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Politicizing Tajikistan road project a diservice to Chitral

Garam Chashma Diary

By Islamuddin

A flurry of activity has been observed in Chitral on the eve of NHA plan to start construction of road infrastructure in Chitral. Politicians are vying to out speak and outdo each other to take credit for the projects. Mercifully for them, public memory is too short. No one cares to remember that in 1989, on the eve of the collapse of Soviet Union, when the then Foreign Minister Asif Ahmed Ali visited Central Asian Republics, an MOU was signed to provide transit facility to these republics to use the warm water ports of Karachi and Gwadar.

The MOU involved construction of road, railways and aviation projects. Consequently China also stepped in to finance Gwadar port project followed by 46 billion dollar economic corridor project-C-Pak-involving road networks leading to these ports. In pursuance to these developments NHA was mandated to survey and construct the highway linking Tajikstan with Pakistan via Durrah pass which provided shortest route but the continued civil war in Afghanistan has delayed the project.

The Lowari Tunnel, which is part of the project, is nearing completion. The logical next step would be to start work on the road project inside Chitral up to Afghan border. Representatives of Asian Development Bank, one of the financiers of the project, visited Chitral a few years ago. They were briefed about the two options; the one involved construction of the road via Broghil pass near Wakhan Corridor and the other one involved the road via Durrah pass. Despite onetime high cost, the Durrah option proved to be economical in the long run for being the shortest route-half of the Broghil option. Unfortunately the project was politicized to trigger regional hatred. Financial considerations that weighed heavily with the donors were ignored for petty political goals. The Government failed to clarify the situation leading to needless controversy.

The truth of the matter is that Broghil  road involves construction of small patch to connect with Afghanistan on one side and Gilgit/KKH on the other. This will facilitate people to people contact and promote cross border tourism but cannot serve as transit road. Chitral-Garam Chashma road happens to be the only viable option.

That is why NHA has decided to start work on it. Initially it would go up to Gohik, which will regain its traditional status as a border trading hub. It has vast tract of free land to be developed as a trading centre. In view of the above it made no sense for the members of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly and NHA officials to visit Chitral to once again politicize the project. The alignments should be decided by engineers keeping in mind the cost and durability. These two aspects cannot be sacrificed to please or benefit few local influential people. The team could neither visit all the areas nor meet representative group of people. At the most it appears to have been geared to provide political mileage.

Local MNA, MPAs and Nazims would try to take credit for the project which is of global nature and has little to do with local dynamics. In fact it was only Z.A.Bhutto who wanted Lowari Tunnel for the people of Chitral and did start it before it was shut down by Zia ul Haq saying that it would only benefit mice- a view echoed later on by his protégé Nawaz Sharif.

Musharaf resumed the work in compliance with the MOU referred to above. Even then the simple folk of Chitral repaid the debt of gratitude to Musharraf in the elections of 2013 by electing his nominee to the National Assembly-the only seat in the 342 seat house. The two provincial seats were won by PPP, again by way of repayment of the debt of gratitude for the services of its founder towards Chitral and Lowari Tunnel. As for as Garam Chashma is concerned its Loawi Tunnel has yet to be built at Shasha, a narrow gorge that defeats existing engineering sense.

My friend Fardad Ali Shah believes that cable car mass transit is the only answer to Shasha and other disaster prone sites. Construction of tunnel from Andahti to Crinj is a viable option. Besides saving Shoghor from silting it offers the possibility of a hydel power station at Crinj as well as a road. It can turn out to be a cheaper option if compared with the maintenance cost of this tract in the long run.

At other points elevation of the road and realignments criss crossing the river may be the answer. Another option could be a dual carriage road. The present road at the sunset side can be maintained by C & W Department as a local road with slight adjustments elevating it to higher altitude to protect it from floods and avalanches. Another road on the sun side may be built by NHA as a transnational highway. By way of further strengthening security and strategic depth, a ring road linking all the valleys of Garam Chasma would be a good option. The proposed ring road should be built by branching out the present Garam Chashma road at Droshp Bridge.

This road would pass through Gajal village at higher altitude and go through Dokdur Izh, Narkuret, Ovirk, Munur, Thunik, Sanik and Zhitur sanik to join the main NHA road at Parabeg. This would be in addition to the present jeep able self-help local roads, which are not suitable for farm to market transportation of bulky items like potato which is the main cash crop of the area. The proposed truckable ring road would boost the economy of the area. The controversial Garam Chashma-Kandujal road should also be built after resolving disputes. If compensation at market rate is paid up front, people will have no objection. It is foolish to start work, demolish houses making people shelter less, cutting precious fruit trees and destroying crops without first paying compensation to the people at mutually agreed rate to built alternate houses before the harsh winter season. It is time that our leaders rose above petty political interests and join hands to support projects that are good for Chitral and make them durable. Mega projects should not be started for kick backs or parochial considerations.

Chitral cannot afford it. It is painful that despite lapse of so much time those affected by disasters have not been paid announced compensation, flood sites still need to be dredged  and protection wall are yet to be built not to mention the damaged road infrastructure. This is what we expect from our leaders. We are caught in the middle of the vicious consequences of climate change and global warming. Our future existence in Chitral is inextricably linked with our natural climate which is under threat by our own behavior. We need visionary leaders to steer us out of these turbulent times. We expect our leaders to carry out enabling legislation and implementation of existing climate laws including River Protection Act 2003, Environment Protection Ordinance 200 and land use regulations of 1975. Influential people should forego their individual benefits for the larger interests of Chitral.  

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  1. Nasir says

    Mr. Islamuddin demonstrated biased approach in this piece of write-up. He tilted towards his own valley instead of looking Chitral in broader prospective. Decision on the prospective site of the road must be made on technical basis keeping in view maximum benefit to the people of Chitral in prospective of economic benefits and employment creation. People of Chitral should be thankful to PM Nawaz Sharif for his interest in completion of the Lawari Tunnel project and releasing funds which was throughout stopped during Zardari era and funds of Lawari Tunnel diverted to Multan. Islamudin sb should also tell truth to the people instead of distorting the facts that it was Zardari and Gillani period when work on Lawari Tunnel halted for five years and SAMBO CO, shifted its machinery from the area. It goes to the credit of PML (N) federal govt and especially PM Nawz Sharif who re-started work on the project and directed NHA to complete the project as early as possible keeping in view plight of Chitrali people. Our MNA is also active and as compare to Salim Khan, Sardar Hussain and Fozia Bibi, MNA efforts are appreciable. These armies of MPAs are doing nothing except receipts of their salaries, if MNA is working for developmental projects in Chitral being in opposition bench, then his role should be appreciated. Although PML (N) have no stake in Chitral in terms of voters or representatives but still PM Nawaz Sharif is taking keen interest in early completion of developmental projects of Chitral which is appreciable.

  2. hanifmuhammad says

    Mr Islamuddin’s is trying to feed disinformation and deliberately misleading the people on the Chitral Garam Chashma road. We must give the devil his due. The idea of a road via Chitral to Tajikistan was definitely mooted by the Tajiks in the nineties. It also led to a survey across the border from the Dorah pass side. But it is well known that the Tajik gave up this idea when they realised that the route needed two tunnels, one each at Dorah and the other at Lowari and not one at Dorah alone as they had imagined. They had only thought until then that a tunnel at Dorah would be needed to connect Pakistan to Tajikistan. This is a story that was well known in diplomatic circles in Islamabad then. Mr Islamuddin’s fertile mind then makes General Musharaf’s decision to build a tunnel a continuation of this thought process. This is also not a fact. General Musharaf because of 9/11 found that the Pakistan financial position improved tremendously and it had the budget to build large infrastructure projects. He had a fondness for Chitral which played a part in swaying his decision to invest in it. Afterall it was in Chitral that he spent more nights than anywhere else in KP in Pakistan as President. Sometimes serendipity and luck decides these decision. Just as the decision to build the tunnel in the 70s by ZAB was taken after the coup in kabul by Daud and the talk of a kunar valley route for Chitralis by the NAP governor of the time Iskandar Khaleel, and the past history of Daud in creating border tensions in the fifties when he was the prime minister in Kabul. The last PPP government almost gave up on the tunnel and in its five years in power allocated a meagre amount for its building. Credit must go to Nawaz government for giving it a substantial funding again and for the pace of work. Similarly credit must also go to it for planning to build Chitral Garam Chasma road, Boomboret, Mastuj and Turkhow roads. These are all part of a desire to help Chitral by Nawaz Sharif. Credit must go to the MNA for pleading Chitral’s case. He has been vocal and his interpersonal skills at Islamabad and the assembly level are an asset for Chitral. Lets acknowledge the contribution of all good Chitralis for the district and not start making up stories to mislead people. Mr Islamuddin is advised to use his ability to write and think for positive purposes. Had he done so in his earlier life he would have won a place in Chitral for his intelligence and mind. But instead he has remained a bitter and negative person fast becoming a non entity in Chitral. Lets build these roads one at a time. One day we may even have a Chitral and Tajiskistan road and his wish fulfilled

  3. Ali Haider says

    “waax tan welti tachir” Islam Uddin sb is telling us story of the world which used to be totally different world. Tells us story of the time of disintegration of former USSR and emergence of they then new Central Asian Muslim Republics and their need to access to warm water in Pakistan. Islam ab ground realities used to be totally different in Afghanistan at that time. There were no Talibans, no influence of India and America and situation was favorable to Pakistan. But now situation is totally reversed. why don’t you mention the the security situation and distance of the future route that will pass through Afghanistan territory? the long distance of the route through Afghan and volatile and unpredictable security situation make the route thorough Durah pass risky and less feasible.
    Islam Sb you do not need to be worried about the additional cost of the Project due to long distance of of the route through Broghal Pass, as you does not need to pay a single penny, as this is the headache of the donor agency.

  4. Muhammad Amin Baloch says

    Thanks for sugar coated remarks for the MNA and self analysis

  5. Muhammad Amin Baloch says

    The construction of the proposed Pak-ajikistan transit route must be considered keeping in view the cost effectiveness geographical affinity of this mega project and not the backwardness of the Yarkhun vand Buroghul valley and vice versa.Strategically and economically Durah Pass presents the ideal position as it has also been a commercial hub beween CARs plus Afghanistan and Pakistan since time immemorial in contrast to Buroghal Pass.
    A few years back ,when baristor Masood Kawsar was the governor of KPK during the last PPP government,he expliciltly announced in Chitral that Pak-Tajikistan route will be constructed truough Dorah Pass,as its has been mentioned in many of MOUs signed between the presidents of Pakistan and Tajistan.This is apart of agreement concluded and feasible report formed before, as mentioned by Mr.Islamuddin sb.
    It would be a great shock if MNA is uncessarily trying to politicize the project only to please the people of upper Chitral.But it is a fact that such mega project will not get affected by his intrusion.He is having a feather in his cap of Nawaz Sharif announcements.He also went a mile ahead in Garamchashma where addressing the public in the open forum used a local NGO,where selcted people were invited .MNA is expected to perform his responsibility on the basis of equity and public interest.

    1. Ali Shah says

      You don’t worry about the cost, the govt would arrange money for the project. Saleem Khan misguided PPP government (2008-09) but now the PML-N govt is going ahead on the recommendations of NESPAK engineers who after survey of both the sites reported back that though Broghil was a bit lengthy it would be the most feasible, easy to build and safe route.
      Current situation has made it impossible to route any project through Afghanistan whether north or south bcoz of the Indian involvement in affairs of this country.
      The latest CPEC emergence has brighten future of Broghil route bcoz it would link China with Pakistan, and CA states in case of the closure of the KKH.
      People of Garam Chashma should ot be worried as the Tajikistan road would also branch off to their area as well as GB through the Shandur pass.
      And also pls do not politicize the project linking it in any way to MNA Iftikhar. It is not Kalkatak or Buzund road that can be changed on the sweet whims of a bezarar MNA.

  6. Imran says

    In any way Chitral can benefit from this proposed highway is, if it goes through Broghil pass. Not only most of the populace of Chitral will be covered but also, it ll be safest having huge tourism potential for the district, most easy to construct and closer to China via Gilgit Baltan. The author obviously is irked by the condition of GaramChasma road, which is located at three drive from the District Center. Just visit Broghil and Yarkhoon areas to understand the plight of people living over there. They take days to travel to the same destination but never complain. Rather than having a myopic view of having in mind one’s own village, the need of the hour is to at least have the whole of Chitral in your vision.

  7. Shamser Baig says

    What is narrated by Islamuddin Sb is fact that Chitral Tajikistan road via Durah Pass is the only feasible option in terms of cost, distance, maintenance etc. MNA Shahzada Iftikharuddin is requested not to make this project controversial, if there is any change made in the plan then it would be deemed that it is done by MNA Sb. People from all three valleys of Garumchashma i.e. Ozhor, Arkari and Lotkoh have noticed the role of MNA sb, he should remember that people of Garumchashma have remained loyal to father for decades by giving vote every time, if he wants to give reward to the people of Garumchashms by diverting the Chitral Tajikistan road via Broghul, then people will decide to whom they should cast vote in next election of 2018.
    His current visit to Broghole with other MNAs using helicopter of AKF and assuring the public gathering to rethink about the feasibility of the route, discloses that he is not loyal with the people of Garumchashma.I hope MNA sb will not do any mistake to make this project controversial. Broghole has a strategic importance, it would be better option to contract road through NHA from Mastuj to Broghole to give benefit the residents who are living upper Mastuj area.

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