Sunday, 20 November, 2011
the review Illustrated & Designed by Babur Saghir
n 25 October 2011, Pakistan Railways (PR) pensioner, Mehmood Khan, 65, died of a heart attack waiting in line for his unpaid pension. The Supreme Court of Pakistan took suo moto notice and a judicial inquiry into the Pakistan Railways crisis ensued. The Railways GM, ex-Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed and all and sundry appeared before the Chief Justice of Pakistan. “But what became of the previous case?” asks Railways Workers Union CBA Vice President Shaukat Ai Chaudhry. “When the Pakistan Railways began shutting down trains in 2010, we filed a case in the Lahore High Court against the shut down. The court ruled in our favour. When that happened, the Railways GM and the Railways Minister went to see Prime Minister Gilani. They agreed to file an appeal to the Supreme Court.” “In 2010, the Supreme Court granted the Pakistan Railways an interim stay order against our petition and the stopping of trains began,” says Shaukat, “But the Supreme Court hearing of the appeal only lasted four hearings. The case is still pending. What we ask is why was that case not fully addressed?” The answer, Railway Workers Union CBA President Fazl-i-Wahid suggests, lies in politics and an agreed plan in the echelons of government to “privatise the Pakistan Railways.” Before the details of any such plan are examined, it would be prudent to first examine the periodic decline of the PR. 1980s: The NLC and the demise of railways’ freight The Pakistan Railways enters its period of demise with the era of General Zia. A study of the PR from this period shows the link between the rise of military-business in Pakistan and the demise of public sector enterprise. The case-and-point being the demise of PR freight business in conjunction with the rise of the NLC. 1974 is the last year for the Pakistan Railways to make a profit (sparing 2004, which will be discussed later). In a conversation, former state Minister of Railways Ishaaq Khakwani traces the start of the demise of the Pakistan Railways to the creation of the National Logistics Cell (NLC) in 1978. The tale of the NLC is that of the crippling of a pivotal na-
tional institution by the military, in its attempt to create for itself another source of earning. Advisor to dictator General Zia, General Saeed Qadir made the suggestion to “create a parallel transportation organization” and so the foundations of the NLC were laid. “The official reason the military government cited was that it saw problems in clearance at Port Qasim, but instead of channeling funds into the railways, they put funds into creating a parallel organization. Here is the origin of the slide of the Pakistan Railways,” says Khakwani. “You see they played a trick. Since it was a martial law, they created the NLC as a cell within the Railways. The Officer-inCharge NLC would decide which freight would be picked up by railways and which by the NLC. Subsequently, the NLC picked up easy-to-load, easy-to-discharge profitable freight and the PR was left to pick up the ‘garbage,’” says Khakwani. “Subsequently, the NLC brought in 12 to 16-wheeler Mercedes and Fiat trucks which followed no rules of transport and cut across the road infrastructure of Pakistan with privilege. The only thing they paid was road tax. The NLC destroyed the infrastructure of small roads and bridges. During the same period, the national focus shifted to roads,” says Khakwani. “Let me tell you this: one railway line has the load capacity of 20 highway lines of a motorway,” Khakwani said, “Here the Railways was derailed for getting kickbacks. If even a small amount of the money put into the NLC and the road infrastructure was put into the PR, the railways would have been on its feet.” However, after the creation of the NLC, freight trains were handed over to the NLC and 12 to 16-wheeler trucks were imported and freight shifted to them. “It is not the railways system that has failed; there is a great success story across the border. The railway system in India runs on a $13-14 billion budget, carries 350 million passengers per year. In India, rail-based traffic is a success story. Let’s just cross the border into India which operates a successful railway’s operations faced with similar circumstances to Pakistan. There the transport of freight between provinces is dominated by the railways. Here there was a planned attempt to take freight away from the railways and decrease its earning,” says Khakwani. As the decade closes, otherwise faulty in its analysis (as we shall discuss later), the World Bank reports, “by 1989, PR was losing $400,000 a day.”
1990s: The World Bank, Javed Burki and deregularisation If the fall in railway profits was a function of the shifting of freight trade to the NLC, then the decade that followed, in the words of railway union workers, was a “decade of misdiagnosis.” The 1980s saw a crisis produced by the state, one that could not be solved by a further withdrawal of the state - but that is exactly what the World Bank recommended to the Pakistan Railways. There are three moves from the Railways that are worth examining. One, the World Bank-led attempt at privatisation; two, the Javed Burki report and its implementation; and, three, the first experiment in public-private partnership. The relationship of PR to the World Bank traces itself back to the 1950s, but with the ascendancy of the neo-liberal doctrine within it, it decided the solution to the Railway’s problems was complete privatisation. During the same period, passenger and freight divisions were separated and the private sector was invited to operate trains. In line with this policy, a report was commissioned under Javed Burki in 1990 under the title, ‘Probing Committee of the Pakistan Railways,’ which presented its findings in 1992. The report made three recommendations: end the railway subsidy, stop non-profitable routes and reduce workforce by 40,000.Fazl I Wahid says, “The Burki reports recommendations were followed. The Continued on page 8
2 A piece of the pie for all 6 The legend of Shah Daula bridge
By Hashim bin Rashid
In a conversation, former state Minister of Railways Ishaaq Khakwani traces the start of the demise of the Pakistan Railways to the creation of the National Logistics Cell (NLC) in 1978. The tale of the NLC is that of the crippling of a pivotal national institution by the military, in its attempt to create for itself another source of earning
A piece of the pie for all The cornerstone of an equal society is a more equitable control over the means of economic production– it is not something that can be achieved by mere charity
By Shahnaz Khan n a previous article entitled Democracy and Pakistan, I made the statement: “The only road to democracy goes through economic equity and parity.” Before we embark on this road it is important to define economic equity and parity. Does it mean that everyone owns equal material assets? So, for example, if a master decides to share fifty percent of his wealth with his slave or if under a totalitarian regime or a monarchy there is equitable distribution of material resources and citizens have equal access to basic human needs like education, healthcare and job opportunities but they do not have any control on the source of wealth, will that create economic parity? Religion proclaims charity is the way to create economic justice. But is it, really? Even if love of God or rather fear of hell cajoles men to part with a portion of their riches, can a giving and receiving hand ever shake on equal terms? May be it will be an improvement over the current situation but can all of the above scenarios truly lead to a democratic society where people have equal say in the decision making? I would like to submit that the essence of economic parity is not equality
of ownership of material assets but rather equitable jurisdiction over the sources and means of generation of wealth as well as its distribution and use. Can anyone deny that supremacy of a nation in the world arena is determined by the magnitude of its control over the world resources? And that most wars have been fought to this end? And that ‘war on terror’ is another link in this chain? And that this leads to exploitation of the poor nations by the rich ones? And that no amount of aid or charity to poor countries can equalize the balance of power in world affairs? So, if it is true at the international level, why are we averse to acknowledging the same dynamics work at the national and individual level? In Pakistan’s context, those who control the land, industry and natural resources also dominate the country’s economics leading to their hegemony over the sociopolitical system; a self perpetuating, vicious and sinful cycle where generations of people are stuck in this quicksand. The dream of a true democratic and just society can only come true by breaking this cycle. So, to recap: Economic equity is not possible till people have equitable jurisdiction over the natural and manmade resources and means of wealth
In Pakistan’s context it means restructuring the current system of land, industrial and natural resource ownership; an idea bound to enrage some and send shivers down some spines
generation, as well as its distribution and usage. In Pakistan’s context it means restructuring the current system of land, industrial and natural resource ownership; an idea bound to enrage some and send shivers down some spines. Indeed, there is a dire need for a public debate about the pros and cons of the various economic systems i.e. Capitalism and Socialism and some people will add the Islamic economic systems. Perhaps this debate belongs to the experts in economics, but it will be meaningless unless people from all strata and spheres of life actively participate in it. Those who currently hold the purse strings have no incentive to have an open and honest dialogue to bring out the injustice of the prevailing system and so will do their best to prevent this discourse from happening in public. The quest is not for a perfect system as that is only possible if those implementing it are perfect, but a best possible equitable system. And who will claim that the
current system, where some have been forced to sell their children due to hunger while others have amassed billions, is even close to that? Actually, in a way, this debate has already been started by those who have felt and recognized the deviousness and inequity of the prevailing capitalist system and are sick and tired of being at the receiving end of this injustice. I am talking about protests and demonstrations against the World Trade Organization, globalization and the free market economy in the past few years, culminating in the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street Movement, and massive demonstrations in many countries against the immoral and atrocious tyranny of the rich over the poor. These are expressions of people’s anger and frustration against this inequality. So, this is not just a problem in Pakistan but all over the world
The population of children in Pakistan is over 70 million. The environment in which the majority of these children grow up is fraught with numerous challenges Health: The under-5 infant mortality rate remains high and diarrhea continues to be a major problem. Around 500,000 under-five infants are dying each year due to preventable causes. As a whole, 43% of households do not have any toilet. In the rural areas 59% of the households do not have a toilet, and 66% do not have any sanitation system. Garbage collection system is most inadequate: overall, 81% of households do not have any garbage collection system, while in the rural areas 91% of households do not have any system. Water borne diseases are a major cause of the high morbidity and mortality rates. Almost half of the infant deaths are attributable to unclean drinking water and unhygienic sanitation.
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Sunday, 20 November, 2011
Birth registration: Pakistan the birth registration indicator was a dismal 27 in 2006-6, reflecting how majority of children do not get registered which prevents adequate access to health care, immunization, timely enrolment in school and prevents effective enforcement of laws regarding children’s rights. These include protection from harassment by police, underage military service, child marriage, child labour, child trafficking. Lack of registration also prevents a child from securing a right to nationality, getting a passport, voting or finding employment.
Education: Wider inequalities are restricting opportunity. In Pakistan, almost half of children aged 7 to 16 from the poorest households are out of school, compared with just 5% from the richest households. Combined this means a total of 7.3 million children are out-of-school (EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011)
Gender disparity: Gender disparity continues to plague Pakistan’s education systems. The fewer number of girls’ schools (especially in rural areas), the scarcity of qualified female teachers, lack of basic facilities, long distances to school—all of these impede genderequitable access to education.
including the so called developed and ‘rich’ countries where fruits of capitalism and prosperity are supposed to ‘trickle down’ to the poor who are expected to be thankful for the crumbs thrown towards them after a major portion has been gobbled up by a few at the top. The only way for the poor to win and to end this oppression, in this country and worldwide, is to forget their ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional differences and join hands and resources to achieve the goal of demanding and getting their rights. They have to be equipped with knowledge and have to become politically conscious and active and get organized. And those who have the knowledge and resources and believe in this cause have to support such efforts. More and more people are becoming disillusioned and disenchanted with Capitalism; they are looking for alternative systems. Once there is consensus on the kind of equitable system, the next step is to find a way to implement it in its true spirit and form. This will not be easy because the opposing forces are too strong and those who are benefiting from the current exploitation of the poor will not let go of their powers so easily. The odds are in their favor as they are much more resourceful, sophisticated and conniving and are experts in obfuscating the issue. This is where public resolve and determination will be tested. History is witness that rights are never given but always demanded and forcibly extracted and snatched. This is how the slavery was abolished, apartheid ended in South Africa, women got whatever rights they have now, civil rights movement was successful, dictators have been overthrown and mighty have fallen. So, the only way to overcome this hurdle is to develop enough impetus and momentum through combined will of the people. That is, IF there are people with a will!
Floods: Up to 2.5 million children have been affected by severe monsoon floods in southern Pakistan - and with many still recovering from the worst floods in the country’s history just a year ago, UNICEF says more help must reach them fast before the situation worsens. The outbreak of deadly diseases and dangerous levels of malnutrition has created an emergency situation in these areas.
Quality of education: Many children in Grades 4 and 5 in govt. primary schools are able to rapidly “read” their textbooks, few can answer any questions regarding the content of what they have read. They have learned to read by “rote”, but not with comprehension.
When necessity makes strange bedfellows The seemingly strange shift in dynamics between Pakistan, India and the US is ultimately driven by economic imperatives desperation. And in this particular relationship, By Natasha Shahid Kunwar India had been for some time he stage of world what matters most to us is: Pakistan asking the politics can be quite plays the only minor in this game U n i t e d the soap opera when States to various countries’ of adults that has engrossed the remove governments are t h e nearing the ends minds of the greatest political of their respective terms in office at roughly the same chess-masters on the globe – as time. The last minute governmental the only underage bedfellow rushes to score points with the local public as well as the global jocks in this relationship of three, in a bid to gain a return ticket to the Executive Office, makes there is a gross likelihood the already exciting world of international relations all the more – that the country might just what shall we call it – yes, colourful. get exploited Should the women of the country know the relish of the sight, I by the other daresay they would never again resort to the lesser more dramas of the fictional world. seasoned Entertainment players aside, the last
T year must h a v e been the
dream of the g l o b a l f o r e i g n policy analyst. Not only because the perpetually bickering neighbours of Pakistan and India have suddenly decided to grow chummy again, but also because the step-relatives of the US and India have seemingly started to drink from the same glass, too. Top that up with the recent unprecedented – well, almost – strain in the relationship of Pakistan and the USA and we get a triangle that is least formed out of love (as is the customary behaviour of such social polygons). And in this particular relationship, what matters most to us is: Pakistan plays the only minor in this game of adults that has engrossed the minds of the greatest political chess-masters on the globe – as the only underage bedfellow in this relationship of three, there is a gross likelihood that the country might just get exploited by the other more seasoned players. Let us find out why.
In November last year, the high profile, historic visit of none other than the US President Barack Obama to India took place during which he made an odd claim: that the relationship between India and the United States “will be a defining partnership of the twenty-first century”. A US President’s expression of such confidence and trust in a country that was a major ally of the Soviet Union in the Cold War era – and since then not in the best of books of the US’s foreign office – would sound rather baffling. That is until one sees the economic implications of the matter and realizes that it is not baffling, but rather drenched in
names of some of its companies from US export control lists. After having turned the advances down a few times, Obama and his government finally budged to the Indian persistence that November. On top of that, the US also “promised” – as light as the weight of promises is in global politics – to vote in favour of India’s inclusion into the elite club of the UN Security Council’s permanent members. With Russia’s hand already firmly behind its back, India all of a sudden seemed to be getting the best of both worlds. But what did it have to do in return for all this excessive favour? Four months later, on February 10, 2011, India agreed to resume talks with Pakistan for the first time in over two years. The stone cold silence between the two countries that had prevailed because of the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the subsequent (alleged) inability of Pakistan to take action against those (allegedly) responsible was to be broken – for no apparent reason. If history is any guide, it can safely be insisted that this move was extremely uncharacteristic of the Indian government – flexibility has never been one of their virtues. Nevertheless, the country that emphatically declared never to hold dialogues with its next-door “hostile” neighbour until it took action against the 26/11 terrorists, was now welcoming it with (nearly) open arms – a back-flip of a Star Plus vamp’s proportions. The saga was to become even cheesier, when the Pakistanis on the one hand would grant India MFN status – a positive gesture, how-
much-ever insignificant our scholars might think it was – and the Indian Prime Minister, on the other, would go overboard in praise for his Pakistani counterpart, and would call the Pakistani Army “proponents” of “peace” – of all the things in the world (This is the part where the viewers grow all teary-eyed – overkill at its best).
Reality Check – In IR, there is no Such Thing as “Love”
Yet before we reach for that tissue box, and before we buy the recent events on face-value, it is important that we rewind the drama and reevaluate the role of each of its characters. It is conceded beforehand, of course by the writer that the events in consideration must have had other causes and implications, but the bellow given aspect, at least to this writer, is highly important; even if it may be discarded by some as a mere conspiracy theory, it deserves its due audience: It is quite clear that the protagonists of this particular political drama are India and Pakistan. Talk has, indeed, of late been all about the redevelopment of the two countries’ “mutual understanding” (whatever that means). However, this sudden and unnaturally robust re-welding of the broken frame of trust between the two countries leaves us with that fishy smell in our nostrils, giving rise to some important questions: Why are the two countries reopening talks “now” of all time? Why has India decided all of a sudden to compromise on Pakistan’s lack of action against 26/11 terrorists? Furthermore, why has Pakistan granted India the MFN status at this point in time? (After all it was right there next door all these years, booming and developing right before our eyes like sunflowers in the
m o r n i n g sunshine.) In retrospect – why has the American government recently become so excessively interested in developing relations with a country that has always been a member of the so-called “Russian bloc”? Taking things further – why are the Russian and Chinese governments silent witnesses to this bubbling drama? And finally – does the Chinese economy have a bearing upon this “series of unusual events”? Karl Marx, the father of communism and historical materialism, once labeled all history as “economic history”, and rarely has that statement become so crudely visible on the global political stage as it has done in the past year. The US’s recent beckoning of the stiff-necked Indian frame into the realm of its political world was not without cause – they recognized India’s worth as a strong economy that has the potential of being much stronger, a notion made most obvious by the manner in which the super power deals with the South Asian giant. Furthermore, the US also recognized the threat that their industries have from the already mighty Chinese industry. Add two to two, and we see that in India they have a potential regional economic power that can drag Chinese economy down by hacking at some of its strongest markets – including Pakistan. Thus the need arose for bringing the two countries back to normal terms and reengage economically, politically and socially – the feat was conveniently achieved by throwing India the bait of the UN Security Council vote. And we all know the rest.
Not exactly a fun read The author offers a dark mix of history, conspiracy and horror by probing into the mind of a fanatic
By Michael Dirda
Designed by Atif Rafi
mbitious writers are often said to challenge their readers. That’s certainly true in the case of Umberto Eco and his latest novel, “The Prague Cemetery,” but not, perhaps, in quite the expected way. Let’s backtrack for a moment. Eco’s first work of fiction, “The Name of the Rose” (1980), was set in an isolated medieval monastery, densely written and larded with passages in Latin, replete with theological speculation, almost entirely without female characters and concerned, in large part, with a lost manuscript by Aristotle. On the surface, none of this cries out international bestseller. Nonetheless, because “The Name of the Rose” was also a clever murder mystery, featured a Sherlock Holmeslike monk- detective and made readers feel intelligent just to have it on their shelves, whether they read it or not, the book made Eco’s name and fortune. From there, the exuberant Italian– half savant, half bon vivant– went on to juggle a distinguished academic career focused on semiotics and cultural history with gigs as an occasional newspaper columnist and, every few years, the publication of a new novel. These last have tended to be what I call antiquar¬ian romances: big books
such as “Foucault’s Pendulum” and “The Island of the Day Before” that are packed with encyclopedic learning and ¬often revolve around the occult, secret societies and conspiracy theories of history. While “The Name of the Rose” was made attractive by the presence of William of Baskerville and by the naive young acolyte who narrates the story, Eco’s latest book, by contrast, features almost no one who isn’t contemptible or loathsome. In a loose sense, “The Prague Cemetery” can be viewed as an attempt to explore the mind of a fanatic from within, to explain the hate-filled prejudices and publications of the 19th century, and to proffer a plausible background for the compo¬sition of the notorious antiSemitic screed “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” In typical Eco fashion, the novel neatly links together most of the conspiracy mythologies of the era. Behind every war, every revolution, every financial triumph or disaster, the enlightened can always detect the hidden hand of the Jesuits, the Jews, the Freemasons, the Carbonari, the secret police, international anarchism or even Satan himself. Setting aside the novel’s structural complexities, “The Prague Cemetery” basically traces the life and career of the half-Italian, half-French ¬Simone Simonini. Brought up by a grandfather who blamed the Jews for everything and by a father who saw the malign
influence of the Society of Jesus everywhere, young Simonini grows up obsessed with the notion of conspiracy. Intellectually, he is molded by his reading of the era’s most lurid fiction, in particular, A l e x a n d r e Dumas’ “Joseph B a l s a m o , ” about the occult c h a r l a t a n Cagliostro, and Eugene Sue’s melodramatic s e r i a l s featuring Jesuit masterminds, esoteric Masonic rituals and even the immortal Wandering Jew. Later, as a young man, Simonini discovers that he possesses a gift for imitating a n y o n e ’ s handwriting, a taste for dressing up in clerical vestments,
The Prague Cemetery By Umberto Eco Translated from the Italian by Richard Dixon Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 444 pp. $27 and
of female flesh and every form of sexuality. He exhibits as well a
A twin delight By Syed Afsar Sajid
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Sunday, 20 November, 2011
uhammad Jameel Bhatti (b. 1961) belongs to the Pakistan Audit & Accounts Service. A recognised expert in his field, he has also specialized in imparting professional training in audit and accounts at both national and international levels. Teaching runs into his blood as his late father Muhammad Ismail Bhatti (1937-90) was an eminent professor of English and chairman of the department at Punjab University besides teaching at the university’s Punjabi department since its inception. Muhammad Jameel Bhatti has now come out with a travelogue Mohabbaton Kay Safar in which he has narrated the account of his travel to different countries of the world, on official or private business. Dr. Wazir Agha (1922-2010) was a literary celebrity whose monumental contribution to Urdu prose, poetry and criticism serves to place him amongst its literary doyens. The posthumous publication of Kasa-e-Sham (a collection of his . nazms) would remind the lovers and connoisseurs of literature of his ingenuity as a poet in the line of N. M. Raashed (191075), Meeraji (1912-49), Majeed Amjad (1914-74) and Akhtar-ul-Iman (191596).
The two publications are being reviewed here separately.
Mohabbaton Kay Safar The travelogue is intended to cover its author’s journey to Britain, Saudi Arabia, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macao, Kazakhstan, Russia and Norway. His observant eye unfolds the mystery and romance connected with some of these distant lands. Without feigning omniscience, he narrates the landscape of the places visited by him, their history, traditions, culture, economy and political governance in an apt but homely style. The narrative abounds in interesting anecdotes wrapped in playful humour. Dr. Tariq Aziz’s flap to the book highlights its features with special reference to the author’s pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah. He likens the travelogue to an autobiography deriving its credibility and appeal from the inherent truth of the narrative and the beauty of the author’s style. The correctness of the statement could be readily verified by a knowledgeable reader while he were randomly skimming through the book.
Kasa-e-Sham Dr. Wazir Agha’s triangular excellence in the genres of light essay (inshaiya), criticism and poetry has but few parallels on the contemporary literary scene of Urdu. His genuine modernistic stance in poetry serves
to distinguish him amongst his peers. The present work is a posthumous publication carrying some thirtyone poems with different captions. The prologue has been penned by the noted writer and editor Shahid Shaidai whereas the epilogue has been contributed by the renowned bilingual poet and critic Satyapal Anand. Modern poetry encapsulates the turmoil and turbidity of the contemporary human situation. Eliot’s The Waste Land(1922) is, as it were, its preamble. The poem highlights the futility of modern life. So does the bulk of modern poetry being conceived and composed across the globe. The roots of this futility lie in the post-World Wars scenarios marked by mass destruction and disintegration, disease and distress, and deceit and disillusionment. A growing sense of loneliness seems to haunt the thoughtful but sensitive individual, eventually isolating him from his ilk. The tragedy is thus being revisited ad infintum in modern literature as a whole with poetry as only one aspect of the phenomenon. The theme of introspection characterizing all modern poetry also forms the kernel of the poems included in the present collection. However, what distinguishes Wazir Agha as a modern poet is his optimism (Cf. Mujhey ab kuch nahi karna and Sannatay say khauf na khao!), The poems are like interior monologues
His observant eye unfolds the mystery and romance connected with some of these distant lands. Without feigning omniscience, he narrates the landscape of the places visited by him, their history, traditions, culture, economy and political governance in an apt but homely style unfolding the mysterious broodings of the human mind. The poet would listen to the mellow music of autumn as raptly as he would, the chanting
Parisian gastronome’s obsession with ¬exquisite food and almost no moral sense whatsoever. As the years roll by, our protagonist — one can hardly call him a hero — works as a spy and forger, eventually betrays everyone he knows and periodically catches
about recipes as other men do about women. The mere mention, he says of the specialties provided by the Cafe Anglais, “makes me feel that life is worth living.” Throughout his narrative, Eco also integrates dozens of contemporary steel engravings, almost transforming his book into a
“The Prague Cemetery” is thus only partly historical. It addresses both humankind’s most nefarious bigotries and some unpleasant contemporary truths, notably that all too often our sense of “identity is now based on hatred . . . for those who are not the same.” up on the latest in bomb technology. He acts as a murderous double agent within Garibaldi’s army, presents an eyewitness account of the Paris Commune and its savagery, helps to falsely incriminate Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, eventually suffers what might be a case of split personality and even encounters the young Sigmund Freud. Oh, yes, and he also participates in a Black Mass and imagines the Final Solution. Eco certainly doesn’t stint on sensationalism. But neither does he make up very much of this. Nearly all the characters, tracts, newspapers and events in the book are drawn from the historical rec¬ord. It’s only Eco’s imagination that connects all these elements to a single shrewd and repulsive little worm. Here, in effect, is a conspiracy theory of conspiracy theories. There’s certainly much to admire in “The Prague Cemetery.” Eco writes brilliantly about food, for instance. Simonini is an epicure who daydreams
graphic novel. And it’s fun to hear the echoes of J.K. Huysmans’s famous novel about rival Satanists, “La-Bas” (“Down There”), or to identify at least some of Simonini’s many allusions, such as — to take an easy one — his reference to “that consumptive Polish pianist kept by a degenerate woman who went about in trousers” (Chopin and George Sand). Better still, every few pages Eco proffers a memorable, even aphoristic observation: “Someone said that women are just a substitute for the solitary vice, except that you need more imagination ... When a spy sells something entirely new, all he need do is recount something you could find in any secondhand book stall. . . . Any defamatory work ought to be readable in half an hour. . . . A mystic is a hysteric who has met her confessor before her doctor.” From his own early reading as well as his later experience, Simonini soon proclaims the “Universal Form of every possible conspiracy,” that
ditties of spring. (Cf. Khizan tu kahan hai!). Amin Rahat Chughta’s flap spotlights the genetical texture of Wazir Agha’s nazm in the context of the much talked about post-structural paradigm. He enumerates four important elements in his verse viz., the novelty of its format, the complexity of its symbols, the profundity of its substance anticipating an inquisitve readership and finally its introspective tenor.
Mohabbaton Kay Safar (Travelogue) By Muhammad Jameel Bhatti Publishser: Maqbool Academy, Lahore Pages: 254; Price: Rs.500/-
is, our human proclivity to always find a culprit for life’s major setbacks and thus to confirm what we, subconsciously, already “know.” Which is, of course, that none of us are ever truly responsible for our failures or misfortunes. We have, in fact, been held back and our dreams dashed by dark forces leagued against us. Nowadays, these might be the old-boy WASP, Ivy League network. Or those commie pinkoliberal sympathizers at work in our government. Or the Jews. It’s equally obvious that people of much less talent than we possess unjustly succeed because they are backed by Them, meaning the Mafia or the Church of Scientology or the all-powerful gaylesbian lobby. Utter nonsense? Yes. Yet what makes all this tricky, of course, is that sometimes such suspicions aren’t wholly without substance, especially if one happens to be, for instance, black, Muslim, disabled or homosexual. “The Prague Cemetery” is thus only partly historical. It addresses both humankind’s most nefarious bigotries and some unpleasant contemporary truths, notably that all too often our sense of “identity is now based on hatred . . . for those who are not the same.” One of the book’s anti-Semites is so completely deluded that he finally announces that “the idea that Christ was Jewish is a legend created by people who were Jews themselves. . . . Jesus was in fact of the Celtic race, like we French.” Who could doubt such a self-evident truth? “The Prague Cemetery” is certainly engrossing and cautionary, but it mainly offers, to adopt Joseph Conrad’s biblical-sounding phrase, the appalling fascination of the abomination. Be aware, then, that Umberto Eco hasn’t produced anything close to what one might call a fun read or a light entertainment. “The Prague Cemetery” is, in fact, an all-out horror story.
Satyapal Anand’s opinion of Wazir Agha’s poetic eclat is in effect an affirmation of the latter’s poetic excellence. The organic unity of his (Wazir Agha’s) nazm owes itself to the artistic synthesis of discernment or vision (basarat) and insight or perception (baseerat) in his verse. The ‘epilogue’ is actually a sound analytical study of the poet’s work meant to educate the reader on its form and content.
Kasa-e-Sham (Poems) By Wazir Agha Publisher: Kaghadi Paerahen, Azeem Mansion, Royal Park, Lahore Pages: 95 - Price: Rs. 130/-
Sellers of the Week FICTION 1. 1Q84: Books 1-3 (New Arrival) by Haruki Murakami 2. A Lovesong for India ( New Arrival )by Ruth Parwer Jhabvala 3. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes 4. The Christmas Wedding ( New Arrival ) by James Patterson 5. The Submission by Amy Waldman 6. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin 7. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammad Hanif 8. Prey by Linda Howard 9. Darkness Rising by Keri Arthur
NON FICTION 1. Thinking Fast and Slow ( New Arrival ) by Daniel Khaneman 2. Great By Choice ( New Arrival ) by Jim Collins 3. Steve Jobs ( New Arrival ) by Walter Isaacson 4. The 3rd Alternative ( New Arrival ) by Stephen R. Covey 5. Pakistan: A Personal History by Imran Khan 6. Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour by Michael Lewis 7. The Afghan Solution by Lucy Morgan Edwards 8. Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven 9. The 9/11 Wars by Jason Burke 10. Conversation with Myself by Nelson Mandela
CHILDREN BOOKS 1. Inheritance ( New Arrival ) by Paolini 2. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz 3. Destined by P.C. and Kristin Cast 4. The Son of Neptune – Heroes of Olympus by Rick Roirdan 5. Lost in Time ( New Arrival ) by Melissa de la Cruz 6. I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore 7. Young Samurai: The Ring of Fire by Chris Bradford 8. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen 9. Seizure ( New Arrival ) by Kathy Reichs 10. Lord Brocktree: A Tale of Redwall by Brian Jacques
Excerpts from ‘Letters to Uncle Sam’ by Saadat Hassan Manto You have done many good deeds yourself and continue to do them. You decimated Hiroshima, you turned Nagasaki into smoke and dust and you caused several thousand children to be born in Japan. Each to his own. All I want you to do is to dispatch me some dry cleaners. It is like this. Out here, many Mullah types after urinating pick up a stone and with one hand inside their untied shalwar, use the stone to absorb the afterdrops of urine as they resume their walk. This they do in full public view. All I want is that the moment such a person appears, I should be able to pull out that atom bomb you will send me and lob it at the Mullah so that he turns into smoke along with the stone he was holding. As for your military pact with us, it is remarkable and should be maintained. You should sign something similar with India. Sell all your old condemned arms to the two of us, the ones you used in the last war. This junk will thus be off your hands and your armament factories will no longer remain idle. “One more thing. We can’t seem able to draft a constitution. Do kindly ship us some experts because while a nation can manage without a national anthem, it cannot do without a constitution, unless such is your wish.” The American topcoats are also excellent
and without them our Landa Bazar5 would be quite barren. But why don’t you send us trousers as well? Don’t you ever take off your trousers? If you do, you probably ship them to India. There has to be a strategy to it because you send us jackets but no trousers which you send to India. When there is a war, it will be your jackets and your trousers. These two will fight each other using arms supplied by you.
06 - 07
Sunday, 20 November, 2011
Pictures by the Author
The legend of Shah Daula bridge
The saint was called for from Gujrat and the bridge constructed under his supervision
By Salman Rashid
n idyllic countryside with golden wheat fields spreading as far as the eye can see, a winding road shaded by shisham and acacia, buffaloes wallowing in roadside ponds of mud while paddy birds watch from the side with a sternness that does not match their poor demeanour, blue skies above without a cloud and a meandering stream called the Degh. Here, some twenty kilometres northwest of Muridke (on the Grand Trunk Road between Lahore and Gujranwala) the perennial Degh or Devka Nadi, as it known near its source in the Jummu hills, is spanned by a massive-looking arched bridge. They call it the Shah Daula Bridge and attribute it to the generosity of this saint buried in Gujrat. Indeed, the little village by the bridge has no identity of its own and is called Pull Shah Daula. To me it seems there was no village here when the bridge was built and when over the years the habitation grew up around the bridge keeper’s house, it took the structure’s name for the sake of simplicity. No surprise, then, that even today the bridge looms large above the village – not so much physically as figuratively. And legends regarding it abound pushing real history into the amorphous periphery of human understanding. As I moped about the bridge of Shah Daula, I was joined by a trio of local teen-agers. I asked if they knew that we stood on the Grand Trunk Road as it went long before we attributed it quite wrongly to Sher Shah Suri and even longer before the British re-aligned it in the 19th century. They hadn’t a clue, but they had heard the story of the old bridge whose debris lay in the bed of the Degh just downstream of the Shah Daula Bridge. That had been built thousands of years ago, said one of them. His own grandfather who had only recently died at age one hundred
and thirty (Cripes! Same old lie) had told him he had always seen that debris where it lay in the stream bed. This grandfather had also told him that legend related how the old bridge’s arches were blocked by gates cut out of solid rock, bolted and padlocked. And that one day in the month of Bhadon in a long ago time when the rain did not cease for a full three days it became necessary to open the gates. For some unknown reason none dared, until an elderly man came forward and offered to undo the gates and let the dammed flood pass. For a while he struggled with the ancient, rusted locks and when he finally did succeed in opening them and easing the gates out, the entire structure came tumbling down on him. The old man died, his body lost in the great outpouring, but the accumulation of water that was threatening the village passed on harmlessly. From that day the debris of the old bridge has lain in the stream where it collapsed. I asked if this old man was Shah Daula. ‘Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. Who is to know the reality of an event that happened at a time that could not be remembered even by my grandfather’s grandfather,’ said the boy whose grandfather had lived almost a century and a half – or so he thought. Such then was the nature of the legend of the old bridge. History does not record when the old bridge was actually built or when it finally collapsed. But the softspoken Tariq Masood of the Punjab Archeology Department is the teller of the tale of Shah Daula’s Bridge. Quoting from a legend as recorded by A. C. Elliot and published in Indian Antiquity (February 1909) Masood tells how, as he journeyed to Kashmir, Shah Jahan, the fifth Moghul king, once lost several laden pack animals to a flood in the Degh. The administrator of the district, a certain Mirza Badi uz Zaman was ordered to immediately bridge the river and have it ready before the emperor’s return journey. That very likely being monsoon season when kilns traditionally shut down in Punjab, the Mirza was hard put to procure fired bricks. All he could come by were mud bricks useless for bridge building. In a fit of rage he imprisoned all brick makers and when the emperor
returned was nowhere near beginning construction. Upon being rebuked, the Mirza is said to have told the emperor that it was only Shah Daula, the doer of public works, who could build the bridge. And so it was that the saint was called for from Gujrat and the bridge constructed under his supervision. It is evident that the origin of this legend lies in the reputation of Shah Daula as a great patron of public works in Sialkot, where he first lived, and in Gujrat subsequently. The chronology placing him contemporary with Shah Jahan is not incorrect: having been born in 1581 during the reign of Akbar the Great, Shah Daula lived through the reigns of Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb until he died in 1676. The king’s summons for him to come build the bridge is no more than legend that plays on a reputation of public service that Kabiruddin, a Lodhi Pukhtun better known to us as Shah Daula, had made for himself by Shah Jahan’s time. As for his saintly qualities, he may just have been a good man for history tells us of devotees bringing him valuable gifts. A selfless and generous man, Shah Daula spent most of these on public works like bridges, wells, mosques and water tanks. Consequently, the legend that came into play in connection with the bridge that carries his name to this day was pretty solid about the middle of the 17th century time when the bridge was actually constructed. The Khulasa tut Twarikh (Compendium of Histories) of Subhan Rai is one source that definitely assigns this bridge to Shah Daula. It mentions a bridge built by him at a distance of five kos (about sixteen kilometres) from Eminabad on the highroad to Lahore. But even there we fail to get a definite date for its construction for, it must not be forgotten, the public life of Shah Daula fully spanned the reigns of at least three kings, namely, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. Tariq Masood points out another interesting fact. It is said, he tells me, that the original name of the bridge was Pull Saadullah or Saadullahpur after the well known courtier of Shah Jahan’s. The renown of this man, too, rested on his work as a builder of good repute. But again, history does not mention the undertaking of a bridge
building project in this area by him or by anyone else under Shah Jahan’s orders. The Shah Jahan Nama records torrential falls of rain in October 1652. So great was this deluge that roads were submerged in the vicinity of today’s Lahore district and boat bridges washed away hampering the king’s return to the city from Jahangirabad (Sheikhupura). From the Tuzk e Jahagiri (written by Shah Jahan’s father) we learn of similar difficulties near Sheikhupura and the ordering of a bridge (still extant) – again on the Degh – which has always had a reputation for flooding dangerously during monsoon rains. Shah Jahan’s chronicle, however, does not mention the Shah Daula Bridge. Consequently, it appears to me that while the bridge may have been built by Shah Daula, it must not necessarily have been raised during Shah Jahan’s reign. My trio of escorts pointed out the double gateways of the bridge: below the main arched opening, the piers of the bridge were connected by a cantilever forming a shallow rectangular opening. It was through these openings that the languid and thin trickle passed as we sat there. Having seen domes, arches and vaults of all sizes and description, I was rather taken aback by the flat cantilever which was absolutely without an arch. The flat arch or dome, in my estimation, was a modern development and I could not imagine the straight cantilevers of Shah Daula’s bridge to be built without iron bars – or their medieval equivalent. In Lahore I later learned that the Moghuls were acquainted with the art of building flat arches and domes. I asked my escorts if there were any historical tales told regarding their famous bridge. There were none. So I told them the one I had heard from my friend Tariq Masood: it was the spring of 1707 AD when news spread that the aged Aurangzeb had finally given up the ghost. In their unholy haste to have themselves crowned king, his sons tripped over themselves. While Azam Shah quickly donned the crown in Ahmadnagar in the Deccan, Shah Alam hurried to Agra from his posting at Jamrud. As he arrived at
the staging post of Shah Daula’s bridge, word arrived from the east that his brother had already been crowned. In order that he may enter the imperial capital of Lahore as a crowned king, he went through a coronation ceremony at the bridge. Since the bridge is at most two days’ journey from Lahore, Shah Alam’s coronation would have taken place on the last day of April – a full two hundred and ninety five years before the infamous Referendum of 2002. This for history tells us that Shah Alam entered Lahore on the third day of May 1707. Of course my trio did not know of this event of long ago. Men who illogically believe their grandparents live up to a century and a half cannot be expected to keep t r a c k of such logical facts. But that was the
The chronology placing him contemporary with Shah Jahan is not incorrect: having been born in 1581 during the reign of Akbar the Great, Shah Daula lived through the reigns of Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb until he died in 1676
past. Nothing spectacular or earth shaking happens at Shah Daula’s bridge anymore. It is a forgotten monument on a forgotten road in the outback of northern Punjab. Twenty first century tellers of tales do not remember Kabiruddin Lodhi a.k.a. Shah Daula as a public service minded person and all the good work he did. They remember him for bringing forth microcephalic children (the famous ‘rats’) that parents abandon at his shrine in Gujrat. That is something inbreeding and not poor old Shah Daula can be faulted with. That is irony. It is offset only by his lingering association with the bridge. Those who use it, or live nearby invoke his name even today. Through them his spirit of public service lives on. –Salman Rashid, rated as the best in the country, is a travel writer and photographer who has travelled all around Pakistan and written about his journeys.
Unity in Patterns Zulfiqar Ali’s calligraphy offers a sublime aesthetic experience – combining skill, artistic appeal and tradition
n ongoing solo exhibition at Hamail Art Galleries showcases 48 recent works by acclaimed calligrapher, Zulfiqar Ali. A mélange of heritage and spirituality, this collection pushes the boundaries of traditional calligraphy
Through partially translucent layers, simultaneously obscuring and revealing, Zulfiqar Ali eloquently creates an ambience in each piece, drawing the viewer into a world of nostalgia
to unveil yet further aesthetic dimensions of the Quranic script through innovative compositions.
of tea and coffee brown - harsh at times, at times muted. This technique
A l i uses his exceptional skill and k e e n artistic sense to create
a patchwork of beautifully and meticulously inscribed Quranic verses. He experiments with the text, fashioning it into varied shapes, sizes and forms and using different types of scripts including the classic Kufic script with its quintessential square, angular form. Ali keeps his palette simple - the backgrounds are largely dominated by variations
of nostalgia. These layers are interspersed with classic Islamic imagery - arches, motif, floral patterns and emblems - rendered in teal, blood red, ink blue and gold. The largest piece in the collection is 37 x 104 which Ali treats with the same painstaking attention and detail as the smaller pieces. Each canvas draws together a motley of intricate patterns and flawlessly rendered script, blending fluidity and unity in a truly unique aesthetic experience.
transforms the canvas into an old decayed page, emphasizing the aspect of book keeping which is central to the history of Islamic calligraphy. Through partially translucent layers, simultaneously obscuring and revealing, Zulfiqar Ali eloquently creates an ambience, drawing the viewer into a world
Islamic calligraphy has a long and illustrious h i s t o r y and is the most highly venerated of the Islamic arts on account of its primary role being that of the transmission, as well preservation, of the word of God. Many Pakistani greats have tried their hand at it with remarkable results, the most famous being of course, Sadeqain. Ali does justice to his great tradition and readers are urged to visit the exhibition which is on till the 19th of this month.
08 Save the Railways or agitate for wage? Sunday, 20 November, 2011
n a dingy little office in Mughalpura - the heart of the Pakistan Railways, home to the some of the earliest and largest workshops of the British Indian Railways - railway workers meet to discuss how to save the institution that provides them bread and used to provide cheap transport to the majority of people. Workshops, unused tracks, oil-filled ponds and rotting carriages are part of the romance of Mughalpura. Leaving his own village Umerkot under flood waters, Railway Workers Union (RWU) General Secretary Naseem Rao arrives on a train to report on a two and a half hour long meeting with Railways General Manager (Operations) Akhtar Saeed and to form a strategy for the future. Representatives of the Pakistan Railways two remaining progressive unions, the Railway Workers Union and the Railway Inqilabi Union are assembled. Naseem sets the agenda of the meeting crisply, “We presented our agenda to reform and save the Pakistan Railways again but the Railways administration is not willing to listen.” “As it stands 160 out of 206 trains have been shut down. Other trains are in the process of shutdown. There has been no freight operation for the past 4 months. Railway workers and pensioners have not been paid for two months. The situation is dire,” he says and then frames the question of most importance to them: “How do we agitate? And more importantly, how do we understand the crisis?” Jolly, old and a veteran of the struggle, RWU President Aashiq Hussain Chuadhry responds, “Railways is playing out its class role: it makes officials richer, it keeps workers poorer. Progressive unions were created to keep this character of the railways in check.” This reminds me of an article on the railways by ex-railway bureaucrat and columnist Irfan Bukhari which romances the gardens of the railway officers’ home. Naseem Rao, in a later meeting, tells me to examine the issues of dingy, poorly maintained railways quarters for railways workers. The Pakistan Railways’ progressive unions worked on the principle of overcoming the class character of the division of labour of the railways and to keep the railways a welfare-oriented organisation. Aashiq, however, is still speaking. “When we merged the progressive unions in the Pakistan Railways in the 2000s, we did it to oppose the project to privatise the railways. We did it with great success but railways officials were smarter than us: they put railways in a self-created crisis. The railways workers slogan was changed from: ‘Stop Privatisation!’ to ‘Give us our salaries!” He explains how officials deliberately sabotaged locomotives in cahoots with some workers. “Officials knew what they were doing when locomotives were filled with less than dead level fuel and low viscosity oil was used in crankshafts. It was not negligence or a lack of funds that reduced the running flight of locomotives from over 500 to just 70, it was all done under a plan,” he explains. The articulation until this point had been spot on. The traditional tool of the worker has been to strike. But what value is a strike if those operating an organisation actually want workers to strike? This is exactly what Aashiq says has become of the railways bureaucracy. “Today railways officers openly say: ‘Close down the rail!’ They use their favoured unions to call strikes. They want to blame the worker and shift the blame off themselves,” Aashiq says. Aashiq then narrates an incident that, if true, remarkably captures how different cadres of staff represent different interest. He narrates them meeting
“I think it is important for us to critique ourselves.” -Anwar Gujjar After Rao’s turn is over, Anwar Gujjar speaks and shifts the gear of the meeting to discussing the strategy that must now be employed by the workers. He cautions against repeating old mistakes: “If we look at the last 32 years, we have stood by silently as the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Open Line Union, the PREM union, took over and became the voice of the official.” He stressed on how they must admit that unions have sheltered corrupt officials in the past and let the railways fall into crisis. “Why were unions silent when three trains crashed and blood was spilt?” he asked. He speaks of the importance of publicizing the shady deals that checker the history of the railways. “Today the corruption in the selling of railways land, making of Rail-Co, the purchase of faulty repair parts must be brought in front of the public,” he says, “We have a great tool: the media and we are a great moral power: the worker. It is the Pakistan Railways’ worker in Pakistan that must become the Anna Hazare of Pakistan.” “If we look at railways around the world 8-10 % is the norm for administrative expenditure in the world but in Pakistan Railways administrative expenditures amount to 16-18%,” “Today Bilour, the self-proclaimed leader of a progressive party, is looting the railways. And we must reveal how they are selling railways land for peanuts and bringing in spare parts that we do not need, and all the while more trains are shut. I agree. We must stand up against Railways corruption.” “The current phase of struggle is difficult: not about privatisation, not about wages, it is about saving the Railways.” -NaseemRao the DS Lahore to ask for unpaid wages. The DS’s response: “I am a CSP, I am in 20th Grade. This is not my issue. My job is safe.” This incident shows the bureaucrat operates from a position of job security, the worker does not. The bureaucrat has nothing to lose; the worker has everything to lose. “And so,” Naseem speaks, “it is important that railway workers begin to check and expose the corruption of railways officials. The choice of jamming the railways wheel to get a month’s wage is a false hope. It is based upon a misdiagnosis. We must explain to workers if they do not receive a salary this month, they will get next month. The real issue is that the entire root is being cut and it is the worker who is the only one that can protect it.”
One of the themes that distinctly emerges from the discussion is that of the purpose of the struggle and there is a clear sense that this has expanded from an issue about just wages to one about the very existence of the Railways. RWU CBA Workshops President Fazal I Wahid takes forward the discussion, “Why can the PPP not see railways is about to close? At this moment, no political party is speaking. All have agreed to let the Railways perish.” “I have a critique of us saying we are coming up with progressive position to solve the railways crisis. As it stands, No one is taraki-pasand, everyone is dehari-pasand. No progressive position exists within the railways,” he laments. “Our ideological, our rational, our shaoori struggle has failed. And no left organizations exist to assist us. This has come to a time when we asked about our pays at a meeting, Railways Minister Bilour said, ‘so you should travel on the bus.’” “The crisis in the railways is deeper. It is an attempt to shut it down and to sell it for the price of sea shells,” he says. To this, Aashiq adds, “If we look at the railways then the futures of all affiliated workers: stall owners, rickshaw stands, taxis and coolies are at stake. This is equal to the lives of 1.5 million families.” Naseem Rao concludes the meeting by reiterating the first point: “The question for workers is whether they wish to agitate for a single months’ unpaid salary, or, to protect the source of their income? We choose the latter.” -Hashim bin Rashid
Rail-jammed: Tracing the roots of the Railways Crisis From title page workforce was reduced from 124,000 to 86,000. 18 trains were stopped, 40 stations closed and government investment in infrastructure and equipment fell.” “This left the Railway Workshops understaffed and overworked and the PR with the further burden of paying the pensions of 40,000 non-productive former employees,” he says. Similarly, in accordance, in 1992, the first attempt to offer a train for private operation took place. Boogay Shah was handed the Lahore-Narowal and Lahore-Faisalabad line. “A gunfight broke out between the guards of the private operator and the people. Eventually the operator ran off with the profits and filed a case against the PR for mismanagement,” says Naseer Humayun. An attempt to privatise the railways was also thwarted by railways workers in the Nawaz Sharif (1992-94) period after a 15-20 day strike. Of its attempts in the 1990s to privatise the PR, the WB’s 1998 Report on the Privatisation of the PR concludes, “privatisation policies had little ownership within PR and they had little impact on traditional priorities and management practices. Little was achieved other than to deepen the equipment crisis and intensify distrust of reform and restructuring.” In short: the WB admits its 1990s privatisation policy failed. Academic and RWU Rawalpindi General Secretary Aasim Sajjad Akhtar says, “The World Bank failed to diagnose the problem. It looked at competition but never once mentioned the NLC in the causes for the decline in PR freight.” Even more damning is the World Bank’s own assessment that at the end of the 1990s, “total rail traffic declined, financial results deteriorated and PR became dependent upon the government for: investment; debt servicing and pension payments; covering operat-
ing losses.” If nothing else, the attempt to privatise the Pakistan Railways in the 1990s left PR more reliant on the government, not less reliant as WB policies were supposed to have made it. In 1986, the WB had made the same suggestion (of privatisation) to both Pakistan and India. Pakistan accepted and the PR spiraled into further doom. India declined and now operates one of the most successful train systems in the world. 2000s: Importing faulty technologies, kickbacks, the death of Benazir and a ‘self-created crisis’ The 2000s introduced the railways to another military dictatorship: General Musharraf takes the presidential reigns. Two factors bring the PR to its current state. One, the Chinese locomotives scam and faulty use of technologies. Two, the aftermath of Benazir’s assassination. With another army general Ashraf Qazi appointed GM Railways, a decision to import 63-64 Chinese locomotives was taken. Both the RWU and ex-Railways Minister Khakwani claim massive mismanagement and corruption in the contracts. “When the Chinese engines were imported, they were running a different technology. This meant that a contract for repairs and training needed to be negotiated but this was not done,” says Shaukat. Ishaaq Khakwani details, “What happened here was strange. The contract for repairing 64 Chinese locomotives was for $15 million while the cost of repairing the entire fleet of 500 engines was $12 million. When we examined the contract a single tender had been placed on just one firm. I myself went to NAB to conduct an inquiry into what had transpired.” “Eventually cracks appeared in the engines and they were grounded,” says Shaukat, “this is just the tip of the iceberg from that period.” The second blow, however, was of no doing of the railways or officials or military men, but in many ways, it meant that the PPP-government inherited a crippled
railways: the riots following the death of Benazir Bhutto left 50 locomotives, 300 coaches and 50 railway stations burnt with losses estimated between Rs 25-30 billion, half the current PR overdraft. “The PPP never accepted the loss and never compensated the railways,” says RWU member Zafar Malik, “On top of which it appointed Bilour as Railways Minister, who is alleged to have trucking interests. It almost appears a repeat of the NLC period in that sense.” Railways Minister Bilour is, of course, on record to have said, “So what if the railways is shut. 6 countries do not have railways, are they not functioning?” The trouble, RWU members state, is that those tasked with saving the railways are the one’s without a stake in saving it. A railways’ minister who does not appear to care, an international bank that thinks rail has been replaced by road, or, private investors who shall be gifted the railways infrastructure to ‘operate’ and not invest in. Pakistan Railways: Going forwards – or backwards? Today, it is strange, that before the Supreme Court the GM Railways presents the NLC as one of the parties interested in taking over segments of the Railways operation. If this scenario materializes, which is looking likely, the few profitable parts of the PR operation remaining shall also have their surplus siphoned off into the coffers of a company created to transfer public funds into military coffers. Charged with saving PR, the WB states in another report, “Rail has commercial potential and could play a valuable transport role but it is not an economic necessity.” However, RWU members disagree. RWU Vice President Shaukat says, “Rail is the cheapest mode of transport. It is meant for public welfare. With trains being shut this year, the oil imports of Pakistan have almost doubled. Imagine what would happen to our balance of
payment if the railways is shut.” Reminded of ex-Railway minister Ishaaq Khakwani’s assessment that one railway line has the load capacity of 20 highway lines of a motorway, the sense the RWU creates with respect to PR lays more credence than what the WB suggests. The WB in its latest project sets out its aim as: “create a commercial and accountable environment in Pakistan Railways and increase private sector participation in operation of rail services.” The irony is that the NLC is not identified in any WB document as a cause when it concludes: “Over the last 30 years, road transport has progressively become the dominant means of motorized transport within Pakistan, as it has in almost all developed and developing countries.” “The current World Bank proposals have been shrouded in secrecy. No one, no worker, no manager, has been consulted,” tells Fazl i Wahid. Shaukat sides with him and asks, “What sort of re-structuring will this be, which will not be in consultation with the workers and the consumers?” What is more ironic is that the private-public sector partnership narrative presented as ‘the new way,’ is merely a re-hashing of what was tried in the 1990s to devastating consequence. In the WB’s own words, during the 1990s privatisation drive “public investment was severely curtained on the expectation of future private sector investment, and locomotive and rolling stock fleets suffered.” As it stands, different visions from the future of the Pakistan Railways are being imagined in the Supreme Court, in the coffers of power, in the World Bank and on the railway lines. What is clear is that the Pakistan Railways needs major investment and needs an independent board to oversee it that includes workers representatives. What is clearer is that the future of the railways cannot be handed to those responsible for its demise. Unless we wish to push towards a final jam.
Published on Nov 19, 2011
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