The last two weeks have been eventful for judicial activism in the urban and water sector in Pakistan. The Chief Justice has been in the UK stumping for the dam fund. I have questioned the wisdom and necessity of Diamer-Bhasha dam in this paper, as have many others elsewhere. So I won’t rehearse the argument again here.Suffice it to say that if the country is interested in a rigorous scientific inquiry into its water resources, I can bring in the best minds in the world, in the water sector, from the top hydrologists, geomorphologists, modellers and decision support people to social scientists together to look at Pakistan’s water sector. And I could bring them onboard without costing a penny to the government of Pakistan, provided it expresses interest and extends cooperation in terms of data provision. There are plenty of other funding sources we can tap into as academics. Of course, the government and the society can also continue to listen to vested interests, e.g., the western and domestic engineering consultants to WAPDA and the government. These interests really don’t care about Pakistan, or science, only for lucrative contracts, which inevitably follow in large infrastructure projects. But, if scientific, rational advice is what the GoP is interested in, then that could be arranged.The above said, what I really want to talk about today is the urban landscape in Pakistan. The story of the demolition of shops and kiosks in Saddar Karachi, and the disaster it is for the working poor is well known. The vision of urbanism in Pakistan is increasingly aligning with the international visual grammar of Dubai style landscapes. A city in that vision is something to be seen and consumed, not necessarily laboured and lived in, by all. So, Karachi Saddar is to be turned into a promenade for the middle and upper classes to consume visually and then again through their pockets. What happens to the teeming working poor is a matter of relative indifference. As long, as they cook, clean and haul, and remain invisible, they may stay. The Chief Justice’s press conferences, speeches and telethons were interspersed by advertisements for housing societies in Gwadar, centred around, Golf courses! In Gwadar there is no water for the indigenous people, and yet golf course centred housing societies will be developed, watered by desalinated water. Water for the golf course could be enough drinking water for all of GwadarMy research work in Karachi for two projects, one on gender and violence, and the other one on the cultural politics of horticulture, taught me a few things about how far the Pakistani elites have gone in making urban Pakistan inhospitable to the poor. On the one hand the Pakistani state has criminalised and devalued the lives of all sorts of working class ethnicities, eg the Baloch, the Pashtun and the Rohingya to name a few, in the name of the war on terror. On the other hand, in the day to day production of urban landscapes the state and its closely aligned corporate interests have reimagined and reinvented the everyday landscape such that even the physical presence of the working poor has been made, at times, fatally hazardous.The popular interest is legitimately piqued by episodic attempts at eliminating the poor and their spaces from the urban landscape. The refashioning of the urban landscape, however, has more insidious day to day consequences. My interest had been in horticulture and the Pakistani urban landscapes are increasingly populated by water guzzling exotics, e.g., Palms and other ornamental plants. Where in the past, the poor could supplement their nutritional intake with vegetables and fruits growing in the urban landscape, or benefit from the shady Peepal or Banyan trees as they worked on construction sites or hawked fruits and vegetables on the street, that is no longer the case. The Bahria towns and Defence housing societies have been designed for automobiles and not humans. The horticulture therein is to impress, and not to provide shade to the working poor in the blistering sun. This is not to mention that, the ornamental plants and grasses in these landscape grow at an incredible price for the water table of the cities. The poor therefore, can no longer access water because of pumping prices. Just the other day, on GeoTV in Britain, the Chief Justice’s press conferences, speeches and telethons were interspersed by advertisements for housing societies in Gwadar, centred around, Golf courses! In Gwadar there is no water for the indigenous people, and yet golf course centred housing societies will be developed, watered by desalinated water. Water for the golf course could be enough drinking water for all of Gwadar. The perversity is unspeakable. The flowers, exotics and golf courses are all part of the project to convey a soft image of Pakistan — it is a globalised country open for business for global capital. But flower and palms make for poor shade in 45°C heat. To live in the city, you have to be able to stand somewhere in the city. Soft Pakistan is making for a stiff reality of a waterless, shadeless urban hell for the poor.The writer is a researcher in Politics and Environment at the Department of Geography, King’s College, London. His research includes water resources, hazards and development geography Published in Daily Times, November 28th 2018.