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Pakistan Army Cantonments

Cantonments were conceived by the British for a peaceful and insulated living, away from the hustle- bustle of city life. After the Mutiny of 1857, the English army withdrew its troops from indigenous civilian populations and established cantonments well outside city limits Cantonments were established in areas where both civilian and military personnel resided. Very few people and very few vehicles frequented the streets of cantonments. The standards of general cleanliness were very high and environmental pollution was almost non-existent. Things were not all that bad even in the municipal areas. One did not experience the crowd phobia. During the days of the British, all cantonments were private property or owned by the provincial governments. It was mostly the land where the barracks were built that was owned by the military.

The army lives in cantonments which are like oases - completely different from Pakistan's cities and villages. Many people perceive these cantonments almost as colonial outposts, which in fact they once were. The army was a unique institution, separate and apart from the rest of civil society and authority. This schism between the cantonment and the city pervaded the army's thought processes and seemed to guide as well as bedevil the military's relationship with the civilian sector in Pakistan.

As of 2000 there were 41 cantonments in Pakistan. These can generally be divided into those that have geographically become parts of cities like Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar; large garrisons like Kharian, Malir, Pano Aqil and Gujranwala; and small garrisons like Bannu and Kohat. Local government exists in the cantonments in the form of cantonment boards. However, the issue of integrating cantonments into the proposed local government system would be reviewed as the district governments start functioning. After the devolution plan, the district government set-up came was created under which for the first time, the powers were decentralized from top to bottom.

Over the years, cities have expanded and taken most of the cantonments in their folds, engulfing their basic chaste entity with its leafy avenues. Things become more open and less chaotic along the wide avenues in the peaceful, leafy Cantonment neighborhoods. The army cantonment area has a more refined setup than the rest of the city, and a more formally laid out infrastructure. The Raj-era cantonment, was all leafy boulevards and neat army bungalows.

Some remain access-restricted military cantonments, but some are simply upscale housing developments, developed by the Army, and open to any resident who can afford to buy a house. The army is a big player in the real estate business; there are sprawling army housing schemes all over the country. As far as army housing schemes are concerned, membership is by choice and you have to apply for it. The house given to a military officer is not free of cost; it is paid for, but it is certainly far below market price.

The CBs all over Pakistan have been trend setters in aesthetically laying out medium to large housing schemes, artistically catering to the growing housing needs of the expanding population. Its public services of sanitation, hygiene and horticulture are still unrivalled, exemplifying the healthy environmental standards of the nation. The moment one enters the Cantt limits, one feels the air of change. The density of parks, gardens and green surrounds per square metre is higher than the neighbourhood, acclimatising the populace with the soothing serenity. The CBs growing and best maintained pure water filteration plants are enriching quality of life in conformity with the WHO standards.

The defence housing authorities are totally different institutions. They are for the purposes of welfare, and exclusive to the army. However, they have space for all the three services - army, navy and air force - along with a certain quota for government employees. There is no burden on the government exchequer or the defence organisations.

Malir Cantt has evolved into one of the coveted posh housing localities of Karachi. Walton Cantonment Board is spread over an area of 10000 acres (15.625 Square miles) including the most posh living areas like Defence Housing Authority. Lahore Cantt is a sought after neigbourhood in a prime location. These properties are ideal dream houses, very posh, classy and a well maintained. Clerics like to build their seminaries in the posh areas of the city like the Cantt because the city's business community lives in these areas, and they are the seminaries' main source of income. Although Wah Cantonment -- with 99 per cent literacy rate -- is claimed to be a "model city" as far as education is concerned, a primary school run in the city's posh locality is a stigma as it has no proper infrastructure, roof, recreational and teaching facilities and seeks attention of the city administration, officials of the education department and elected representatives.

About one-third of Karachi is under the control of cantonment boards;. Malir, Korangi Creek, Clifton and Manora are just some of the areas that are run by cantonment boards. In effect, there isn't much difference in the functions carried out by cantonment boards and the city government. The upkeep of infrastructure according to the stipulated law, as well as taking action against any violation of rules and regulations within the respective jurisdiction are critical to both systems. The issue of contention, however, is the ownership of cantonment boards across the city. Many point to the negligence and inefficiency of cantonment boards in handling public affairs, as cantonment boards are not representative bodies and thus cannot be held accountable by the general public.

In 2008 the Cantonment Boards (CBs) in Karachi had adversely been projected in the press stirring calls for its abolishment. The CBs are not a unique phenomenon of Karachi. They are spread all over Pakistan contributing to the national development but no where comparison lines with city governments are being drawn so callously. No friction of the sort has been seen amongst people from Peshawar to Quetta. In fact upcountry; the Walton, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Chaklala, Peshawar, Quetta, Multan and Sialkot the CBs, to mention very few, are revered for their contributions to the national cause. In Karachi, the scenario of relative comparison is being caused to prevail, may be for the reason of the series of the mega projects the city has witnessed recently. The comparison with the CBs in this aspect is absolutely unfitting for the reason that the CBs are not tasked for mega projects.

Federal Government Educational Institutions (Cantt/Garrison) are our invaluable national assets, which are imparting, virtually free of cost, quality education to hundreds of thousands wards of Armed Forces personnel as well as civilian residents of cantonments. The achievements and contribution of these institutions towards the promotion of quality education in the country can easily be compared with the attainments of the most reputed educational institutions, being run by public as well as private organizations. FGEIs (C/G) Directorate manages 310 schools and 41 colleges spread all over the country. The Directorate has a dual role both as a Directorate of Inspector General of Training and Evaluation (IGT&E) Branch, GHQ, and as an attached civil department of the Ministry of Defence. It has more than 10,000 employees, paid out of civil estimates, and the strength of students in FGEIs is approximately 2,00,000.

Before 1975, these institutions were under the control of respective Cantonment Boards (CB), and were commonly known as CB schools/ colleges. In 1975, these institutions were nationalized, and placed under the control of Federal Ministry of Education. In 1977, their administration and management was transferred to the GHQ, (Army Education) Directorate. In 1981, a separate Directorate was established to exclusively manage FGEIs (C/G).

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