Peshawar’s governance paralysis
By Imtiaz Gul
The Express Tribune, January 30, 2014
Peshawar, the once fabled capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), symbolises the decline that major Pakistani towns and cities have endured in the last few decades. The deterioration in theviolence-stricken north-western regions is more telling than that in most towns of Punjab or Sindh (except, of course, Karachi).
Overcrowded, broken or potholed roads, incomplete overhead bridges, dysfunctional street lights and plumes of dust rising from the under-construction sites are heart-wrenching sights for visitors, particularly for those who know the city for decades and have seen it fall victim, not only to the geopolitics of the Afghan jihad and the war on terror, but also to a governance model that is British in nature, elitist in practice and is visibly out of sync with modern-day realities.
On January 26, for instance, Peshawar suffered one of the worst paralysis in recent history, which offered a glimpse into the city’s non-innovative administrative machinery and the fact that self-serving politicians have dealt with pressing public interest issues.
The occasion was a rally that the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl had organised to protest the ‘extortion, corruption and obscenity’ in K-P. The administration’s decision to close down several points at GT Road, Ring Road and some other arteries virtually choked the dusty city and disrupted traffic in a big way. Countless women, children, old and young, who were on the move from different directions on the day, fainted for the simple reason that they had been on the road for hours, without food or water — a depressing state of affairs indeed.
This disruption forced us to look for alternative routes and thus offered us an opportunity to observe the roads, the state of traffic and the administration’s crowd management capacity. For instance, barricading crucial road links, without prior warnings, is a usual practice all over Pakistan, which often inconveniences the public at large more than the VIPs themselves.
Peshawar, at the moment, appears to be in a mess wherever one goes. The Ring Road, for instance, which had become the most crucial hub for the Afghanistan-bound or Karachi-bound US-Nato supplies, is at present tattered at places, with a number of parking terminals wearing either deserted looks or overflowing with containers that were once in use for these supplies. Many of the roughly two dozen terminals and the affiliated service centres are either out of work or only partially busy for lack of business.
The capital city also represents contradictions that are typical to many other cities too: inadequate street lights on the roads in the heart of the town, potholed footpaths and haywire traffic reflect another sort of chaos, which is symptomatic of a lack of respect for law and order.
The perennial state of conflict has only further exacerbated the contradictions rearing their heads because of the squabbling political parties and a disinterested administrative structure that hardly betrays vision or willingness for change. And this works to the disadvantage of a party that rode into power promising change. The party, we are told, is currently grappling with internal challenges. One of them is a certain level of dissent on the anti-drone campaign that Imran Khan had kicked off with great valour. He had begun the Nato supplies blockadein the name of ‘human dignity’ and the ‘national pride of Pakistanis’, but the protests have, perhaps inadvertently, caused difficulties to some people.
“The previous government was perhaps better in the sense that the ministers accepted bribes and, at least, some economic activity was going on,” said one of the close confidants of the K-P chief minister, perhaps, jocularly.
Peshawar and other K-P towns, it seems, continue to remain hostage to some policy contradictions, inexperience, inaction, inexpediency and the shenanigans of a bureaucracy that lacks a modern-day governance vision and readiness to work for the public. Some insiders insist that Peshawar and K-P as a whole appear to be caught up in a governance paralysis.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India