By Saeed Qureshi
Amazingly since last year (starting from Dharnas (sit-in) in the federal capital of Pakistan, the chairman of PTI Imran Khan has at least graduated, with flying colors, in the art of public speaking. He has attained the knack of oration that reminds us the Mark Antony’s funeral oration on the death of his friend Roman dictator Julius Caesar written by William Shakespeare in his play “Julius Caesar”.
That was a diversion from my main burden of pointing out that in the heat and exuberance of instilling his assertions in the minds of his audience, this freshly glowing star on the political horizon of Pakistan sets aside the element of objectivity and goes whole-hog in lambasting his political opponents even for their positive achievements.
I refer to his public address delivered in Multan this Friday; the home town of his senior party member Shah Mahmood Qureshi. In that hugely attended gathering Imran Khan has denounced such projects as Metro Bus of Lahore and Rawalpindi , the Green Train ( now operational between Islamabad and Karachi), underpasses and interstate highways arguing that a country cannot move forward by creating such infrastructure.
The “Green Train” service equipped with most modern facilities including the free meals was inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on May 15. It would cover the one way distance between Islamabad and Karachi in 22 hours.
Imran Khan alleged that huge projects were being launched primarily for commissions and monetary kickbacks that the rulers would reap. He was mainly targeting PMLN government. He suggested that the billions of rupees being spent on creating and modernizing the logistics, roads and highways network system should instead be spent on health and education and by giving loans to the farmers.
The PTI chief particularly slated the government for the Lahore Metrobus project worth Rs. 60 billion, suggesting that this amount should have been given to the poor farmers. He outlined a litany of the projects that he thinks should be accorded priority. Let me add that he should demand for abolition of morbid feudalism so that peasants and tillers assume the ownership of lands on which they work as slave farm labor.
Now in all fairness, the fast and adequate communication network is the backbone of any country’s progress and ensuing prosperity. If the tillers and peasants cannot mobilize their produce to the cities and markets well in time, how could they get the returns to pay their loans and continue their agricultural activities?
The interstate highways between the cities and access roads within cities with multiple lanes facilitate the mobility of both goods and travelers and thus enhance the socio-economic activity adding to the income of the people and wealth of the state and provinces by way of more taxation.
Let me emphasize that the secret of the rapid and sustained economic advancement of the Western Europe and in North America is due to a comprehensive network of the interstate highways connecting all the major cities. The Chinese Interstate road network is the largest in the world followed by the United States. The American highway network has been developed at a cost of some 500 billion dollars until 2006 and covers a length of 180000 kilometers.
It is foregone that the strength and resilience of the United States economy and that of Western Europe lies in their fast moving roads and highways. In Pakistan or any third world country it is arduous and time consuming even for the children to reach schools and colleges, for the patients to be in the hospitals without loss of time and so on.
Fast and widespread roads and railway network is the backbone of any country’s economic strength as manifested in the fast developing and developed countries. I have seen in Europe particularly in Germany and Austria, the finest trains and road system where the trains arrive at destinations right on time.
Way back in 80s in the socialist countries where I was posted in the embassy I saw the buses with automatic doors and electronic signs of stops and destinations. Does Pakistan, after several decades have a well coordinated and centrally controlled taxi, buses or railway system? Our roads are narrow heaps of filth with horse-driven carts and ramshackle buses gushing out lethal fumes.
In the United States there is a trucking system which is marvel of the present times. Countless wide bodied trucks carry goods and merchandise between destinations round the clock. From the border country Mexico every day some 500 trucks enter United States with all kinds of farm produce and manufactured products. Do we in Pakistan have such trucks and goods transportation system? Our trucks are small sized, clumsily driven by private owners without caring the road rules.
Because of the narrow and overcrowded roads and no mention-able inter cities highways except a few, the accidents are common and frequent in Pakistan. The movement of cotton, Sugarcane, wheat, corn, vegetables, milk and other articles from countryside to the urban factories and shopping centers is an uphill task and causes delays and is prone to bottlenecks and risky driving.
We ought to give credit and appreciation to Mian Nawaz Sharif for building, during his previous tenures, the highway between Rawalpindi and Lahore (M-2) that since 1997 has brought about a sea change in the movements of both passengers and goods. It used to be a narrow strip causing quite a few hours to travel between Rawalpindi and Lahore. M-1 linking Rawalpindi and Peshawar was completed during president Musharraf’s time and is operational since 2007.
The Punjab government should be given generous credit for broadening the link road between Murree and Rawalpindi. The Metro bus system for traveling between Rawalpindi and Islamabad should be felicitated and lauded. When completed sometime this year it would transform the narrow strip called Murree road (legacy of the British) into a spacious multi lanes Metrobus saving time and botheration of the passengers traveling to and from Islamabad. The Islamabad-Rawalpindi Metrobus is the second project after Lahore Metrobus that brought enormous facility to the citizens of Lahore.
The question is why our leaders are so self-centered and harbor chronic bias and narrow vision simply for scoring points and misleading the people and shirk away from appreciating the good and monumental services like widening and building of roads and railway tracks.
They should have the broad-mindedness and national outlook to applaud what was being done in the interest of the country and denounce that is not being done. A tendency of merely looking for faults is not only imprudent but rebounds against the critics.
The writer is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat.This and other articles by the writer can also be read at his blog www.uprightopinion.com.