By Maria Khan.
A few days back, I heard my uncle praising the ruling party for the brand new ‘Metro Bus Project’ that will be designed to go all the way from Peshawar Mor to the new Islamabad airport. For a moment I thought that it was legitimate for him to speak highly of the ruling party as he is a die-hard voter and supporter of ‘shair’, whose claws are stuck in the sands of Islands of Panama and the other reason being that he is a government employee, so he had no other choice but to sing the praises of actions taken by the government and persuade others to do the same.
As the discussion went on, I enquired him that what the estimated cost of the project is as the Rawalpindi Islamabad Metro Bus Project was such an exorbitant initiative that costed around 50 billion or more (yes, BILLION, you got it right!). According to a report, the Rawalpindi Islamabad Metro bus project is the most expensive road project built anywhere in the world. Someone has aptly labelled it as ‘the white elephant painted red’. Even the highly developed countries would have been left awe-stricken when they will get to know the cost of this project and for a moment they might think that damn! Pakistan is such an affluent country, why they are always longing for loans and aid, probably they love to build such road projects and that is one reason that every Pakistani owes 101,338 rupees as debt to the IMF, but the love for infrastructure is there in the heart of every Pakistani. What a generous and infrastructure-loving country!
I have this habit of dragging things around, my bad. So my uncle, while praising His Majesty told me that the new Metro bus project would cost around 18 billion rupees and would comprise of 14 bus stops along the route. Ha-ha! Literally 18 billion? I throttled my laughter and a series of critical questions when my Uncle gave me a sharp look that do not you dare say anything against His Highness the King of Islands of Panama!
But, I have the copyrights to speak my heart out. My founding father made this land for one basic reason that I may ‘freely’ practice whatever I want to plus Article 19 of my constitution also supports the notion that speak your heart out. It’s your basic right. So whatever steps His Majesty would take, I, as a citizen of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, have the right to question them, knowing the fact that no one will bother to answer as everyone is busy in making his own game strong. As the discussion went on, I reminisced American author Steven Pressfield’s quote regarding ‘Principle of Priority’ which states that you should know the difference between what is urgent and what is important and you must do what is ‘important’ first. Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro bus project has no doubt provided extreme comfort and facilities to the residents and working class of twin cities but at the same time a very valid question pops up in one’s mind regardless of the fact that one supports the ruling party or not and that is if this brand new Metro bus project a really ‘important’ thing to be executed at the moment?
In a country, where 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, which spends only 2% of its GDP on education and mere 2.6% of its GDP on health. A country where more than 25 million children are out of school, where 11,096 government schools do not have a proper building and students have no option but to sit on floors. A country where women are forced to deliver babies in the cold freezing corridors of hospitals or sometimes in their devastated gardens because there are not enough maternity hospitals and labour rooms. A country where the old people have no option left but to give up their lives on the hospital floors because of unavailability of beds. A country where unemployment rate is soaring so high that degree holders have to set up stalls of eatables to make both the ends meet, a country where helplessness, frustration and misery has forced parents to sell their kids in order to get something to eat, a country where the pet animals of His Majesty and the cabinet members are vaccinated and taken care of more than the humans that die of diseases and hunger outside the huge walls of their palaces. In such a country, neglecting basic needs and necessities of human beings and building these kind of extravagant projects is just a matter of priorities!
Obviously, infrastructure does matter in the development of countries but mere investment on infrastructure and no investment on humans living in the country is a big question mark on the priorities set by the government. Why such discrimination in the investment and distribution of resources? Probably because they cannot sell cement and steel to humans but to contractors of metro! Whatever the case maybe, the government must focus on what is ‘important’. It should focus on the education and health sector because reforms in such sectors is what humans living in the country badly need at the moment, Metro maybe urgent but not so important.
So, the main character of my discussion, my uncle, left the discussion as soon as I tried to point out the shortcomings in the neglected sectors by uttering the all-time favourite phrase of the supporters of ruling party that ‘Bus ye PTI awaam ko gumraah kr rahi hai, hakoomat ny bht kaam kiya hai, tumhain kia pata’! At that time I sincerely wished that it would have only been PTI and not the reality! But sadly, it is what it is. It’s just a matter of priorities!
Maria Khan is student of Media and Communication Studies and Lobbyist at Youth Forum for Kashmir. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org