mqm
Conservative estimates

Karachi that historically maintained the image of the 'city of
opposition' is emerging as one whose leadership identifies itself with a military dictator
By Shahid Husain
Karachi, it seems, is undergoing a metamorphosis. In 1964, it played a vital role in the national elections and aligned itself with Mohtarama Fatima Jinnah against military dictator General Ayub Khan. Karachi and Dhaka were the only cities where the dictator lost the elections despite the fact that only 80,000 people were entitled to vote under the notorious Basic Democracy system.

Coming of age
Pakistan is finally turning a new corner with an independent judiciary asserting rule of law and free media holding rulers accountable
By Adnan Adil
On September 3, the tribal chief and feudal lord of Sindh, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani fled the courtroom after the Supreme Court cancelled his bail. The court had ordered his arrest in a case of his alleged involvement in a 'Wani' marriage or forced marriage as a compensation for murder. Although Bijarani's escape reflects poorly on the police, the fact that a member of the parliament and the rural aristocracy could face such a situation is a rare sight in our history.

Taal Matol
Brick!
By Shoaib Hashmi
We have been in Islamabad, on a momentous and joyous occasion. The president was inaugurating the National Art Gallery and it was a time to warm the cockles of your heart. The project for the National Gallery started all of seventeen years ago, when a marvellous design by architect Naeem Pasha was approved and work began.

issue
The case against Mengal
Anyone challenging the military's authority should think many times before daring to do so. That alone explains the arrest of Akhtar Mengal and the unusually harsh treatment meted out to him in jail
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
Recently, the Balochistan National Party (BNP) president Sardar Akhtar Mengal was acquitted in a treason case but he is still in jail. He has now spent more than nine months in prison after his arrest on November 28, 2006 from Hub in Balochistan.

 

Structural flaw
The collapse of the newly-constructed bridge in Karachi calls for immediate fixing of responsibility
By Salis bin Perwaiz
A colossal engineering failure, the first in the history of Pakistan, occurred on Saturday when a newly-constructed bridge of the National Highway Authority collapsed in the afternoon, killing, at least, 10 people, and injuring scores of others, including three under-training police constables.

RIPPLE EFFECT
'Milbus' and collapse of a bridge
By Omar R. Quraishi
Life in Karachi can be interesting though anyone who doesn't live in the city, especially those who happen to live in Lahore or Isloo, will probably consider it a hellish experience. There was much happening this past week. Well, for starters, the traffic is so bad now that it seems to be resembling what Bangkok was like 5-10 years ago with a commute that would normally take 20-30 minutes in peak hour traffic a couple of years ago now taking 2-3 times longer. This means planning well in advance and only going certain places if absolutely necessary.

Karachi, it seems, is undergoing a metamorphosis. In 1964, it played a vital role in the national elections and aligned itself with Mohtarama Fatima Jinnah against military dictator General Ayub Khan. Karachi and Dhaka were the only cities where the dictator lost the elections despite the fact that only 80,000 people were entitled to vote under the notorious Basic Democracy system.

Again, in the democratic upsurge of 1968-69, Karachi played a pivotal role and maintained the image of the 'city of opposition.' However, lately it has emerged as a city whose leadership, sadly enough, identifies itself with a military dictator.

The great fall is attributed to a gradual decline of democratic ethos and its replacement by a middle and lower middle class urban leadership under the umbrella of Muthahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) that exploited the frustrations of a lost generation and, with the passage of time, the majority of its people have been conditioned to live in a state of terror.

This was aptly demonstrated in the May 12 mayhem when the chief justice was not allowed to bring out a rally in the city and 42 people were killed by goons while the administrators looked the other way.

Ironically, the MQM leadership aligned itself with the establishment after a crackdown in 1992 that led to brutal killings of thousands of its activists and forced its leader Altaf Hussain to take refuge in London. But many believe that this should not be astonishing since MQM came into being in the Zia era ostensibly to erode the social base of the Pakistan People's Party.

Experts contend that the MQM would continue to support Musharraf whether or not a 'deal' materialises with the PPP.

"Deal or no deal, in both cases, it is almost certain that the MQM will side with Musharraf. Its leadership has already shown its readiness to work with the PPP. Its leaders have been saying that the MQM and PPP are liberal and moderate parties that imply that they can work together," says Dr. Syed Jaffar Ahmed, chairman, Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi.

"Farooq Sattar once mentioned that the MQM was ready to work with PPP even after the 2002 elections but the arrangement could not be realised and he laid the blame on the PPP," says Dr. Ahmed.

"In the future, there is likelihood that the MQM will join hands in a dispensation under President Musharraf," he says.

But Dr. Ahmed agrees that after May 12 incident the vote bank of MQM has been affected in urban centres. "As far as MQM's vote bank is concerned it may have shrunk after the May 12 incident but given the fact that no big alternative force has emerged in urban Sindh, there is a possibility that MQM will continue to have its sway in its constituencies, though with some decline in its support," he says.

On the other hand, Tauseef Ahmed Khan, an associate professor of Mass Communication at Urdu University and a former student leader, believes that the May 12 mayhem has affected the vote bank of MQM rather badly.

"The blatant violation of law and naked support to the ailing regime of President Musharraf has isolated MQM in urban centres of Sindh, including Karachi, to a certain extent. Moreover, its share in the government will drop if the present government strikes a deal with the PPP," he says.

"If elections are fair and transparent, MQM will not be able to able to seek majority seats in Karachi and will lose in the south, i.e. Clifton , Saddar, Kharadar area etc where the MMA has made inroads," he adds.

Tauseef believes that the military establishment would like to have a weak parliament that will help it in manipulation and even in dismissing the elected government whenever it desires.

His argument seems to be valid because if one looks at the political history of Pakistan it becomes crystal clear that the military bureaucracy only makes alliances with political parties when it becomes weak. No sooner has it consolidated itself that it shuns the doors of civilian leadership under one pretext or the other. This has been happening since 1958 when General Ayub Khan staged a coup in Pakistan.

Faisal Sabzwari, an MPA hailing from MQM tells TNS that May 12 incident destroyed the peace in Karachi city that was restored through the endeavours of MQM. He says MQM lost 13 of its members in the incident and released their identities with all the details as compared to PPP leader Qaim Ali Shah who is merely making claims that their members were killed but is reluctant to give their names.

Asked as to how true is the impression that MQM has considerably lost its popularity after May 12 incident, he says this is not true. "On the contrary, we expect to give some surprises in the forthcoming elections in rural areas of Sindh while in urban centres we have in fact consolidated ourselves."

He says that as many as 30 MQM offices were burnt after May 12 incident but the party showed restraint.

Asked if the MQM will be a part of the government if President Musharraf strikes a deal with PPP, he says the people will decide whether or not the MQM will be a part of such a coalition government.

Dr. Muthahir Ahmed, an associate professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi and a former student activist has reservations about the psyche of Mohajirs. He believes that somehow or the other the vast majority of the Urdu-speaking people who migrated to Pakistan after its creation in August 1947 have been conservative, religious and pro-establishment and this suits MQM.

"Socially Mohajirs are very liberal but politically, they are conservative, religious and pro-status quo. Then we have to keep in mind that MQM is an off shoot of the Jamaat-e-Islami which is a right-wing party. The May 12 incident amply demonstrates that MQM is not tolerant despite the fact that it portrays itself as a liberal, moderate and secular party," he says.

Asked about how MQM happens to be the most popular party in urban centres of Sindh, Dr, Muthahir says that the social base of fascism has always been the lower middle class and lumpen proletariat.

"Hitler had his social base in lower middle class and he was supported by the top military brass," he points out.

He says that after the elections the MQM would enter into a political alliance with the PPP on the insistence of the military establishment and that it is trying its best to portray itself as a liberal and moderate force in the wake of rapid Talibanisation in Pakistan and the so called 'War on Terror.'

"The outcome of the case filed by Imran Khan against MQM leader Altaf Hussain in a court of law in London will be made public on Sept 15 and it can have serious repercussions if it goes against Hussain and will affect the body politic in Pakistan," he says.

 


Coming of age

By Adnan Adil

On September 3, the tribal chief and feudal lord of Sindh, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani fled the courtroom after the Supreme Court cancelled his bail. The court had ordered his arrest in a case of his alleged involvement in a 'Wani' marriage or forced marriage as a compensation for murder. Although Bijarani's escape reflects poorly on the police, the fact that a member of the parliament and the rural aristocracy could face such a situation is a rare sight in our history.

This is the second incident of its kind where the apex court has taken on a member of the politically influential rural elite. Last year, the court had taken suo moto action on the murder of Shehnaz Fatima, a woman who according to the initial police investigation, was killed by the hired killers of a landlord-politician from Punjab's Okara district. The woman was pressing the politician to publicly own his child from a secret wedlock with her sister Mehnaz Fatima. The court's intervention had led to a police investigation to this hushed-up case, but the accused is off the hook due to the Punjab administration's resistance in acting on the court's orders. The accused is a member of the ruling party. The case is still pending in court.

Similarly, last year, after the apex court's warning of immediate action, the Lahore police arrested Aslam Basa, a notorious criminal who was wanted in a dozen of murder, robbery and abduction cases for the past eight years.

This is the kind of judicial activism which is causing discomfort to the ruling elite that had joined hands to remove Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. When the unity of bench, backed by the lawyers support, defeated their plan, they resorted to the slogan of 'principle of separation of powers' implying that judiciary and executive should not interfere in each other's sphere of work. The objective is to curtail the superior judiciary's suo moto powers to act against human rights violations and official corruption.

Ironically, these people are now talking about restricting the judiciary to its specific and narrowly-defined judicial work who always welcomed the military's suspension of the constitution and its interference in the spheres of other branches of the state. When the military establishment transgresses its limits and encroaches on the territory of other institutions, it is okay with them. When the superior judiciary tries to enforce the law by filling the vacuum created by the administration's apathy and bad governance, they start crying foul.

The Supreme Court has taken a firm stance on enforcing the law not only on the politically influential members of the elite but also on the mighty intelligence community, police and military institutions. Last year, a former inspector general of Punjab police talked impolitely while replying to the queries of the top judge on a matter of public interest. The Punjab police establishment, the second most powerful establishment in the country after the military generals, is believed to be one of major instigators of the presidential action against the chief justice. The reason is that superior judiciary led by Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is making the police answerable on several issues of excesses and human rights violations.

The case of the missing people is yet another example of judicial activism. A couple of years ago, no one in Pakistan could think of challenging the actions of intelligence agencies, such as the ISI and MI, in the court of law. More than 100 missing people were finally recovered and returned their homes after the apex court's intervention; and more people are likely to turn up in coming days. It is amazing to see how Faisalabad's Hafiz Abdul Basit, missing for years about whose whereabouts the law-enforcing agencies had been showing complete ignorance, was turned over by the agencies in a day when the top court ordered the arrest of the Director General Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Tariq Pervez. Pervez was involved in Basit's arrest as head of the anti-terrorist wing of the Punjab Police's CID department.

The Supreme Court's reinstatement of its sacked chief justice, the release of opposition leader Javed Hashmi, opening the cases of controversial privatisation of state assets, calling into question the allotment of state land to the rich and influential on discretion, permission granted to opposition leader Nawaz Sharif of returning home and many other suo moto actions on human rights issues have brought a massive change in the political scenario of the country. It seems the country that appeared to be a jungle with no rule of law for the politically influential and the elite is now moving towards a rule of law for all.

The freedom of electronic media that goes hand in hand with globalisation and free market economy is another major source of revival of hope in the country's future. The private television channels have promoted public discourse on issues of national importance that could hardly be imagined five years ago. This has given new meaning to the freedom of people. These television broadcasts, despite all their limitations and several constraints due to official and non-official reasons, have put new checks and balances on our rulers. They have made the authorities somewhat more accountable before the public. The removal of billboards from the streets of Karachi after the damage they caused in recent storm and the strict public scrutiny of the collapse of a newly built bride in Karachi are just two examples.

Superior judiciary and independent media have provided new hope to those who want a better Pakistan with civilised governance. Militancy, political ambitions of the military establishment, corrupt civil servants and greedy politicians may be causes of pessimism, but the judiciary, lawyers and the media have moved towards a new beginning. It may be a small and modest step towards a better future, but as the Chinese proverb says it is better to move ahead slowly than standing still.

 

We have been in Islamabad, on a momentous and joyous occasion. The president was inaugurating the National Art Gallery and it was a time to warm the cockles of your heart. The project for the National Gallery started all of seventeen years ago, when a marvellous design by architect Naeem Pasha was approved and work began.

Each time the government changed, the new one rediscovered to its utter surprise that we were a poor country and an art gallery was very low priority, and there were no funds for it, and if there were they wouldn't get much out of them, and work stopped. In bits and pieces the structure grew, then filled with mud and water and that was it.

Fortunately for us, in a weak moment the site given for the Gallery was right across the square from the President's House where the press wondered what this eyesore was where no one had worked for months, then ordered the work finished forthwith.

It was done within months and now we have a landmark and a monument the nation can be proud of; that was the unanimous opinion of people who came to see the Gallery open, and next day to take a more cursory round of the place and see the dozen or so exhibitions. There was a single word on everyone's lips for it -- Stunning! So don't miss it.

I think a large part of the effect is also the exhibitions. A dozen of the nation's top artists and critics were commissioned to curate one exhibition each for the galleries, and they are a marvel to behold. A stunned President Musharraf said he never knew such work was being done here and called it, "The best kept secret in our history!" So, as I said, don't miss it!

And now for the little story which put a spanner in the works for us; which was nobody's fault, merely a sigh of these changed times. As you might know since a certain date, it has become a security ritual that you are not allowed to take your cell-phone into a public function. Nor one of those electronic gadgets which unlock car doors and things.

We obligingly left all cell-phones, and the car keys, which also included the house keys in the car -- and carefully took the driver's cell-phone number, although even then I wondered what we would do with it having no phones ourselves. When we came out we realised there was no way we could call our car.

Some friendly security people, who had phones, offered to call for us, only to discover the driver had made a small mistake in giving his eleven digit number! They offered to take us to the car park which was a rain sodden mud hole, chock-full of cars which had brought five hundred other guests.

Some friends did manage to find their cars and offered to take us home, where we discovered we couldn't get in because the house keys were in the car which was back in a mud hole called a car park. Eventually we lugged a brick at a back window, opened it and slid inside. The moral of the story is, the next time they ask you to surrender your mobile phone, do it happily and don't ask for a receipt, ask for a brick, or take your own!

 


issue
The case against Mengal

Recently, the Balochistan National Party (BNP) president Sardar Akhtar Mengal was acquitted in a treason case but he is still in jail. He has now spent more than nine months in prison after his arrest on November 28, 2006 from Hub in Balochistan.

Though there could be nothing more serious than being accused of treason, the remaining case that he is facing is far more critical in nature. Chances are that it would take him a while to absolve himself of any wrong-doing in that case and regain his freedom. A political change in the country would be his best bet to come out of jail because the case concerns the all-powerful military establishment. In fact, even a change in government may not help him much considering the perennial grip of the country's armed forces on the various levers of power.

Akhtar Mengal in this case has been charged with abduction and torture of two Military Intelligence (MI) officials. Five of his bodyguards who allegedly committed the act were also charged in the case and have already been convicted to life imprisonment by an Anti-Terrorist Court. They have gone in appeal but its outcome and duration of the hearings is anybody's guess.

The seriousness of the case against Akhtar Mengal, who is in his early 40s, could be judged from the fact that the hearings of the Ant-Terrorist Court take place inside the Landhi prison in Karachi. Syed Iqbal Haider, a former law minister in the PPP government and a top official of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, alleged that Akhtar Mengal was made to stand in a cage during the initial hearing of his case. He was right as this fact was corroborated by others also. Subsequently, some relaxations were allowed as the story of the caged Baloch nationalist leader was making the rounds and further inflaming the sentiments of the already angry younger generation of Baloch people. The issue was also highlighted at various political and social forums and had caused embarrassment to the government.

This is not to say that Akhtar Mengal is now leading a comfortable life in prison. Visitors are still not allowed and even former lawmakers from his party were refused permission to meet him in jail. Strict watch is kept on him inside the prison. His old and ailing father Sardar Attaullah Mengal is too proud to even apply for permission to see Akhtar Mengal. He has shifted from Karachi, where the family has been living since long, to his ancestral village, Wadh, in Balochistan to look after tribal affairs and strengthen its bonds with Mengal tribe.

There is no doubt that the Mengals are one of the most influential political families of Balochistan. Along with the late Jam Ghulam Qadir of Lasbela and his son and present chief minister Jam Mohammad Yousaf, Sardar Attaullah Mengal and Akhtar Mengal have the distinction of being the first father-son duo to serve as chief minister of a province in Pakistan. It is another matter that the Attaullah Mengal-led NAP-JUI coalition government in Balochistan lasted only nine months in the early 1970s before it was sent packing by the then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Akhtar Mengal as chief minister of another coalition government dominated by Baloch nationalist parties remained in office for 14 months after the 1997 general elections. The BNP did very well in those elections and emerged the single largest party but split in its ranks and lack of unity among Baloch nationalists caused its downfall and it could bag only two provincial assembly seats in the 2002 polls.

The case in which Akhtar Mengal has been acquitted concerned an ARD public meeting held last summer in Quetta to condemn Nawab Akbar Bugti's death in a military operation in August. He and several other politicians from his and other nationalist parties had made fiery speeches on that occasion and were booked. The BNP senior vice-president Sajid Tareen and secretary-general Habib Jalib Baloch too were booked along with Senator Amanullah Kanrani of Bugti's Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP). The last-named subsequently made up with the government, bitterly criticised Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry after he was sidelined from his job by President General Pervez Musharraf, and got rewarded with the job of additional advocate-general of Balochistan.

It is worth recalling that Akhtar Mengal's BNP was the most vocal in condemning Bugti's death. In the abovementioned Quetta public meeting, he suddenly announced that his party's one MNA Rauf Mengal, and two MPAs Akhtar Hussain Lango and Mohammad Akbar Mengal would resign to protest Bugti's killing. Another cause of these resignations according to him was the powerlessness of the assemblies to prevent such extra-judicial killings of the Baloch and grant the rights of the Baloch people.

Akhtar Mengal's dramatic announcement was widely cheered and it was hoped that other Baloch nationalist parties would follow suit and quit the parliament and the Balochistan Assembly. But nothing of the sort happened and even lawmakers belonging to Bugti's JWP failed to resign to protest their leader's killing. The JWP subsequently split into two factions and some of its stalwarts joined the ruling PML-Q.

It appears that the BNP has gained in stature and support following those resignations. Akhtar Mengal's arrest and his maltreatment at the hands of the government also seem to have augmented the party's support base. The party has also emerged as the most steadfast and vocal defender of Baloch rights. In fact, Akhtar Mengal was arrested while heading to Gwadar as part of BNP's 'long march' against Bugti's killing, disappearance of Baloch political workers, and some of the mega project such as Gwadar seaport which according to Baloch nationalist parties were primarily meant to benefit other people and turn the Baloch into a minority in their own province. In case of free and fair elections and a level playing field, the BNP could improve upon its poor electoral performance in the 2002 polls. 

As for the background of the remaining case against Akhtar Mengal, there are as usual different versions presented by his supporters and those of the government. BNP members and sympathisers claim four men on motorbikes used to follow the vehicle that transported Akhtar Mengal's children to school and he personally drove them there one day to find out the identity of the pursuers. His five bodyguards reportedly got hold of two of these men as the other two managed to escape, brought them to Akhtar Mengal's home and thrashed them.

The two turned out to be MI agents and soon military and police officers reached Akhtar Mengal's home to rescue them. Siege was laid to the house and it was lifted only after Akhtar Mengal freed the two MI agents and agreed to hand over his five bodyguards to the authorities. An assurance from Sindh chief minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim helped persuade Akhtar Mengal to deliver his bodyguards to the government. However, the bodyguards were tried, convicted and imprisoned for life. The military was obviously angry that its men were illegally detained in a private home and tortured. It couldn't allow its soldiers to be treated in such an abrasive manner and its authority to be challenged.

That also explains the subsequent arrest of Akhtar Mengal and the unusually harsh treatment meted out to him in jail. No doubt he once served as chief minister and is presently head of an important political party of Balochistan. But anyone challenging the military's authority in a country presently being ruled by the chief of army staff General Musharraf should think many times before daring to do so. Bugti paid with his life for committing this mistake by picking up the gun to fight the armed forces. Akhtar Mengal has launched a verbal assault only on the military and his punishment is imprisonment for an uncertain period in tough prison conditions.

 


Structural flaw

By Salis bin Perwaiz

A colossal engineering failure, the first in the history of Pakistan, occurred on Saturday when a newly-constructed bridge of the National Highway Authority collapsed in the afternoon, killing, at least, 10 people, and injuring scores of others, including three under-training police constables.

Many people were trapped underneath the debris of the bridge. The second section of the bridge, which was inaugurated by President Pervez Musharraf on August 6, less than a month ago, was also found dangerous and was closed to traffic. Cracks were seen appearing on its pillars. The tragedy occurred between 12.30 to 0100 hours when the track leading to Gulbai and Shershah collapsed, taking with it a number of vehicles, including two trailers and a police mobile. The vehicles were buried under the rubble. After the incident, large contingents of Rangers and police reached and cordoned-off the area. KESC and Sui Gas authorities also reached the site and disconnected power and gas connections.

The 57-kilometre highway is being constructed by National Highway Authority (NHA) to lessen the pressure of heavy traffic from the city roads. The bridge joins the KPT to the National Highway and RCD Highway.

The first two bodies that were recovered were of two unidentified women. The bodies were badly mangled with only hands and feet in discernible condition. Two cars were also crushed. It was hard to identify how many people were in Toyota Corolla AMA-795. The victim in another car AMK-417 was identified by his brother as Rizwan, a resident of nearby Kharadar locality.

A man selling corn was among those killed. A trailer TLJ-408 belonging to Lucky Cement Factory was also crushed. Its driver Mohammed Qasim, who was injured, later died. The driver of the second trailer TLA-795 that went down was seriously injured and could not be identified.

A police van SP-7862 of Police Training Centre, Saeedabad, also went down along with the collapsing structure injuring three constables. Many other vehicles, including a minibus, remain buried under the debris. A taxi-driver, Iqbal was rescued when he contacted his family on his cell-phone. Later, volunteers following his directions rescued him. Other trapped people also phoned their relatives but the phones quickly went quiet. Following the incident, the traffic was badly disturbed, as hundreds of people of the area and from the surroundings gathered on the spot. The rescue operation by the city government could only be started after an hour of the incident.

Three bodies and five injured were brought to the Civil Hospital. The only deceased who could be identified was Ali Mohammed, 55. The names of the other deceased of accident included Fiyaz Ahmed (35), Moosa Arib (63), Shehzad, Rizwan Raza Rajia (31).

The injured were Murad Bibi, 60, Nazakat, 20, Yasin 27, Mohammed Hanif, 35, and Safdar, 22. Five injured were taken to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital and were identified as Zarif and her 12-year-old daughter Taj, Abid, 20, Zohaib, 18, and Ameer Abdullah, 21.

Engineers say that no bridge in the world has ever been constructed without support on the turning while this bridge was not given any support over the long turning. They termed it a structural failure. Sources said that in the mid of February and March, serious defects were found in the bridge. A foreign team had inspected the bridge and suggested that it should be reconstructed. Sources further said the engineers had made a speed-breaker over the portion of the Shershah Bridge which collapsed, while 80 to 90 tons heavy vehicles used to ply on the road. It was strange that why this speed-breaker was made there as it would put extraordinary pressure on the bridge.

When contacted regarding the inquiry and registration of case, the Capital City Police Officer Karachi, Azhar Ali Farooqi, said that it was apparently a structural engineering failure and the governor Sindh had constituted an inquiry under the chief secretary. CCPO Farooqi added that the inquiry committee would check the material, the engineering design and after the inquiry would fix responsibility and then a case would be registered.

The federal minister for communication has also suspended three general managers and one project director of National Highway Authority and blacklisted the contractors of the project.

So far no case has been lodged by the SITE police station against incident of bridge collapse as they are still waiting for the inquiry report.




RIPPLE EFFECT
'Milbus' and collapse of a bridge

By Omar R. Quraishi

Life in Karachi can be interesting though anyone who doesn't live in the city, especially those who happen to live in Lahore or Isloo, will probably consider it a hellish experience. There was much happening this past week. Well, for starters, the traffic is so bad now that it seems to be resembling what Bangkok was like 5-10 years ago with a commute that would normally take 20-30 minutes in peak hour traffic a couple of years ago now taking 2-3 times longer. This means planning well in advance and only going certain places if absolutely necessary.

First it was the rain which messed up the traffic, coupled with the fact that practically just about every road is dug up these days. Then you have motorists and (particularly) motorcycle riders who insist on going the wrong way, being impatient and generally breaking just about every traffic rule imaginable. On top of that no prior information by either the traffic police or FM radio/TV of any diversions is made available so it is easy to understand why a city of some 12-13 million people is bound to have massive traffic jams every day.

Then, early last week the bridge collapsed, the one that was inaugurated by the president on Aug 6 (and has been earlier opened in February 2007). Some relevant facts about the bridge and the organisations involved in commissioning the project and in actually carrying out its construction are as follows:

The bridge that collapsed cost over three billion rupees to build.

The Karachi city nazim immediately deflected any responsibility saying that the bridge was built by the army's National Logistics Cell.

The main task of the NLC is to be the logistics arm of the Pakistan Army. However, in Karachi for the past many years its trucks have been providing drinking water to many of the city's residents. The NLC trucks can carry as much as 6,000 gallons of sweet water and this costs far more than the water ferried by non-NLC trucks.

The NLC is also engaged in commercial transport of cars and other freight. Cars can be booked on NLC trailers, say in Karachi, and can be retrieved from Lahore or Islamabad.

The communications minister (an MQM representative in the federal cabinet), after the collapse said that as long as a year ago he had 'detected a fault' in the design of the bridge. He said he would head an inquiry into the collapse. However, he did not explain why he didn't act earlier and why he publicly admitted for the first time that the bridge had a design defect.

The National Highway Authority, which tasked the NLC to build the bridge, comes under the ministry of communications. At present, it is headed by a serving two-star general of the Pakistan Army.

The head of the National Disaster Management Authority, a recently-retired three-star general told the press a day after the collapse that his body would carry out an investigation as well. He said some people had been placed on the Exit Control List but would not disclose their names. He blamed the collapse on the consultant for the project and did not mention the NLC, which was the actual contractor. Also, when asked to comment on the communications minister's statement that the NLC had been blacklisted, the retired lieutenant-general said that he was not aware of any such development.

The NLC issued an advertisement in national newspapers on Sept 4. Carrying no logo of the organisation, it was placed in an odd place, right at the bottom of the page and was a single column (equally unusual) advert. Titled 'The collapse of Shershah Flyover', it said the following: "NLC expresses deep sorrow on the accident of Shershah Flyover and the resultant loss of life. The accident occurred due to the design failure of the structure, while NLC was the contractor selected for execution of work. The design faults were continuously pointed out by NLC to the Client and the Consultant. NLC takes full responsibility for the quality and volume of materials used in the project, samples of which can be obtained from the site." Clearly, this is a shoddy attempt to pass the buck to the client -- i.e. the NHA, and the consultant. May one ask the NLC that does 'execution' of a project involving the construction of a structure by a contractor absolve it of any culpability if and when the said structure collapses and causes human deaths? Also, how can the NLC assume that the bridge didn't collapse because of poor quality material, given that none of the several inquiries ordered into the collapse have yet to conclude and come up with any findings?

The project for the Northern Bypass was given by the NHA to the NLC without any competitive bidding. This is the case with many NHA projects, most of whom are given either to the NLC or the Frontier Works Organisation, also a unit of the Pakistan Army. The NLC on this project, as in the case of many others, then engaged the services of a private consultant. Once the bridge was constructed, according to the NLC advert of Sept 4, the design flaw was pointed out to the client. However, the ad does not say what happened after the design flaw "was pointed out to the client". It does not mention what changes, if any, were made in this regard, given that the bridge would one day be used by the general public.

The NLC website (www.nlc.com.pk) says that the corporation is a "financially independent multidimensional organization [does that mean that it gets no funding of any kind from either the army or the ministry of defence?] employing more than 7,000 professionals. It is the country's largest freight handler with more than 1,500 state-of-the-art trucks and 600 units of earth-moving and construction equipment". The site says that it has expanded its construction operations, which it claims have been operational since 1978, to Afghanistan, Qatar and a host of other Middle Eastern countries (one wonders whether there too it wins contracts without going through a rigorous open bidding process).

According to the website, completed projects of the NLC include the Sibi-Rakhni road project in Balochistan; the Kharian-Rawalpindi Additional Carriageway project; the Lahore Roads Rehabilitation Projects (phases I, II and III); the access road to the New Terminal Building at Lahore Airport (packages A & B); an irrigation bund in Kasur; rehabilitation of roads in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir and construction of roads for the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board. Brief descriptions of these projects indicate that they include underpasses, flyovers, ramps, bridges and drainage systems.

According to the website, the ongoing projects include Rawalpindi Urban Area Development Programme; the Faisalabad Roads Rehabilitation Project (FRRP-II); the Khujuri-Bewata Road project; the Karachi Northern Bypass and rehabilitation of Shahrah-e-Ghalib in Karachi.

Clearly, the NLC seems to involved in all kinds of road rehabilitation and urban infrastructure development projects, with most of its clients being government organisations -- notably the NHA which like the NLC is managed by army officials. Seems like 'Milbus' - a term used by Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha, and researched and commented upon extensively in her recently-released book 'Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy' (ISBN 0745325459) -- is alive and well in Pakistan. And no prizes for guessing at whose expense.

The writer is Op-ed Pages Editor of The News.

Email: omarq@cyber.net.pk

 

 

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