Garam Chashma Diary
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 Guwadar. The MOU involved construction of road, railways and aviation projects. Consequently China also stepped in to finance Guwadar 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 Burughul 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 Burughul 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 Burughul 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 Musharam 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.