The other tragedy is an illusion in the form of an announcement that China is ready to finance a multi-billion-dollar railway line project on the CPEC route. We have to welcome that proposition. However, we, as Pakistanis, always have the right to question our priorities.
For example, if the CPEC railway line is to be laid over the next 10 years the question that needs a plausible answer is whether the completion of this railway project will help us increase our exports to $ 100 billion per annum. This leads to the fundamental question about the priorities of economic planning in Pakistan.
Is it strategic being CPEC railways or economic being investment in the available railway system? The following will be this writer’s answer: taking this politically strategic decision will be nothing but a suicidal risk. Unfortunately, however, the country has been taking such risks since 1947.
Previously, those were different times. It is now or never if we want to achieve anything meaningful. We have to invest in railways if we want to survive. Why don’t we hear about it from the quarter concerned? It is because we are fully aware of the fact that we cannot correct the system or bring about any change in it through the government in Islamabad and the setup at Railways Headquarters in Lahore.
It is important to note that the Railways as an entity has huge tracts of land across Pakistan. They are being gradually grabbed by unscrupulous builders and political heavyweights. The Railways workshop at Mughalpura in Lahore, which was the largest in undivided India, is now nothing but an easy target for iron scrap theft.
There can be sufficient funds to finance the entire new system if a portion of the Railways’ land is sold out on a commercial basis locally and abroad. However, it is increasingly clear that lack of political will and fear of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) would constitute impediments to the execution of such and similar plans.
It is a grim reality that the petroleum and transport lobbies do not want real competition from one of the state-owned enterprises (SoEs), the Railways. A comparison between Pakistan’s and India’s railways can open the eyes of our policy-makers to the truth. In India, for example, over 74 percent of railways revenue comes from its freight operations.
Freight operations constitute the backbone of India’s railways; transportation of goods also supports passenger operations in the neighboring country.
Ironically, no government has shown no appetite for long-term correction in the system. Every government wants the outcomes of its economic policies by the next budget.
It is important to note that every Prime Minister ends up in a NAB lockup soon after he is out of power. That is why perhaps no prime minister takes the risk of selling the railway land on a commercial basis. All this leads to an Urdu saying or idiom: ‘Na naumun tel hoga na Radha nachegi’, which means there will not be enough for any work and when there is no work, the work will not be complete.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023