The train wreck of Pakistan's inefficient governance
The train accident in Ghotki district which killed 63 people and injured dozens more last week has taken its place as one of the 125 accidents that trains encounter in Pakistan every year, according to Pakistan Railways data.
The PTI government says that since it inherited a dilapidated railway infrastructure, the burden of guilt is on previous governments, especially the PML-N.
When in opposition, Imran Khan knew precisely how to rule, when to dismiss ministers from their posts, how to unearth corruption charges, and when to put to shame those jumping ships. He would strip down governments when avoidable calamities befell innocent people, and the government could do nothing to stop them from happening.
And so, when in power, we expected him to rule rather than mimic his predecessors. In the game of thrones, he has behaved like any other Pakistani ruler. This is the irony of politics in Pakistan: leaders are wise in opposition but lame ducks in power. For the PTI, it is just another train wreck, but for the people of Pakistan, it is the negligence of one more soulless government that has left its drapes of guilt and repentance outside its own corridors of power.
The Ghotki accident happened on June 7, 2021, at 3:30 am when the Millat Train coming from Karachi derailed and fell into the adjacent track. Within minutes, a high-speed Sir Syed Express coming from Rawalpindi rammed into it. The collusion turned some six to eight bogies of both the trains into a complete wreck. Talking about the conditions of the tracks where the accident happened, the former Minister of Railway, Sheikh Rashid, and his counterpart on the post today, Azam Swati, used the words “a shamble” and “really dangerous,” respectively. Why did both the ministers not take a position against sending trains on these tracks to prevent accidents? What explains their negligence? Sadly, nothing except sheer apathy.
The process of Pakistan Railway’s (PR) destruction coincided with the development of the National Logistic Cell in 1978. It began with an innocuous request to the army under the aid of civil authority to decongest the Karachi port. The work was done. The experience gained from this activity led to the creation of the NLC that subsequently took over a substantial business from PR.
Good governance is not about having an honest person at the helm of affairs. It is about having a transparent, accountable, and judicious structure that reaches out to its people through a system of governance at the grassroots level. Here, the local government elections are delayed for the only trepidation that those at the top of the power hierarchy would lose control or somebody at the lower rung might outshine the upper lot with their performances.
It is a tug of war that has ruined almost every department and institution.
The process of Pakistan Railway’s (PR) destruction coincided with the development of the National Logistic Cell in 1978. It began with an innocuous request to the army under the aid of civil authority to decongest the Karachi port. The work was done. The experience gained from this activity led to the creation of the NLC that subsequently took over a substantial business from PR. The most significant loss that PR suffered was losing its biggest customer, i.e., the army. That was also when Pakistan entered into a war period lasting, with a hiatus of a few years, almost 40 years. It was a propitious time for the NLC to flourish, as the army was heavily invested in both the wars in Afghanistan and not to forget the indigenous war against militancy. Significant investment in establishing transportation networks saw a diversion from PR to the construction and maintenance of roads.
Almost 96 per cent of inland freight has been carried by road in which, as far back as 2014, the share of NLC was three times higher. That does not however mean that road transportation provided an efficient alternative to PR. The vision 2025 report highlighted the loss incurred from the inefficient road system amounting to four to six per cent of the GDP. So why, despite losses, did road transportation, and not railway, see heavy public sector investment? According to the audit report made at the request of the Supreme Court, PR incurred Rs147 billion loss in five years till FY 2017. In 2020 alone, PR incurred a loss to the tune of 50.1 billion.
The question remains: When will Pakistanis have a government that provides safe living to its people without haranguing at the inefficiencies of the previous setups?
– Durdana Najam is an oped writer based in Lahore. She writes on security and policy issues.