Peshawar: The tale of an orphan city – by Ismail Khan

The scars of wars went deeper and left an impression not only on the social and cultural fibre but also devastated Peshawar’s infrastructure. — Photo by AP

“Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the earth”, so said Archimedes. But even the great Greek mathematician would have thought a hundred times, if he were to elevate Peshawar from its present abysmal and appalling condition to a city worthy of being called the capital of the North West Frontier Province.

Such has become the fate of Peshawar that is fast turning into a slum city with broken, pot-holed roads, chaotic and unruly traffic, dumps of squalid and filth, an over-flowing sewerage system and the so-called green belts that are anything but green and which have become a resting place for a rowing teeming population of daily wagers and do-nothing squatters.

The irony is that Peshawar is probably more than its fair share of representation both in the provincial government as well as the federal government. The speaker and deputy speaker of the NWFP Assembly belong to the NWFP, the Senior Minister, who also holds the portfolio of the Local Government Department; Bashir Ahmad Bilour comes from Peshawar. Health Minister, Syed Zahir Shah, who heads the PPP in the NWFP, is a Peshawarite. Minster for Agriculture, Arbab Ayub Jan and Minister for Sports & Tourism, Syed Aqil Shah, both hail from Peshawar.

In the centre, Federal Minister for Railways, Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour and Federal Minister for Communications, Arbab Alamgir are from Peshawar and so is the State Minister for Defense, Arbab Mohammad Zahir. Besides, there are two senators and a lady MNA on reserved seat, all from Peshawar.

So, it is neither for want of any representation nor should it be an issue of money, for had all these people pooled their annual allocations and spent the money where it was needed the most, Peshawar would have looked a wee bit better than what it is at the moment.

Looking back, thirty years ago, Peshawar used to be a much better place, a lot cleaner and greener place. The dark shadows of Soviet expansionism in Afghanistan had had its impact on Peshawar too, when hordes of Afghan refugees descended onto Peshawar and took up shelter at Katcha Garhi, Nasir Bangh and later Jalozai.

Who knew that thirty years later, history would come to haunt Peshawar again – the fallout of Zia’s myopic and misguided Afghan policy – when those camps were to serve as temporary abodes for the displaced people from Swat and Bajaur.

The crumbled remains of the mud-walls that had replaced tents at the Katcha Garhi Camp, stand witness to the historical wrongs of military rulers and the ravages of wars that have turned everything topsy-turvy and upside down in not just Peshawar but every corner of the NWFP and the tribal areas.

The scars of wars went deeper and left an impression not only on the social and cultural fibre but also devastated Peshawar’s infrastructure. And what did Peshawar get from Zia and later Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif government – a pittance – a miserly Rs4.5 million per annum to rehabilitate the seat of political power of the NWFP for the damage caused by un-receding number of millions of Afghan refugees.

If one were to conjure a project today with that kind of money, it would not have built even a half a kilometer katcha road, let alone “rehabilitate” Peshawar, but perhaps the federal government found the amount too big a burden on its kitty and so, it was stopped.

It is a tragedy perhaps that while politicians took turns to enjoy the perks and privileges of power in Peshawar, their main focus was on the development of their respective constituencies.

Akram Durrani diverted all the money he could possibly lay his hands on to change the complexion of his native Bannu, and Ameer Haider Khan, is well on his way to infuse as much funds into Mardan as he can.

Nothing is wrong there. Bannu and Mardan have remained as neglected as Peshawar has been. But then Peshawar is no ordinary city, it is the capital of NWFP. The little work in terms of development that we see today is the doing of Governor Iftikhar Hussain Shah, who toward the fag-end of his term as the sole power-wielder in the post Musharraf-coup, whipped up the slumbering district administration into action. Late Malik Mohammad Saad, as the all powerful czar of Peshawar Development Authority, would literally burn the midnight oil to remove encroachments to make way for roads and bulldoze shrines and mosques that came in the way with nifty intelligence.

That probably was the last Peshawarites saw of development. Slogans to “revive Peshawar’s glorious past’ have become all too clichéd.

Our leaders, in whose hands lay the destiny of Peshawar, have been making tall claims, preparing master plans upon master plans which are now gathering dusts in the Planning and Development Department and have since become outdated, have done nothing but lip service for Peshawar.

And if this was not enough, Peshawar has had the misfortune of being lorded over by nazims who were more into real estate than town-planning. Little wonder, patwaris had become the ubiquitous feature of the district government.

Peshawar was unfortunate, because it didn’t have the likes of Mustafa Kamals to turn the city around and so it was hardly surprising to find no one shedding tears over the demise of an inefficient and corrupt-to-the-core system.

One would have expected the government to at least reverse the damage by replacing Gen Naqvi-conceived system with a more efficient and responsive local government. But what a tragedy!!! Our fate has been given into the hands of the same inefficient lot of Tehsil Municipal Officers (TMOs), who share responsibility for much of the decay in the city.

Politics is taking the better of Peshawar and the rest of the NWFP. And when it comes to politics, governance takes a back seat. Who cares about service delivery, when ministers are worried that any action against illegal encroachment would irk their supporters? When any well-intentioned and well-meaning action to put things right is deemed interference and when money and not merit makes the mare go!!!!

For three decades, Peshawar served as the launching spring board for resistance against Soviets in Afghanistan and bore the brunt of wars in the fight against terrorism and extremism. But who is there to put it on the map in the so-called Friends of Democratic Pakistan moots? Peshawar is an orphan city with so many a leaders claiming to be its father but no one willing to adopt it!!!

Source: Dawn, 8 March 2010



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