Documenting Development in Pakistan Through Its Multiple Illusions

A new book on Islamabad tells the story of not just the birth of a city but also of the military-bureaucratic-administrative fantasies that were a part of the process.

It is rare to read a book about “development” that is so absorbing. Frankly, it is rather difficult to give this worn out term a new meaning but that is just what Markus Daechsel, a senior lecturer in London University, has done brilliantly. He writes about development by documenting so many of its multiple illusions. This cloudy fairy tale called development is so familiar to all of us on the sub-continent. We know it now simply as a collection of dreams continuously being spun by donor agencies and their high-powered consultants. Pakistan has had more than its fair share of such stories as well as international consultants who struggled to give some sense about globalisation to its generals who are otherwise hell bent on becoming a ‘Muslim Raj’.  No easy ambition for a country without a history.

Daechsel’s book tells us the story about three participants and how they – the American establishment, Pakistan bureaucrats and its generals – kept each other engrossed in the stories about the development of Pakistan during the period of the two decades after partition.

The book takes these stories apart by using material from the most unlikely of sources – the archives of Constantinos Doxiadis, a Greek expert consultant who was parachuted into the country by US agencies. They were and have remained anxious to promote development as their alternative to Islamic fundamentalism. The Greek urban planner, in turn, was in search of making a fortune. He had been identified by the American agencies as a person who had a vision, would remain  loyal and sufficiently anti-socialist to persuade the Pakistani establishment to avoid taking Jawaharlal Nehru’s path to economic progress. As an expert, his status in the Pakistan establishment was kept ambiguous. He was not part of the American bureaucracy or mission since he was a Greek with a professional reputation whom the Ford Foundation had brought to Pakistan as an independent expert to find the inner ways for development to be wedged into the functions of government.

Markus Daechsel
Islamabad and the Politics of International Development in Pakistan
Cambridge University Press, 2018

The author narrates the experiences of Doxiadis’s utter failure to understand either Pakistan, the American diplomats who worked there or the generals who came and went. Yet he became internationally famous as the planner of Islamabad and the Korangi township for the “mohajirs” located outside Karachi. Daeschel’s central narrative, however, is not about Islamabad, despite the tittle of the book. It is about the “tyranny of experts” and their donors prompting them to “see like the state”. It is about a lavishly paid consultant who is sent to Pakistan to mix with the elite, imagining himself to be a T.E. Lawrence, and also about how national bureaucrats and the generals play along with him while pursuing their private visions of making Pakistan a credible sovereign state.

Undoubtedly new ground has been broken on the well-traversed terrain where the theories and politics of development thrive. Covering events in Pakistan between the 1950s and the 1960s, the author relies on the hitherto  unknown archival material preserved by Doxiadis to give us new insights into the inner workings of the rulers of Pakistan. As a primary source, the archive consists of personal notes, thousands of letters ranging from those written to low level officials, to prime ministers and generals, sketch books, photographs, minutes of meetings as well as the success and failures of his own initiatives.

Doxiadis saw himself as a development practitioner with a unique vision about Pakistan’s future by persuading them to ride both horses – Islam and modernity – and gallop ahead. Daechsel also weaves into his narrative about Doxiadis, the context of Pakistan today with its “lack of development histories” and the “malaise in research about Pakistan’s lost 1947 past”. This book certainly contributes much towards a better understanding of what studies about Pakistan seem to be missing. A much misruled country seemingly existing in a different universe. Doxiadis’s archives could, therefore, be regarded as providing something of a “breakthrough” since they detail, blow by blow, accounts of his meetings with the generals and prime ministers, the senior bureaucrats, the minor civil servants, municipal officials and contractors as well as the Americans and the wider international community trying to help bring up an orphan country that needed them while ignoring them.

How was it that a Greek urban planner was able to source such rich information about the inner workings of a xenophobic country with an inherent sense of insecurity? The answer lies in the unfolding of events that took place during the two decades that followed the independence of Pakistan. It was a time when Britain’s hold on global events was waning and and the Americans and Soviets were busy gathering  post-colonial territories to boost their collections. For the Americans, Pakistan could be won over by selling it as “poster child for global development” amongst the third world community as the alternative to Nehru’s socialist agenda. It was to be developed as a reliable bulwark against the Soviets who were also looking longingly towards the post-colonial territories.

This wooing of Pakistan has never been easy. “Pakistan was not born as a developing nation, it became a developing nation only through its encounter with an army of experts and funding bodies…” It was during the enrolment of this “army” that Doxiadis was identified by the Americans as one of the key figures amongst experts who could detract the Pakistan establishment which was otherwise busy  obsessing about building up their credibility as a functioning state. Urbanisation was seen then and now by the American establishment as the main instrument of development and hence the choice of Doxiadis, an urban planner. He had an articulated vision about long distant futures where communities lived in peace and harmony.

As a transnational consultant, working in a “newly de-colonised nation state” Doxiadis was able to communicate to the American administration, the Ford Foundation and the Pakistan establishment his own “sophisticated development world view “ which was free from any tints of socialism. His donors portrayed him as a “leading protagonist of Third World urban development.” In the laboratory of under-development theories, the Americans have always led with formulas that advocate more and more urbanisation as the alternative to sectarianism.

These experimental theories go back almost six decades and as the research continues, more and more consultants: donors couples continue to fan out into the post-colonial world carrying that old wine in new bottles labelled ‘smart cities and industrial corridors’. Doxiadis’s archives reveal the textures of this blind faith in urbanisation. Much of the urban confusion in post-colonial countries has been caused by the mega reports and activities of excessively funded consultant preachers who habitually prey on new heads of government looking for magical solutions to continue to stay in power.

Doxiadis’s defining moment had come in 1954 when the United Nations sponsored his visit as a delegate to the Conference on Tropical Housing which was held in New Delhi. Nehru’s response to the advocacy of urbanisation was to concede the need for housing, particularly for the partition refugees. In India, Otto Koenigsburger, a German architect of Jewish descent was appointed director of housing for the Indian health ministry charged with resettling those displaced by Partition.

A few years on, the Americans found Doxiadis and he became the chief consultant to the Pakistan Planning Commission. Subsequently, his company designed Korangi for the refugee community in Karachi. Both Otto Koenigsberger, the German, and Constantios Doxiadis, the Greek, became drivers for the international donors to plan for the greater urbanisation of the sub-continent.

Koenigsberger heeded his sense of utter failure and left for England in the early 1950s. But Doxiadis persisted. While confessing his sense of failure to his private diaries, he simply would not give up. He had already been appointed as a World Bank Consultant (IBRD in those days) and was thus, with the backing of the Bank, able to move into Pakistan as their chief consultant to the Planning Commission. While in Pakistan, he faithfully kept serving one or other ‘breeds of development agencies” that the American government had set up to be closer to the ground than their own diplomatic missions could be. (Colombo Plan, Ford Foundation, the US International Cooperation Administration which subsequently became USAID etc).

Doxiadis’s final master plan for Islamabad, 1960. Credit: Z.A. Khan/Journal of Architectural History

The book is a delight to read. As the author continues to unfold the narrative of Doxiadis, he also periodically distances himself away from the Greek to look at the wider sub-continental picture as it unfolded at the time. For instance, he juxtaposes the intentions of the American government with those of the establishment in Pakistan. The Americans wanted to introduce modernism through an urbanism that would enable Pakistanis to emerge as ‘citizens’ rather than remain ‘subjects’ while the establishment was riding its own bandwagon  to consolidate a “Muslim Raj. Consequently, the rulers of Pakistan ’ were indulgent towards development as a way to subsidise their escapades into international forums.

Under normal circumstances, Doxiadis’s efforts, as a transnational consultant, should have come to an end after the usual period of about five years of being tolerated by the bureaucracy. However, he doubled his period of engagement as his fortunes took a dramatic turn when Ayub Khan staged his coup in 1958. Ayub took an immediate fancy to Doxiadis and appointed him “on a dozen or so high-profile commissions which made the Greek “one of the most influential development consultants in the last century”.

Normally, funding agency consultants appear and disappear without leaving a trace in the post-colonial world. They seldom take any responsibility, nor are they allowed to record their authorship on their advisory papers. Doxiadis became an exception because of the patronage of Ayub Khan. He was able to sway President General Ayub Khan with his rich story about development and the future citizens of Pakistan who needed to live in new types of communities. Doxiadis promised him new urban forms that could combine Islam with modernism as well as help preserve diverse community identities by moving away from the “one-size-fits-all” approach of the erstwhile colonial rulers. Hence his appointment as the master planner of Islamabad.

There is new discourse on development which is central to the book and is most welcome. Perhaps the concluding sentences of the book summarise best the valuable story in this publication from which we, in India, have much to learn. We, too, have an overdose of religious sectarianism, too little education, far too many versions competing for what is meant by nationalism and we, too, are unable to share a binding way towards our common future. The author concludes “The most invoked remedy to such problems is none else than development… this is a serious misunderstanding. It is only in a world where development no longer holds sway that new forms of truth and new governmentalities better suited for the people of Pakistan can emerge”.

Romi Khosla is an architect and planner with a background in economics and accountancy.

Join The Discussion