Hearts and motorways
If ‘bringing hearts closer’ is the driving force behind the Lahore-Karachi motorway, then perhaps the Rs361b price tag is a tad steep, especially considering our deficit and the lengths the finance ministry has to go to to keep the hole plugged every year. And if the hearts part was merely meant for public consumption, and M-9’s main purpose is indeed crucial cross-province linkage, to facilitate commerce/finance, etc, perhaps the N-league’s understanding of modern development economics needs a little updating.
True, road linkages – farm to marketplace, for example – form an important intermediary in the productive process. But they function only when part of a well-defined chain. In and of themselves, you can stretch eight-laners from coast to coast, yet the only influence they will have on national income is a huge drain. Pakistan’s case is similar. The PM – or the finance minister, for that matter – should have explained just what the Lahore-Karachi track is meant to link. And how, for example, will spending Rs36b on the Karachi-Hyderabad stretch play out when you calculate the cost-benefit ratio?
This, the PM explained, was an integral part of his dream – building motorways across the country. Somehow this is supposed to catapult Pakistan into the league of developed nations. He also mentioned how the super highway would finally end lingering disputes between people of the two provinces. Perhaps he has not noticed how similar politico-social differences are overcome in the developed world. Surely the Scots were not unhappy with the Brits because there was no modern motorway linking them. And French-Canadians of Quebec must have had more on their list than roads connecting them with the mainland. Those issues were overcome through political give-and-take, of which rational economic discourse was an integral component. The N-league’s obsession with mega projects like motorways and metro busses runs the risk of further aggravating Pakistan’s economic situation. The country needs structural development before huge infrastructural projects can be taken up. These roads and highways do little for the millions who live in abject poverty, and millions more who are unable to leverage the job market. The government is advised to revisit its priority list and, perhaps, bring its dreams in line with the people’s.