A ‘pipedream’ push?

July 15, 2020

Laying the basis for a modern new city to overcome the stress of urbanization in Lahore,must qualify as no less than a ‘pipedream’ as Pakistan battles the largest set of challenges in...

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Laying the basis for a modern new city to overcome the stress of urbanization in Lahore,must qualify as no less than a ‘pipedream’ as Pakistan battles the largest set of challenges in its history.

In sharp contrast to the pressing need for using every moment to monitor and reverse the tide of the coronavirus along with an ongoing locust attack, Punjab’s Chief Minister Usman Buzdar in the past week presided over the creation of the so-called ‘Ravi front river authority’.

The body has been tasked with the responsibility of planning a new city north of Lahore to parallel no less than Dubai. The decision by the ruling structure in Pakistan’s largest province is in response to increasingly congested streets and neighborhoods in Lahore, the country’s second largest city.

Yet, nothing could be more absurd than Chief Minister Buzdar’s latest choice as Pakistan’s battleground clearly lies elsewhere. It is no less than yet another sorry reflection of the increasing disconnect between facade and reality or indeed fact versus fiction under the two-year old rule by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Though such an endeavour may have been justified during more normal circumstances, the initiative clearly falls out of sync with the more urgent matter of battling Pakistan’s raft of pressing challenges.

For long-time observers of trends across Lahore, it is obvious that a part of the uncontrolled urbanization of the Mughal era city is rooted in the failure under successive governments to keep up with the growing needs of Pakistan’s long neglected rural areas. Pakistan’s rural dwellers have missed no opportunity to migrate to already over crowded cities such as Lahore, as they seek refuge away from the multiple and fast mounting challenges surrounding their home turf.

Expanding Lahore without thinking through exactly what has fuelled the city’s uncontrolled population growth is nothing short of criminal neglect by the ruling structure of the Punjab. Punjab indeed stands out as the largest commodity producing province of Pakistan with the potential to become the country’s richest bread basket.

The en masse and uncontrolled rural to urban migration towards Lahore owes much to shrinking household incomes across the provincial agricultural heartland, where the main crops have either failed or under performed in the past year. Ultimately, it's hardly surprising that the push for able-bodied rural dwellers to seek subsistence in large cities, has rapidly become a growing trend over time.

In sharp contrast to the Punjab government’s target of projecting up to five thousand billion rupees in private investments for the newly planned city, a focus on creating opportunities within the rural heartland may give far more mileage to reducing the stress on Lahore.

In recent years, a number of relatively new or in the pipeline neighbourhoods have sprung up beyond northern Lahore, representing much spadework already done to accommodate more households. Over time, the city of Lahore and its surrounding urban centers like Gujranwala and Sheikhupura have become practically adjoined.

The way forward must only focus on vital needs such as convenient transport systems, healthcare and educational opportunities for newly emerging localities outside Lahore, rather than fanciful choices such as the new riverfront neighborhood armed with gimmicks like a proposed lake.

This latest failure by Pakistan’s ruling structure to connect with the all too obvious realities across the grassroots has yet again shone a light on the country’s hardly inspiring outlook. News of the proposed city north of Lahore came ahead of this week’s reported remarks by Prime Minister Imran Khan urging members of his self appointed ‘think tank’ to suggest ‘out-of-the-box solutions’ for meeting Pakistan’s challenges.

A succession of Pakistan’s rulers have similarly sought ‘out-of-the-box solutions’ to solving complex challenges. In the process, Pakistan’s best interests have been badly compromised, with the country’s mainstream population eventually taking the brunt. It’s a tragic history that is being repeated today.

The gap between a short-sighted vision for the future versus the reality can best be summarized as a matter of two diagonally opposed competing images for Pakistan. In today’s Pakistan, the ruling class appears to pay little more than lip service to the multiple crises, notably the crisis of governance, dysfunctional institutions and rampant corruption confronting people in daily lives. The goal of creating a ‘naya’ (new) Pakistan as repeatedly promised by Prime Minister Khan will just not be achieved with fanciful ideas like a mushroom growth of modern dwellings north of Lahore as rural Pakistan remains ignored.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs.

Email: farhanbokharigmail.com

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