Lost in political steam

March 27, 2022

Despite being a hotbed for political activity, not much has changed in Islamabad under the current government

Lost in political steam


Islamabad has become the centre of national politics since the submission of a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan in the National Assembly. MNAs from across the country are stationed at the capital, providing ample opportunity for speculation. Most news bulletins are talking about little else aside from the no-confidence motion.

Ironically, the city of Islamabad itself is not a part of the ongoing debate on any level, as those in power care little about this particular constituency.

In the demarcation of 2018, the number of National Assembly constituencies in Islamabad went up from two to three.

Since there are no provincial seats in the federal capital, nearly three million people are dependent on three MNAs for all kinds of local affairs.

NA-52 mainly covers the Islamabad Expressway and its surroundings. This road is Islamabad’s Achilles’ Heel. It has been a traffic nightmare for decades, flanked by illegal housing societies that have cut into wildlife areas. This constituency is a hotbed of land grabbers and its crime rate remains the highest all year round.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Raja Khurram Nawaz is the MNA for NA-52. A new entrant into politics, he may not have had a seat if Islamabad was still made up of two constituencies.

Most of this constituency encompasses the outskirts of Islamabad. Nawaz is actively engaged in the self-defeating goal of urbanising this officially declared rural area, running counter to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s avowed vision of protecting green areas. The prime minister, in his policy for Islamabad, had announced that “sky’s the limit” for buildings here. In the past, Islamabad has not been supportive of high-rise structures. The vision the prime minister introduced shortly after coming to power was that the city’s population could be housed by raising the vertical limit of buildings in order to save green areas from unchecked urbanisation.

Yet we see MNA Raja Khurram Nawaz’s name plate on a lot of newly built concrete streets and other structures. These stick out as ugly characters against the green and serene landscape from Rawat to Chirah village.

NA-53 is the second constituency of the federal capital. It begins in central Islamabad and extends close to Murree. Places such as Bhara Kahu and Bani Gala are significant parts of the area.

Imran Khan won this constituency in the 2018 elections. However, he chose to keep a seat in Mianwali instead and vacated NA-53. It conveniently fell to party candidate Ali Nawaz Awan. Awan was not a strong opposition leader in Islamabad’s local government. This is his first foray into national politics.

The vision that the prime minister introduced shortly after coming to power was that the city’s population could be housed by raising the vertical limit of buildings in order to save green areas from unchecked urbanisation.

The PTI government has appointed him as special assistant to the prime minister for the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

The CDA is one of the wealthiest city managers in the country. Amer Ahmed Ali is its chairman. All three constituencies largely fall under the jurisdiction of the CDA. After general elections, billions of rupees were spent on beautification and renovation. Though Awan claims credit for these projects, he seldom installs his nameplates in person.

During his first year and a half in office, he spent most of his time trying to out-do Sheikh Ansar, Islamabad’s first mayor. Until Ansar was ousted in 2020, Awan held impassioned press conferences against him and alleged corruption. However, little improvement was seen following the mayor’s exit. The service delivery departments that were under the mayor have now been handed back to the CDA. Sheikh Ansar was blamed for the poor conditions in Islamabad’s Marghazar Zoo. Its lone elephant, Kavaan, drew international attention. However, hundreds of animals and birds went missing in the drive to transport them to more secure places. This included lions. A couple of bears that were left in the facility have died. The media was told that they died due to the uncaring practices adopted when Ansar was mayor. Hence, Awan singlehandedly turned the city’s first mayor into its worst villain. This perhaps is his biggest achievement.

NA-54 is the most important constituency of the city, including posh sectors and strategically important areas. It is well-developed and well-managed. The main issue for this constituency is commercialisation of Margalla Hills and protected National Park areas. Since international and national dignitaries walk frequently on these hills, it is also the centre of attention for the media and environmentalists.

These people hardly speak about destruction of natural beauty in NA-52 but in NA-54, they were against the construction of Margalla Avenue, a road that is part of the city’s master plan. Little issue has been made of the plotting of the Soan River, where illegal housing societies have stationed armed guards to keep control of the lands they claim. This is happening in Islamabad but goes unnoticed since decision-makers seldom visit NA-52.

Asad Umer, the planning minister, is the MNA from NA-54. He is a frequent face on TV channels and his team keeps his social media presence very active.

On TV, he confronts his opponents speaking about the problems Karachi faces, the way the PPP rules Sindh and how badly the PML-N was running the Punjab. On most occasions the focus of his attention is Sindh. It is very rare for him to speak about his own constituency. Islamabad High Court (IHC) gave verdicts against the occupation of Margalla Hills land by the Pakistan Navy and other influential people running lavish hotels there. It remained a national and international concern but Asad Umer remained unmoved by these concerns throughout.

While the rest of the country marches for change, Islamabad itself has little to look forward to in the way of meaningful changes.

The writer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University Islamabad.  Twitter: @HassanShehzadZ   Email: Hassan.shehzad@iiui.edu.pk

Lost in political steam