For much of its existence, the capital city of Pakistan has been lovingly remembered as "The Beautiful".
It became a standard description for the city, oft repeated by its residents and visitors (local and foreign). As the story goes, when Ayub Khan was in the process of deciding where the new capital would be located, his dream was to offer a leafy serene capital that people would prefer over cities like London and Paris.
For the better part of its existence, this young city kept the promise and the urban development somehow blended into the majestic backdrop of the Margallas (barring of course the distasteful architecture of its commercial areas).
The flora and fauna of the environs was enhanced. Civic and municipal oversight was decent enough to keep the environment aesthetically pleasant.
Unfortunately, like the rest of the country, things for Islamabad took a turn for the worse, starting 2007.
Likely to become a lot uglier
If one drives around the city, even without the ruckus caused by the ongoing metro project, it looks like an orphaned town - run-down and abandoned.
The Capital Development Authority is conspicuous only in its total absence in matters relating to environmental maintenance and regulation. Be it the absolute shocking state of its roads (with pot holes aplenty and encroachments in all its commercial centres) or the shameful deterioration of all of its public parks and sports facilities; Islamabad is paying the price of a totally dysfunctional administration and for electing representatives that are at best disinterested and at worst, incapable!
It was a most telling image when I saw a vehicle of the enforcement directorate passing by an Afghani burger outlet that has made a total mockery of civic regulations on the main road of F-10 Markaz.
This criminal indifference leaves a common resident cringing with disgust and fear.
While countries around us learned and progressed in urban development, a beautiful city is in terminal decline and no one seems to be bothered about it.
One wonders if the executive authorities of the CDA ever venture out of their large offices and see for themselves what all is ailing the city. It is impossible for anyone with only a passing ability of observation to not take notice of an illegal but thriving automobile market that has emerged in F-11, occupying shoulders on both sides of the road.
A glaring disregard for regulations
All these ugly developments cannot be due to incompetence alone; corruption has a large part to play in this too.
Inside the commercial centres; overflowing water tanks, unsightly wires and cables, mushrooming gangs of beggars make for a totally intolerable experience. Jinnah Super Market, once a cherished place for families for a stroll to a book shop or for road-side coffee, has been rendered into a cheap imitation of Gawalmandi.
Any conscientious Lebanese would probably sue us for the use (read abuse) of the term 'shawarma' for the shockingly unhygienic food being sold in all open areas there.
Instead of turning it into a tourist attraction, we have turned that market into a trash can.
The connivance of civic bodies with big money investors and the latitude extended to them reveals just how brazenly rampant corruption is in state structures. We have had to endure the unsightly development of a shopping mall in F-7 with an unfathomable disregard for managing the associated traffic and parking.
Now we see another mall being constructed on Jinnah Avenue and the developer is allowed total impunity as he wreaks havoc by spraying mud and earthwork on Nazimuddin road, the material transported by another innovation of ours: tractor-trolley.
Is there no building code or regulation in Pakistan that binds developers of new projects to not treat the entire inhabited surroundings as their construction site?
One hopes that someone from the powers that be shall take notice of this before things go beyond repair. We all saw how the city got a shot in the arm when one good chairman of the CDA sparked life and not only improved the road and parks infrastructure, but also laid the foundation for a buzzing performing arts and theatre site.
We remain a personality-driven community with no hope of any systemic improvement of governance. I hope there is someone in our fast decaying bureaucracy to stem the rot out. Until then, CDA might as well rephrase the title to "Islamabad the woeful".
PS. The only bright side to this bleak picture are the heroes of the city's sanitation staff. They are doing a great job in trying to clean the mess created by a community that certainly doesn't believe in cleanliness being next to Godliness.