An earnest letter to Lee Kuan Yew ( from Peshawar )

by  Nasser Yousaf ..

 

My Dear Lee Kuan Yew,

One of your recent interviews has revealed that you are not far from starting the tenth decade of your life; and that despite having been grown considerably frail in physique your colossal reserves of vision, indomitable determination and enviable foresight do not seem to have diminished even a wee bit. The fact that you are still being zealously pursued and consulted with regard to the emerging shape of the world lends an aura of respectability and indisputable authority to your distinguished personality. The simple fact of your having raised the small island of Singapore to be quoted as the quintessential development model and vying with the titans of the world goes on to prove the legitimacy of the title of ‘The Man Who Saw Tomorrow’, which was conferred on you.

It may not be wise to overstate the parallels between Singapore, before divinity interposed to bring you to the fore, and Peshawar where one lives other than the fact that the latter is also inhabited by nearly four million people and is in a state of abysmal development and where even a semblance of civic sense does not exist. One is sure it will pain you greatly to see the neglectful state of affairs in Peshawar, which is said to be one of the oldest cities of the world with some accounts, based on archaeological findings, dating it back to several thousand years.If one were to believe in the truthfulness of the news and information pointing to the bulging size of the official kitty, there does not appear to be any lack of resources hampering the development of Peshawar. All that seems to have converted Peshawar into a developer’s and indeed even a lay observer’s nightmare appear to be a total lack of vision and an implacably retarded sense of imagination intensified and characterised by an attitude of utter apathy.

If it rains for four hours and four minutes the city is turned into an awful pool of stagnant water with its stench rising to heavens, and if it doesn’t rain for four hours and four minutes the city disappears in palls of dust and smoke. The dreadful aftermath of a prolonged spell of rain or persistent sunshine, or an unusual wave of wind lashing the city thus unfailingly brings to mind Gabriel Garcia Marquis’s fictional town of Macondo, battered by calamities.

One had learnt that Mountstuart Elphinstone, the first English official deputed to Peshawar in the early 19th century, had painted an idyllic picture of the place in his epistles back home in which he also favourably compared its soil and greenery with that of his home country. A so called ‘Ring Road’ encircling the wretched city of Peshawar has been built in the recent years in the countryside where Elphinstone had walked in the blooming orchards with springs sprouting all around him and bridges made of wooden planks speaking of the ingenuity of the times.

The poorly conceived and clumsily built Ring Road had its foundation laid in scandalous gossip. Its strength was tested to maximum effect in the wake of the events of 9/11 as it gave in due to the sudden rise in the traffic carrying goods across the border for the Americans and their allies. With plenty of pomp and show and all in attendance including the Yankees, the repair work on the road had commenced a couple of years ago. The repair work, so far carried out, would show that a more ungainly project must not have been undertaken on the planet since the Neolithic Age. One wonders how someone like you would have made all the difference, Mr. Lee!

Peshawar had once been coveted as the city of flowers. A traveller to the city in the present times would rubbish any notion of that historical fact as outlandish and possibly also the work of some conceited mind beholden to the city in some manner.
Peshawar’s vast environs are as devoid of any trace of a green leaf or a blooming flower as the immense Sahara Desert is of a blade of grass. What makes it very comical indeed is the fact that there are hundreds of gardeners on the payrolls drawing salaries for the upkeep of the nonexistent gardens. Peshawar’s main University Road, which is touted as the proverbial gateway to Central Asia and beyond, is perhaps one of the most lackluster roads of its kind in the world.

The authority presently seized with the development of Peshawar could be seen occupied with the construction of underpasses on the University Road. The slow pace of work on the two sites has added to the miseries of the motorists, particularly in view of the prevailing law and order situation in the city. The funniest part of this project is that based on real life experience people in Peshawar do not use underpasses to cross the roads. They rather prefer to cross the roads directly taking the motorists head on.

Such brazenly acting people perform these adventures with the able stewardship of the traffic cops in our city who make the already slow moving traffic come to a halt with the signal of their bare hands to lend legality to such trespassing.

Since civic sense is not known to exist in our city, you may observe people behaving in amusing ways in the bazaars, on roads and on the sideways. Some people could be seen violently grappling with and trying to twist and uproot the sharp iron bars installed in the medians in the roads merely to avoid crossing the roads through the underpasses. On such occasions you may see people both men and women, old and young, bearded and clean shaven shaking their whole beings in a manner like the Jews shaking their beings in front of the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem. Equally funny are the scenes where you may encounter people alighting from their transports to remove the concrete blocks littered on one side of the roundabouts by the police to deter motorists from violating the traffic rules.

Peshawar Police deal with the committed, and yet to be committed breaches of law in the most innovative ways. Only this last Monday a police officer ordered the city closed for as long as eight hours to prevent what he later called an expected march of the tribesmen on some places of importance. ‘We couldn’t sleep due to tension,’ the said police officer told the journalists after only about two dozen tribesmen holding placards were seen protesting in the most civilised manner that town dwellers have ever known of. With traffic having come to a halt and everybody walking on foot to and from their places of works, you know Mr. Lee Peshawar presented a spectacle, or rather a specter like Egypt at the time of Exodus of Israelites.

One is writing to you Mr. Lee to apprise you of the grave situation and seek your help. We hear someone in our neighborhood taking the historical city of Lahore to the heights of development. That sounds very envious; but less inspiring when one hears of an acute want of civic sense accompanying the spate of development. Mr. Lee you combine in your personality those exemplifying diverse traits that could bring about development together with enforcing a regime of civic responsibility, no matter if you do it in your known authoritative way. How one wishes that to materialise in one’s lifetime, Dear Mr. Lee!

source link : dawn.com – An earnest letter to Lee Kuan Yew

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