Peshawar, spread over 2257 sq kms, and the 5337 sq km Swat valley epitomize the cost that the Northwestern Frontier Province (NWFP) has paid as a consequence of the war that had originated in the early 1980s, when the city became home to countless Afghan refugees, relief organizations, mujahideen commanders and a hot-bed of intelligence activities led by the United States, supported by MI 6 and other European outfits, and facilitated by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. In the post 9/11 scenario the off-shoot of the Afghan jihad – the Pakistani jihadists, personified by outfits such as the Tehreeke Taliban Pakistan, attempted to enforce their will and agenda in Swat and also indirectly forced previous religio-politican government in to compliance and connivance.
As things stand today in my birth town, there is little doubt left that though the genesis of the current plight of this crowded city lies in the anti-Soviet Jihad yet the wounds inflicted on Peshawar and Swat, particularly during 2009, were the direct result of an approach that rested on connivance, facilitation, acquiescing, and at the same time indulgence in a state of denial.
While the NWFP suffered about 250 incidents of terrorism in 2009, Peshawar bore the brunt of violence; as many as 20 suicide attacks took close to 300 lives, leaving behind a trail of destruction as well as socio-pyscho impact on large sections of the population.
Swat on the other hand, faced a similar wave of death and destruction; suicide bombings, executions by TTP, the military operation, and displacement of close to two million people. The result; some 237 schools and 63 health facilities, 1300 houses, 1078 shops, 110 hotels totally destroyed. The life in Swat has returned to normal but the difficult phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction is currently underway. Officials reckon it would require about 50 billion rupees (650 million dollars), which the government can afford only in installments.
In this article, let us consider the two facets of Peshawar’s predicament – resulting from a skewed jihadist policy (anti-Moscow) that allowed every tom, dick and harry to open and operate shops here, and also from an extremely indifferent, self-centred and impulsive ruling elite given only to its transitory interest; political survival and self-enrichment.
The Socio-Political Decline
The crowds, chaos and confusion on the roads of Peshawar, the provincial capital with about 3.5 million inhabitants, are living symbols of the helter-skelter (under) development and extremely poor governance that this province has gone through. Even a substantial chunk of the Motorway 1 – built to connect Pakistan with Central Asia via Peshawar – bears testimony to the neglect and decline that this province has sustained; for miles and miles, the barbed-wire fence on both sides of the M-1 is missing, thus allowing frequent crossings by villagers that dwell on either side of the motorway.
For commuters, the absence of the barbed wire means little. But for irregular visitors it is no less than a shocking surprise that at many points villagers cross the Motorway with leisure, some times jeopardizing speeding vehicles.
The shock doesn’t end here; as we begin entering Peshawar, signs of chaos, infrastructure degeneration and disorder greet you all over. Whether it is the Grand Trunk Road, or the Ring Road, they are in bad shape. The Ring Road had been designed to channel the Hayatabad-bound and Transit-to-Afghanistan- cargo and thus spare the city off this heavy traffic. But today, this Ring Road is in a shambles. It has lost its envisaged advantage to the ever-growing number of fuel stations, kiosks, general stores, restaurants, and more so to the countless potholes and craters that keep obstructing the flow of the traffic. Conceived and designed to ensure steady flowing traffic around the city, the Ring Road wears a disgusting look with the zig-zagging buses and trucks and slow-moving donkey and horse-carts.
Away from it, the journey into the heart of the city – on the way to the heavily barricaded Cantonment, or to the old town – Qissa Khani or Khyber Bazar – is equally arduous. It largely looks like free-for-all, with people popping out of left and right into the middle of the road – from wherever they deem fit. Daring three-wheel rickshaw drivers are equally indifferent to regulations, most of them carving their way out of the vehicular at will. Many roads are divided and blocked by steel fences to discourage criss-crossing by pedestrians – but the broken fence suggests it is hardly an obstruction.
Heaps of garbage along the roadside (this is what a friend accompanying me from Islamabad drew my attention to when we were passing by Hashtnagri and the area in front of Balahisar Fort), oozing sewerage gutters are all but some telling comments on the performance of the much-trumpeted Local Government.
Barring a few points in the Cantonment area, most of the important inter-sections in the city present a picture of complete chaos and disorder, as if there were no care-taker of this city. The road-side garbage dumps, choked sewerage lines that are spitting stinking water on the roads and the helter-skelter pedestrian and vehicular traffic betrays a complete absence of civic sense. Though not restricted to Peshawar only, the civic sense seems to be entirely missing from the guidance and the education that our teeming millions get. Self-preservation and promotion at the cost of others seems to be the guiding principle for peoples’ representatives in particular.
The Economic Facet
On the economic front, the slide that had begun with the Afghan jihad three decades ago has now precipitated into economic crisis that is threatening the social fabric of the society here. Simple statistics is mind-boggling; out of 2, 254 industrial units in the province around 1,654 units – a whopping 73 per cent – have shut down between 2007 and December 2009. Only about 540 functional industrial units are currently functional, according to officials of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI). The industrial workforce has shrunk from 57,000 in 2008 to roughly 24, 000 in late 2009. That means over 40 percent of the workers are out of jobs and have joined millions of others.
As far the resource availability, the NWFP receives mere .7 per cent from the country’s total loaning expense of about Rs 32 billion annually. This underscores neglect on the one hand, and absence of confidence and conducive environment for investment.
Not only has it severely impacted the productivity and employment but has resulted in a ten-time decline in the exports. The SCCI reckons that the export potential of about $ 1.5 billion has now shrunk to about $150 million annually. SCCI estimates put NWFP’s infrastructure damages at 2870 billion rupees ($35 billon). Although the province would receive additional 17 billion rupees from this year onwards, this means little compared to the challenges resulting from the ongoing insurgency as well as the incompetence of various state institutions. The ruling alliance’s political expedience and lack of vision also add to the deterioration of the socio-economic environment and offer little hope for future. Institutional capacity is another big challenge and even of the centre was to pay out the 120 billion that it owes the province, the provincial government does not have the capacity to utilize that money.
Institutional capacity building, therefore, must be taken on as an urgent challenge. This requires heavy investments in education as a whole on the one hand, and in human resource development (for state institutions) on the other. Only this way can the overbearing challenges arising out of an environment that has suffered extensively because of conflict.