Conflicts in and around Peshawar, once known as the City of Flowers, are not allowing it to flourish
or the past four decades, Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has been facing some of the many consequences of the Afghan war. From Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and the time when the US forces came within 56 kilometres of Peshawar to the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Peshawar has remained on the receiving end of the problems caused by war and the accompanying human tragedy. The arrival of millions of Afghan refugees and the influx of thousands of tribal families displaced after militancy in the former FATA, have not allowed the city to recover. The city, once called the City of Flowers, has witnessed brutal massacres including the Army Public School attack seven years ago.
Conflicts in and around the provincial capital have not allowed the city to recover. An attempt was once made to protect the city, a bridge between South Asia and Central Asia, by turning it into a walled city. The detritus of the historic wall can still be seen on the Grand Trunk Road. There used to be grape and pomegranate gardens. In January 1970, the minimum temperature of the city was recorded at -3 degrees Celsius. At the time, the population of Peshawar was 262,000. In June 1995, the maximum temperature was recorded at 50 degrees Celsius. Today, according to the latest census report, its population stands at 2,343,000, and the birth rate is above three percent. According to city government sources, some of the population has gone unreported.
In 1975, the Peshawar Metropolitan Authority (PMA) was created under the Urban Planning Act. In 1978, the PMA was renamed the Peshawar Development Authority (PDA). Russian forces arrived in Afghanistan in December 1979 and millions of Afghan refugees moved to Peshawar.
The Lady Reading Hospital, the largest hospital in the province, was soon rendered insufficient for the growing health needs of the people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The focus then moved to Khyber Teaching Hospital, established in 1976. That too proved insufficient and the Hayatabad Medical Complex was founded in 1992. One of the problems in the planning of the city was the Tribal Areas that surrounded Peshawar on three sides. Khyber in the west, Mohmand in the north, and Dara Adam Khel in the south surrounded Peshawar. After September 11, 2001, when the war against terror started in the Tribal Areas, Peshawar became a frontline.
Population and resources play an important role in planning any urban area. Unfortunately, the ever-changing situation in and around Peshawar has never allowed any government to provide adequate facilities to the citizens. Peshawar’s first modern housing society, Hayatabad, was established in the late 1970s. This coincided with the arrival of Afghan refugees in the city. It was the first modern settlement built to meet Peshawar’s housing needs, but from the beginning, it was occupied mostly by wealthy Afghan refugee families. Due to its proximity to the Afghan border at Torkham, it was the favourite residence for many Afghan refugees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Peshawar’s first modern housing society, Hayatabad, was established in the late 1970s with the arrival of Afghan refugees in the city.
During this time, the crime rate in the city surged. The main reasons for this were the increase in population and the presence of unregistered foreigners in the city. A huge number of fighters from all over the world reached Peshawar for jihad. University Town, an affluent area of the city, became a stronghold of jihadist leaders from Middle Eastern and African countries. Their presence gave rise to target killings in the provincial capital. Robberies became common. Earlier, Peshawar had been one of the safest cities in the world as tourists from all over the world were seen roaming in groups in the famous Qissa Khwani bazaar. From 2005 to 2015, militancy and suicide attacks made Peshawar one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
Due to the increase in the population, the city government had to face immense problems. City planning was already a shambles. A safe city project was announced in 2009-10. In the 2022-23 budget, up to Rs 500 million has been allocated for it. But now the provincial government is facing new financial difficulties.
To control the traffic situation in the city, work has been going on for twenty years on a 43 kilometres road around the city that remains incomplete. The Peshawar Development Authority has listed 27 projects under the Peshawar Uplift Programme.
In 2013, when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government was formed in the province, a mega project for cleanliness and beautification for the provincial capital was initiated by Inayatullah Khan, the local government minister. As soon as the project was completed, the then chief minister Parvez Khattak laid the foundation stone for the Bus Rapid Transport along the same route. A lot of objections were raised against this project. Former provincial minister Maulana Amanullah, a leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, approached the high court against it, arguing that this project would destroy the basic planning of the city.
“The plan was harmful to the citizens in every way. But despite these reservations, the project was completed. This project became a mega corruption scandal during the PTI government and caught NAB’s attention, but the high court saved the then government. To date, the corruption case remains in cold storage,” says Maulana Amanullah Haqqani.
The city’s drainage and water supply problems are aggravating by the day. Mayor Zubair Ali was unavailable for a comment regarding this. Recently, Haji Ghulam Ali, the father of the city mayor, has been appointed as the governor. He had served as the nazim of Peshawar in 2005.
“As far as Water and Sanitation Services Peshawar (WSSP) is concerned, it is a disaster. It is another mega corruption scandal. I cannot even walk in my constituency. Citizens have lost hope of a clean city. The government has made the WSSP a white elephant,” says Samar Haroon Bilour, a spokesperson for the Awami National Party and a member of the provincial assembly from Peshawar.
This month, Peshawar’s air was rated unhealthy due to severe pollution. At its worst, the air quality was more than 14 percent higher than the pollution standard set by the World Health Organisation. Instructions have since been issued for wearing of masks in the city when walking outdoors.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer