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Sorry state of roads in Chitral

Shah Karez Khan

Naturally, the need to survive necessitated movement when the first human stepped on the soil of Chitral, which is geographically one of the most inhospitable areas on earth. It is unimaginable for the young generation to visualize the kind of hardships the old generations of Chitral must have gone through for their movement from one place to the other.

The rugged terrain has always posed challenge to the commuters. Imagine the life conditions when there were no footpaths. The original settlers must have struggled to create the paths, trails and pony tracks. Walking long distances on foot was the norm of their life. Only the resourceful could afford pony ride to travel distances. Prior to construction of jeep road people used to travel on foot to cross the formidable but treacherous Lowari Pass standing above 10,000 feet located between Dir and Chitral. These conditions claimed innumerable human lives in Lowari and elsewhere in Chitral.

Broken roads in Chitral Be it the three men party of Capt. Robert Knolly in December 19, 1905, the then Assistant Political Agent of Chitral, experiencing narrow escape from an avalanche, or only a day before this, 22 men including 11 ponies or 13 months earlier 35 men with 15 ponies buried under tonnes of avalanche debris, the story of miseries has been unending. It is aptly said that Chitral is by far not a district easily travelled.

This could be the story of old Chitral but what about the condition of traveling here in the 21st century? Not much different.

Thanks to the turn of the century, the decades awaited tunnel through Lowari was initially passed through in 2009. This was historic and a festive movement and the event was celebrated by holding a well participated seminar in Islamabad followed by Chitrali cultural show. Who knew then, that the miseries of travellers will continue unabated? The light expected at the end of the Tunnel is still dark after over a decade of the much trumpeted opening of gateway to Central Asia was announced to be through.

The northern approach road of Lowari Tunnel still is still in bad shape calling for immediate attention.

This story aside, there are still places in Chitral where people walk distances on foot to reach their destinations during the long winters or snow melting time in summer. One such area is Broghil where people walk or ride ponies or Yaks to reach their homes.

In such conditions one can easily imagine what kind of miseries they or their fellow Chitralis living in distant valleys endure when they fall sick. There are untold stories of mothers dying while struggling to reach any nearest health facility for deliveries. From such difficult places many a student have missed their exams and those aspiring for jobs missed much sought after interviews.

Bridal procession in Broghol

If it were not for the NGOs the entire areas of peripheral valleys still would be without jeep tracks.

Sorry state of roads in ChitralThe financial and technical support of NGOs starting from early 1980s brought some relief to the communities when they were able to construct jeep tracks, to link various villages with the main valleys such as Gohkir, Karimabad, Arkari, Morder, and several other isolated valleys. The NGOs as a rule do not provide support for maintenance of the roads. For their survival the people of the villages are forced to maintain these dirt and bumpy roads on self-help basis.

Self-help efforts

In 2015 the people of Garamchashma valley rehabilitated the flood inundated roads from Pachili to Shoghore and Murdaan and the people of Muzhgol cleared debris on Mulkhow road. Earlier the villagers from Zait, Kuragh and Charun made their way from across the mountain when the main valleyroad was cut off near Kuragh. Chitral-Buni road that was cut off by floods in front of Shogram village was rehabilitated by the people entirely on self-help basis. The people of Mastuj and other villages voluntarily cleared the debris from the road between Qudratabad and Mastuj.

والنٹیرز نے یارخون روڈ کی مرمت پھر شروع کردیThe people of Mastuj constructed the main road from Parwak to Mastuj Bridge which is being used for all public sector movements as well. By embarking on this gigantic self-help venture the people of Mastuj were genuinely expecting generous reciprocity and kindness from the government. Having no response they got disgruntled and finally gave up with a sense of deprivation. Self-help for how long?

Continuing such an indifferent gesture on the part of the government is detrimental to the cause of self-help. The spirit of social capital exists among the communities in Chitral only. It is highly advisable that the government capitalises on this much needed resource. If this resource is lost there will be chaos all around.

The government must develop trust on the capacity and honesty of the communities in Chitral. They perform miracles when trusted and acknowledged. It is advisable to utilize the Annual Maintenance and Repair (AM&R) funds through the organized communities instead of the traditional contract system, transparency of which is increasingly being questioned.

However it must be borne in mind that the communities can maintain the smaller link roads. For the large roads and highways the concerned department must take responsibility. Roads of Chitral could be categorized accordingly and budget allocations for maintenance made as per the dimension of each road including the valley roads. The funds of AM&R of small category roads should be entrusted to the concerned communities. In the current scenario all the roads need urgent improvement and repairs?

Chitral-Buni road is now in shambles for wanton dismantling of a genuine tarmac road. Several valley roads poorly designed and constructed have become known as killer roads.

Buni-Torkhow road has become dangerous at Istaru as the bridge has collapsed and the temporary bypass at the bridge site has become dangerous to human lives.

The main Chitral-Shandur road which is the life-line of Upper Chitral collapsed at Reshun. If this road is not safeguarded against the river currents, Upper Chitral will be cut off for all kinds of communication. It will be particularly difficult to transport essential supplies from down districts which will create catastrophic life conditions. Gruesome accidents occur on the main Chitral-Buni road due to the poor condition and absence of necessary safeguards at dangerous turns. An accident at Reshun claimed three lives two years hence.

What will be the life conditions in Yarkhun, Broghil, Khot, Rech, Terich and other parts of Mulkow and Torkhow valleys when the roads are disconnected is a story that can be narrated by the sufferers only?

Roads leading to Kalash valleys have become highly dangerous. In October 2020 an accident on Bumburet road claimed two lives followed by struggling sufferers in other valleys to reach their destinations.

Poor construction of Chitral town bypass road speaks for itself. The road from Balach to the University of Chitral that also includes other important institutions is in bad shape. The students are clamouring for their basic rights-a road to their University.

The nuisance created for the commuters for unnecessary long time during construction of the 2 km road is a history ridiculing the capacity of the department as well as the contractor.

Commuters suffer due to frequent road blockadesTravel on valley roads in Karimabad, Parsan and Arkari and other valleys in Upper Chitral such as Yarkhoon, Terich, Ovir, Gohkir, Kosht, Morder, etc. is a task claiming human lives at times. Vehicle with men, women and children was drowned in Yarkhoon River near Unawich last year. In these areas as elsewhere distance is still calculated by time taken and not by kilometres run due to the highly poor condition of roads.

If the government wants to improve the life conditions of the people of Chitral, they must urgently undertake the construction/rehabilitation and improvement of the dilapidated road network in Lower and Upper Chitral that includes 30 odd valleys on top priority basis. It is a genuine demand of almost all sections of the people of both the districts in the 21st century. The prevailing condition of roads has given birth to Chitral Development Movement (CDM), a Civil Society Organization with the slogan of ‘Roads Our Demand’. It must be noted that CDM is a non-political entity that thinks that the construction and improvement of the road network in Chitral is a key to the viable solution of the multifarious problems of Chitral. The CDM expects that the government and other concerned agencies will take priority action on the issue of roads and divert sufficient resources on yearly basis to construct new roads and improve the existing ones.

All of the existing valley roads are narrow, dirt and dangerous calling for urgent attention before more lives are lost to accidents.

A survey by Google of the roads all over Chitral including the valley network of roads and the main road from Lowari Tunnel and Arandu to Broghil on the one hand and to Gobor and Shandur on the other, gives a staggering total length of 1,056 kms. If you divide this number with the age of the country you come up with 14. In other words if they had bothered to construct and maintain 14 km road per annum this number would well have been achieved in 75 years. It is an admitted fact that well-built roads not only open opportunities for socio-economic well-being of the people but will give a boost to tourism industry ending up in national economic growth.

When we talk of roads we also include the numerous bridges that fall on the way. This reminds a bridge over Yarkhun River in front of Shuist village that used to be sarcastically called, ‘Pililianser’ meaning the bridge only ants could navigate their way through since it was highly dangerous to cross for humans. Thanks to NGOs who supported to replace it with a much better cantilever bridge.

Accepted that Chitral has multiple problems both in the environmental,social and economic fronts. The solution to social and economic problems unfolds itself by building safe roads. The sad fact is that on going road projects have been halted or cancelled which tantamounts to step motherly behaviour with an already deprived area such as Chitral. Starting the new journey in 1947 now we are stepping into year 2023 of the century of technology but still clamouring for safe roads, what a sorry state of affairs. Can we genuinely hope that the ugly scenes of frequent horrible accidents and loss of precious lives is stopped within the next decade of technological revolution?Garam chashma road not repaired for five years


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