been planted and roads built which make the city look beautiful. In Nawaz Shareef’s time the Race Course was shifted outside the city. But the vacated land was turned into a park. The old Lawrence Garden, rechristened Bagh-e- Jinnah has not been touched and occupies a large tract opposite the Government House. They also haven’t changed the old Hindu names of localities like Dharampura, Kishen Nagar or Sunder Dass Road. Ram Gali, however, was referred by some as Rahim Gali by some people.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise for us was the motorway from Lahore to Islamabad. This stretch of 400 km road is an 8-lane highway with speed limit of 120 per hour for cars and 100 kms for heavy transport. It is as good as the freeways in the U.S. and similar discipline is enforced on drivers. Cars cover the distance in four hours while buses run by Daewoo Company of Korea which are like planes on ground take half hour longer. It is something which we should emulate.
Islamabad is a very beautiful city. Planned by Doxiadis, a Greek firm of architects on a large scale, it is not only beautiful, but is very meticulously maintained. It has wide-open stretches of open land between roads and the houses are very well laid out. They say that Islamabad is sanitized sealed city. There are no slums there and traffic rules are enforced strictly. No city in India is as well maintained.
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