The Quetta conundrum

December 18, 2022

Reimagining Quetta is what its citizens desire desperately

The Quetta conundrum


n the first half of the 20th Century, Quetta was known as Little Paris and Little London, due to its scenic surroundings, calm environment and pleasant weather. Today, it’s one of the most mismanaged cities in the country facing problems like congestion, slow-moving traffic, over-population and increasing pollution. Most of these problems are linked to the ill-planned and unchecked ways in which the city has expanded, without structured urban planning.

Today, the population of Quetta district is 2.2 million so that one out of five people in Balochistan live in Quetta. This is a huge burden for a city that was designed for only 50,000 to 100,000 people by the British back in the late Nineteenth Century. People from all over relocate to Quetta because the facilities are better than in the rest of the province.

“I relocated to Quetta from Kalat years back because Quetta is the only city in the province. This is where one can have reliable power supply, reasonable hospitals and schools for children,” Khuda-i-Dad Ahmed tells The News on Sunday. He says that Quetta is severely overpopulated and that this has made it difficult for the citizens to live here in a peaceful manner.

Moreover, most roads in Quetta are narrow and in no shape to accommodate the growing traffic of a major metropolitan city. The few roads that are wide have been encroached on due to the weak writ of the government machinery, resulting in choking of traffic at several points. Sometimes it takes up to an hour to cover five kilometres by car. That has made commuting a huge challenge in the city.

Quetta is no different when it comes to the real estate business in the country. New housing societies are being developed in all parts of Quetta. Most of these societies do not have basic facilities like water supply and power. Still, people have bought land there and built their homes. The number of such housing societies is increasing without any checks from the government. This is resulting in an increase in population burden on the already crumbling infrastructure of the city, while making huge profits for real estate developers, who themselves live in Karachi, Islamabad or Dubai.

In this context, urban planning of the provincial capital of Balochistan needs to be reimagined to make it livable for its citizenry. A set of actions are required for a reimagining to be possible.

The first of these actions is to ban or halt the establishment of new housing societies in Quetta. All existing societies that have not matured should also be shut down. Instead, the government should shift them out of Quetta city and develop new smaller towns. In the late 1980s, the Quetta Development Authority (QDA) under Balochistan’s most famous bureaucrat, Ahmed Baksh Lehri, had issued such a ban. It was never enforced.

Secondly, the government needs to widen all main traffic arteries in the city. This means that the government has to demolish a lot of commercial buildings and pay compensation for the land that will be added to the roads. This will be a resource-intensive task. It will also need broad political consensus. Otherwise, it will be stopped in its tracks through litigation. The widening of Saryab Road must be completed on a war footing. This road is the main artery connecting Quetta with most parts of the country. Widening of the roads will make commuting in the city easy.

The third action should be to relocate all space-consuming commercial activity to outskirts of the city. This includes bus stands and vehicle showrooms. This is not a difficult undertaking. All it requires is political will.

“Many downtown roads have been encroached by cars parked by showroom owners. This leaves little space for commuters to park on these roads,” says Hashmatullah, a resident of Quetta. He adds that despite repeated demands by civil society, the government has not moved the showrooms away from the city centre.

One of the biggest challenges is dealing with the problem of public transport. Currently, there is no workable public transport in Quetta. What citizens have are old buses that are often overloaded. Then there are rickshaws. All those who can, buy a car to commute. This, in turn, puts pressure on the narrow city roads. At the same time, rickshaws are the biggest source of traffic jams in the city. Rickshaw drivers run their vehicles rashly on the roads. They also park their vehicles anywhere and everywhere, making it difficult for others. The problem needs to be addressed urgently.

In the short term, the government can enforce a rule allowing rickshaws with odd number plates to be allowed to operate one day and those with even numbers the next day. The scheme has been tried but was abandoned under political pressure and lack of will. It is clearly necessary to reduce the number of rickshaws on the roads. In the long run, the government needs to phase out all rickshaws and provide a metro bus system for public transportation. This will require allocation of financial resources, which the government can manage by preventing leaks from its development spending.

Reimagining Quetta is what most of its citizens desire. However, given other problems like the deteriorating security situation, declining economic opportunities and loss of individual freedoms, the urban planning issues of the city become secondary. This is why citizens have not protested enough to force the government to start working on urban development. Given the current political landscape, this remains an unlikely project for a government to undertake any time soon.

The writer is a journalist covering Balochistan, CPEC, politics and economy. He can be reached on twitter @iAdnanAamir

The Quetta conundrum