Peshawar in peril
By Imtiaz Gul
Friday Times, Jan 16, 2015
The lingering Mufti Mahmood Flyover – designed to connect Peshawar Cantonment with central Peshawar – is a typical example of the tardy and expensive governance that Pakistan as a whole reels from. Former chief minister Akram Khan Durrani laid the foundation stone for the 1.5km elevated carriageway some time in early 2007. His successor Ameer Haider Hoti launched the actual construction work in June 2011, with a promise that it will complete in December 2013. Three years on, the project is snail-pacing with no signs of completing in the near future. The only certainty is that its cost would have nearly doubled when it is complete. That is also what happened at the new Islamabad airport, which was supposed to have become operational in 2010 at a cost of less than 40 billion, but has at least another year to go before the completion of the first phase and has cost a staggering 90 billion.
The Mufti Mahmood Flyover in Peshawar is only one symptom of a governance paralysis – a direct consequence of decades of conflict, acute cronyism, and increasing reliance on prayers for socio-economic relief, manifest in the fact that the people of the province voted four different parties into power in the four elections between 1997 and 2013. The PML-N, the PPP, the ANP, and the JUI (in alliance with JI) have been tested. The fifth party, the PTI, is currently on trial. And the common people continue to suffer because of broken roads, fumes of dust and traffic jams.
The presence of several security checkpoints on the busiest roads – such as the Saddar-Jamrud Road – and even within the cantonment itself, represent a painful nuisance that people in the provincial capital suffer daily. These pickets defy common logic. Terrorists never cross these check-points. When they do come, they come from behind, via small allays, heavily armed, and kill 150-odd children and adults. When they decide to kill over a hundred Christians at the All-Saints Church, they do so without detection.
Security pickets defy common logic
What is the point then of erecting security walls and putting up check posts on the busiest road of the city? How can the poor soldiers verify the authenticity of the national identity cards – the document which is practically your license to anywhere. Making a fake ID card or any other ID is no issue at all, so why cause inconvenience for common people every day?
While the personalised security for some 27 VIPs costs the provincial exchequer some Rs 280 million annually, most keep surrounding themselves with ever bigger cordons of security, while the poor suffer humiliation. Long, suffocating queues and at times rude and offensive queries by security personnel on the Khyber Road — a major artery — have become an ordeal for all and sundry.
A partially dysfunctional governmental machinery is visible in most of the province because of a) decades of poor, politicized governance, b) heavily security-centric measures all over, and c) resistance to structural reforms because of vested interests. These problems are having a crippling impact on the province as a whole.
Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Kohat and Peshawar are all surrounded by or adjacent to FATA or Frontier Regions where Pakistani legislation does not apply, making them a sort of safe haven for terrorists and criminals.
The 126 days of Dharna have certainly not helped the government either, just about when the chief minister and the police had embarked on an administrative and structural reforms program. All the ministers and their chief lost most of their focus during the protest period and thus lost precious time. The provincial police chief Nasir Durrani, for instance, is himself available to the public through his cellphone. He has fired over 400 staff for misconduct, abuse of authority and corruption. Nobody winked. New special police training and intelligence schools have been launched. The police department has been electronically aligned with intelligence and the finance department for on-the-spot checking of vehicles.
The chief minister, a contractor by profession, too did his bit to prevent financial leakages from official channels. For instance, he invited the wrath of the duo of contractors and the bureaucracy against structural reforms which were aimed at plugging the loopholes that they exploit to their own financial benefit in public contracts and procurements.
Through its anti-encroachment campaign, the government intends to clean up the mess in Peshawar city. And this too impinges on the monetary interests of the Municipal Corporation inspectors and their officers.
Understandably, much of the bureaucracy, contractors, suppliers, doctors and revenue department officials are wary of the provincial government and would want to see it out as soon as possible.
All this is a direct cumulative consequence of Pakistan’s involvement in two wars next door since December 1979, when the city into a favourite destination for the Western world of intelligence, as well as anti-communism religious zealots.
The rivalry between the PTI and the PML-N that climaxed during the former’s Dharna has made matters worse, resulting in dithering over release of funds with a direct perceptible impact on governance and service delivery. The rulers in Islamabad and Lahore must realize that by keeping Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA on tenterhooks, they are throwing these regions at the mercy of religious radicals who certainly differ from the way the Sharifs, Zardaris and Gilanis look at the world. You cannot raise an island of peace and prosperity when surrounded by an ocean of political instability, economic adversity, and social discontent. Religious radicals find it easier to use these factors to prey on the groundswell of disillusioned and dispossessed people in and around Punjab. Saving Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA from this fire is therefore necessary, and must be treated as a national duty. For self-preservation, if not for the poor masses of these ill-fated regions.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies