On the road

Bahawalpur as a city was founded in 1748 by Nawab Muhammad Bahawal Khan Abbasi I. Bahawalpur state under the Abbassis was one of the largest states of British India, more than 451 kilometres long, and was ruled by Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi V, who decided to join Pakistan at the time of independence in 1947. [Image above is of Noor Mahal Palace,  a hidden gem of Bahawalpur, as not many may not be knowing about it. Its open to public and currently being used as state guest house and for holding state durbars as well as for meetings with foreign delegations].




by Chris Cork


It may have taken a decade but the possibility of a tarmac road running past my door has crept a little closer, and with it a sense of puzzlement. When we bought this house it stood in splendid isolation, surrounded by fields. You could see it from half a mile away. Today it is surrounded by other houses on three sides and the fourth side is a building site. The houses are not huge; this is a middle-income area, not a wealthy suburb. But they are certainly not slums and whoever determines where and when roads should be built has decided there are enough of them to warrant the making of a pukka road.

Roads are big but quiet news hereabouts. Bahawalpur does not make a fuss about anything very much. The word ‘quiet’ could have been coined to describe it. But there are roads all over the place. Big roads and little roads, dual-carriageways and even something resembling a motorway into and out of the north and west of the city. I used to dread the ride down to the village close to Feroza. Hours on rutted roads that were only called roads because you had to call them something – but now I can whiz along, sugar-cane trailers permitting, and be with the family who live desert-side in under two hours.

Going north, even the dreadful stretch between Jhang and the junction with the ‘proper’ motorway has acquired a surface in the last couple of years.

The motorways are underused, mainly because they are a place of relative law-and-order, adequately policed and reasonably well maintained, and like motorways everywhere are growing those retail clusters where you can buy everything you never wanted, indulge in fast food of varying degrees of edibility and toxicity and where, wonder of wonders, there are clean and regularly cleaned – toilets.

I have a tendency to mark the advance of civilisation by the state of public lavatories and ATM machines. The appearance of both allied to the national arterial system can only be good news. Clean toilets and the ability to take cash out of a hole in the wall are a sure sign that somebody, somewhere, must be doing something right and here we get back to the puzzlement.

Cynical curmudgeon that I am, to say nothing of being an irredeemable sceptic, I am ever alert to the possibility of bumping into our old friend ‘state failure’. As somebody recently remarked ‘failed states do not hold literary festivals’ – and they were right. They don’t spend billions on smart new roads either, nor have glitzy shopping malls springing up like weeds. And then I read a column in ‘The Economist’ – an erudite and much respected journal, that laid out with remarkable and penetrating clarity precisely why it was that Pakistan was not a failed state.

It’s all down to the parallel economy apparently. The ‘real’ economy is going to hell in a handcart and falling apart as we look at it. No doubt about it. Well documented and wept over in columns like this on a daily basis. Yet beneath the sea of tears and overwrought editorialising Pakistan is ticking along much better than it would have us all believe. I am beginning to wonder if it is all some sort of elaborate hoax, probably perpetrated by a hidden hand, and that all this staggering about at a state level is nothing but a bit of theatre designed to fool the rest of the world.

I’ll let you know when the road does finally make it past my front gate; it could be sooner than you think.


The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. He writes extensively on Pakistan’s domestic politics and society. Email: manticore73@gmail. com


Source, Title image

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