The battle to save green spaces continues in the face of adversities
In the early 1980s, one of Pakistan’s most senior statesmen and former interior secretary general, Roedad Khan, moved to the capital city of Islamabad. Incredibly fond of hiking and trekking and enjoying the fact that the picturesque Margalla Hills were “right at your doorstep!” he was dismayed to discover that the much-treasured national park was being shamelessly exploited.
Roedad Khan painfully reflects on how at various points in history, “influential people in the government with the support of the CDA would acquire licenses for stone crushing and quarrying in the Margalla Hills National Park.” This meant that explosives were planted at various points in the national park, destroying the mountains and adversely affecting its ecology. Some of the places he mentioned where these activities had taken place included Kalinger, Dara Jangla, Sinyari, Shah Allah Dita in the Golra area, etc. “There are important Mughal monuments in this valley,” adds Roedad Khan. “License was given to Fecto Cement for stone crushing near the Nicholson’s Monument. That continues on to this day. In a national park no less!” he exclaimed.
Erected in 1868 in honour of Brigadier-General John Nicholson, Nicholson’s Obelisk is situated at the Margalla Pass of the Margalla Hills National Park en route to Taxila.
Out of all the battles that he has won, Roedad Khan is especially proud of successfully winning a fight that spanned almost three decades. In the 1980s, the ISI had encroached upon the land of Kalinger Valley in Dara Jangla area of the Margalla Hills National Park with the intention of converting it into a residential colony for its employees. “They fenced the colony and wouldn’t allow any Pakistani civilian to enter. How can you have a residential colony in a national park?” questioned Roedad Khan while talking about the incident. He went to court against this encroachment. The ISI finally vacated the area without any condition in early 2008.
“You cannot rest on your laurels,” Roedad Khan said, “Doing this requires constant vigilance. There are unauthorised occupations that continue till today but on a much smaller scale. The two lessons I’ve learned is to never give up and secondly organise the people. Enlist their support along with the media’s and it will produce results.”
Even at 89 years of age, this former statesman and die-hard environmentalist shows no signs of slowing down.