Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Mr CM Tear Down that Wall!

“Tear down this wall!” was the famous challenge from United States President Ronald Reagan to Soviet leader Gorbachev to destroy the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987.This challenge will be remembered through history as a cry for freedom The wall was built by the totalitarian Soviet Union to prevent East Germans from moving freely to the west. We all remember the many wall crossings and defections that characterized the wall and its prevention of freedom.

Instead of heeding the cry of freedom, the Punjab Government has walled itself off from the people. Government Officers Residences (GOR) which sits in the heart of Lahore– occupying about a square mile of city center–is a colonial legacy which is badly in need of abolition. The Empire needed to giver residences and perks to bring Englishmen to rule the country. They had built palaces for themselves on the outskirts of Lahore. The city has grown and now GOR is bang in its middle. You would have thought that Independent Pakistan would have quickly dismantled this colonial legacy.

Calls for monetization of all perks have been resisted for years. Instead GOR keeps getting fresh investments—an officers club, new houses, lavishes additions to old houses and even a wedding hall for the officers. All these investments take place at government expense though you will find it hard to see any of them mentioned in the accounting documents.

The latest such expense is that GOR has been walled off and security checkpoints are going to be manned by about 500 policemen to protect the civil servants. Are we an independent country? Are they our master? Even the British Empire did not feel that insecure.

GOR being walled off will disrupt the life of Lahore add to traffic jams. Many people used the alternative route of GOR to avoid the rush of Lahore. It will further distance the government from the people. Policy will get more deeply entrenched into an enclave mentality.

Yes terrorism plagues Pakistan. All citizens are insecure. Schools have been affected. In a recent blast I met kids from St Anthony’s high school my former school who were totally traumatized, some had even sustained minor injuries. Why do the government functionaries need to be sheltered more than schools?

It could be open season now. Walls will go up everywhere with all the rich and famous seeking segmentation. Is that desirable?

Through history walls have been made to keep out barbarian hordes or foreign invaders. But these walls have protected the entire population not just the rulers. The great wal of China and Hadiran’s wall were made to protect their people. Walls have been used to defend cities from attackers all the way from the famous Trojan war days.

Most rulers of cities built walls to protect their citizens from marauders and enemies.

Tyrants used walls to protect themselves from their populations who hated them. Often these walls were torn down to the regrets of the tyrants. The most famous of these is the storming of the Bastille and the French palaces.

In recent times with democracy and improved governance, very few governments have found the need to build a wall around them! As much as possible, they rely on the people and their goodwill to protect them.

Democratic governments are embedded in their people. If their people are not safe they do not think of only making themselves safe. Churchill in the famous Battle of Britain did not ever think of protecting himself. He stayed in London in 10 Downing Street and was visible to his people all the time. No walls for him!

The IRA bombed London but Downing Street or the houses of parliament were not walled off.

White house still has an iron “see through” fence with hordes hanging on to it to view the old mansion.

We had expected democracy to tear down remaining walls. We had expected that our democratic governments will do away with perks not strengthen them and waste more budgetary resources on them.

Strangely enough there has been little outrage in Pakistan on this issue. But then we in Pakistan have become desensitized. We are not outraged at anything. We were not outraged by rape and abuse.We were not outraged by torture and corrupton. We were not outraged when our democratically elected govenrments were thrown out by tyrants. We were not outraged when BB got killed. The list is long.

Countries and civil societies get made when government excess does lead to outrage. We have a long way to go. Our leaders know that!

Will civil society demand freedom with a cry of “Mr. Sharif Tear down that wall! You can only be safe when we are.”

I implore the Supreme Court justice to take note of this egregious use of executive power. Surely this is abuse of eminent domain?