Ali Ashraf Khan
A new joke has been released by our Prime Minister in his ongoing hour of trial and tribulation. Nawaz Sharif has announced the establishment of an international airport in Bannu, alongside other development projects in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. With a traditional local turban on his head, he announced “We will build an international airport in Bannu.” This is the story of our ‘Naya Pakistan’ the Prime Minister proclaimed.
Why we term it a joke with the people of KPK is that we still remember the last time when it was Nawaz Sharif’s mentor President Ziaul Haq who also had come to address a public gathering where he performed the ground breaking of Chashma Right Bank Canal project promising socio-economic revolution for the people of this area but in fact it was to benefit the holders of barren lands by privileged people of this area, where surprisingly a ceremony of birthday cake cutting was arranged. President Ziaul Haq was performing cake cutting on the occasion of two real brothers Gen. Fazal-e-Haq, then Governor NWFP, and Gen. Fazal-e-Raziq, then Chairman WAPDA. And we just have to look at the people of KPK today in order to see what the result of all the promises was.
The other problem is that there is no airport worth the name in the capital of Pakistan but instead of finalizing the one that is under construction for the last two decades our wise head of government decided that this was not a problem, we need an airport in Bannu much more urgently. Who will fly to and from Bannu apart from the Pashtun workers that are coming-going from the Middle East? The number of those will anyway reduce might be because of the new and post-oil policy of Saudi Arabia and others. The Pashtun politicians anyway live in Islamabad which is only three hours drive away and won’t use the Bannu airport. And who will take care of the security of this airport that would be situated in the tribal area?
Even if the security situation is improved, Bannu has been in the past, a target of Taliban attacks in 2007, 2008 and 2012. We remember the attack on Peshwar airport a couple of years ago. Has our rulers cared to take the nation in confidence over the famous jail breaking in Bannu in 2011, when around 400 dangerous prisoners escaped and the jail authorities or Provincial administration was not given exemplary punishment to stop such like incidents in future. The US proxy war in Afghanistan has destroyed the socio-economic infrastructure of Pakistan. No ruler in Pakistan has shown strength to talk to the foreign perpetrators of this war and peace game that has damaged the national fabric of our country, unless our rulers take bold step on this issue of peace, security, progress and prosperity will remain a dream.
There is no doubt that Bannu as a city, and as a district, needs attention of the Provincial government of KPK. What the Federal government of Nawaz Sharif can do is give them guidance and financial assistance to develop the basic infrastructure to remove these deficiencies. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said “When I come to Bannu, I see old roads, old buildings, old schools, old hospitals.” That is surely right. But then, build a new hospital or road or even better – give Bannu access to the western route of CPEC! But an airport is ridiculous and just another example of wrong priorities of this government in fooling the people.
There is a dire need to improve the living conditions of the people, provide them clean drinking water at the village and every Kaly, rid the people of Bannu of the energy crisis who are facing upto 20 hours daily load-shedding, basic health facilities are missing, cottage industry has not been developed through an organised government sector’s participation – and in the first case of the poor people of this country. Those who can afford to fly can fly from Peshawar or Islamabad. Do something to check rising food prices, provide free clean drinking water to the people who cannot afford to buy bottled water. Improve the situation of agriculture, of the landless and small peasants, of the bonded labour. Or finally solve the problem of how to integrate the tribal areas and the millions of people living there and who are displaced right now.
Reorganise the administration of Fata (and Bannu is part of it) by giving the power to the local tribal people instead of political agents. For years and years successive governments have been dilly-dallying on the FATA problem, now finally act! Make FATA a Province and give them a development package. Give FATA access to CPEC on priority basis if the PML (N) government is at all truly committed to the betterment of the downtrodden living in miseries since long, for no fault of their own. Create jobs for the people so they don’t have to go to Daesh for money.
There are a thousand ways to help FATA and Bannu but an airport is surely not among those. One thing was noticed by thinking minds that the Chief Minister, KPK was not present on this occasion, who is the elected Chief Executive of KPK. That fact is showing the real purpose of the Prime Minister’s visit to Bannu and the high promises: he is on an election tour trying to outdo the sitting government of PTI in KPK. This is another unfortunate feature of our politicians. They are unable to cooperate and to keep the greater good of Pakistan in mind and put it above their petty party politics. Each party that won an election will first discontinue all development projects that the previous ruling party had initiated because if finished the glory would fall on the rival party. How much money and effort is wasted this way!
Nawaz Sharif did not need the Chief Minister KPK in Bannu because the whole thing was a propaganda performance to distract public attention from opposition pressure to initiate investigations to dig out trail of funding off-shore companies exposed in Panama papers, with the view to muster public support for the mid-term elections in case he is forced to take such a step. Most of the things that are needed can be achieved only when Federal and Provincial governments work together for the best interest of people. But that has never been in the mind of our politicians particularly when they are in power. Instead of wasting national time on domestic warfare with the opposition and for all his shiny projects, the government should concentrate on reducing the borrowing from the IMF which will lead to more indebtedness and the financial collapse of Pakistan. God bless Pakistan & humanity.
— The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.