Columns


Driven to despair



I remember it was Omar Kureishi, the top Pakistani cricket commentator and writer, who once remarked in his column in Dawn how strange it was that while Pakistanis could run a world class airline, they were incapable of running a public transport system. That was the '80s. Not much has changed since then.

I admit that public transport is not one of the hottest topics to discuss these days when everyone is holding forth on terrorism and the state of the country, it is one that should be as important to us, if not more.

Successive governments, socialist and capitalist, have come and gone. Public transport, or what is left of it, continues to deteriorate.

We are left at the hands of werewolves, who pass off as transporters.

No bus if full enough for them, no vehicle too unsafe. The traffic police, who have the instincts of a hyena, look the other way as millions are transported across the country in one form of poor transport or another.

The only exception is Lahore where an elevated transport system is in place.

All thanks to the vision and the determination of chief minister Shahbaz Sharif.

In Sindh, there is a chief minister who has no vision beyond staying in power and the determination only to do so.

Karachi is the only city of its size in the world that does not have a proper public transport system.

There was once the Karachi Transport Corporation, rickety at best, that was done away by the first PPP government after Ziaul Haq's government allowed mini-buses which drove the KTC into the ground.
Zia's policy was for purely political reasons.

Transport has always had a political undertones. It was a minibus that killed Bushra Zaidi in the '80s.
The Karachi Circular Railway grinded to a halt during the first government of the PML-N.

The state continues to palm away its responsibilities to businessmen without putting into place a regime that can monitor and regulate.

In the rural parts of Pakistan, old buses that should not be even on the roads, ply from one city to another.

That is why we hear of the horrendous accidents on our highways every other day.

Our attitude to public transport in some ways reflects a national psyche. Instead of fixing the system, we look at alternatives.

The value of luxury cars we import is almost a hundred times of what we spend on importing buses.
We will not import or subsidise locally produced buses. But we will subsidise everything else.

We are told that there is a transport "mafia" in place. Such unscrupulous elements hinder and hijack any attempt to bring in efficient public transport.

But it is the government that hinders the most — petty bureaucrats out to make small amounts of money.

Muzammil Niazi, an engineer who came back from the US to settle in Karachi, set about to run an efficient bus service in the Quaid's city. Clean and fit buses, efficient staff and proper timings.

But that service went down because of our corrupt government, not any mafia.

Can there be anything more unfortunate?

Forget about bullet trains. When one travels the length and breadth of Pakistan, what hits you is how miserable travelling in buses and trains had become. 

Only this week, travel writer Salman Rashid wrote an article based on his recent experiences in which he avowed anew never to travel in a Pakistani train again.

Pakistan Railways is the backbone of the country's transport system.

It was Ayub Khan who popularised air travel to the point that within a decade none of the top government servants would use the trains to travel.

This played a marked role in the decline of train service. Forget the days of Bhutto travelling from Karachi to Rawalpindi. Those were over.

During Ziaul Haq's time, the NLC was promoted at the cost of the railways with the result that the main earner for the railways which was its goods transportation business also fell into disarray.

The last nail in the coffin came with the third dictator who installed a minister who went on to make a number of questionable deals. 

These included sale of railway land as well as the purchase of passenger bogeys whose doors were lower than the platforms of most stations in the country!

So much for good government.

Exclusive to Times of Oman in arrangement with The Express Tribune
The author is the Editor of The Express Tribune.


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