'Might is right'
IREMEMBER the time when I used to live in a government residence and the house opposite to mine fell vacant on the retirement of the incumbent. He was a thorough gentleman and vacated the house as soon as he could after he retired. The day after he left, a middle-aged lady came to see her newly allotted accommodation. She was a teacher at a federal government school and it was a real privilege for her to get the accommodation after years of wait.
The lady put a lock on her newly allotted house as she planned to move in later during the week. The same evening a not very sober looking individual broke that lock and moved in.
Later on, I got to know that he was the then prime minister's personal guard who had been inducted in the police department as deputy superintendent of police. The lady who had been originally allotted the residence tried to convince him - to no avail - that what he had done was illegal. This incident took place several years ago, but the expression of helplessness on her face is still fresh in my memory. Unfortunately, this is the modus operandi of doing things in Pakistan.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had decided to hand over government rest houses to the department of tourism for management and to rent out at the market rate. All except one of the 15 rest houses were handed over to the department. The use of these rest houses fetched the department millions of rupees last summer. The amount can be put to good use in the maintenance and uplifting of the rest houses. The one rest house that was not handed over is Rockingham House of Nathiagali which is under the control of the police department.
How a civil servant is more powerful than the chief executive of the province is on display in this affair where a defiant provincial police chief has been successfully thwarting all efforts by the chief minister to transfer the ownership of the rest house to the department of tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since June last year. It seems that the model police of KP, which Imran Khan so often appreciates, can at times follow the same approach as its counterparts elsewhere in the country. Bringing about change is, perhaps, easier said than done. Security is a real threat in Pakistan but just like the security establishment has used the threat from across the border as leverage to increase its influence and often defy the authority of the Constitution of the country, security is being used as an excuse for many seemingly unfair affairs these days. This is not limited to the police; the might-isright approach is adopted by almost all state institutions. The army has cordoned off much of Bhurban, a hill resort near Murree that has a beautiful golf course which for a long time even under the army's control was open to the general public. One could stroll along the lovely walkways amid the greenery, but it has been many years since that simple pleasure has been taken away from the general public.
The golf course in question was not developed by the Pakistan Army but by British forces in 1932.
Barring entry to the general public has nothing to do with security, as there is hardly any military personnel stationed at that golf course for most of the year and the restriction is just to ensure that a sense of superiority prevails for those who are allowed entry. Had Keats been a Pakistani poet, he would have written ' A thing of beauty is a joy forever - but not for the general public'. Similarly, the palaces of the nawabs of Bahawalpur which are a cultural heritage and marvels of architecture are in the military's control, and not open to the general public. Gulzar Mahal where the nawab used to live during his visit to Bahawalpur and Darbar Mahal where he used to hold court are not open to the public. Noor Mahal which was bought by the military that paid Rs120 million to the heirs of the nawab is an army mess, hence public access is restricted without prior permission.
Isn't it the taxpayers' money that funds the military? If this is the case is it justified to keep locals away from the pleasure of appreciating this heritage? The high ratio of indirect taxes ensures that the general public starves itself even as it funds our defence forces, so I think they deserve to be respected for their sacrifice. Even the Buckingham Palace is open to the general public and anyone can buy a ticket and visit the palace. I wish our new masters - both civilian and khaki - would for a change imitate something positive from our old masters as well.