Peshawar epitomizes the socio-political decline and degeneration of governance structures because of Pakistan’s involvement in two wars next door since December 1979. This turned the city into a favourite destination for the Western world of intelligence, as well as anti-communism religious zealots. Some 25 years later, on December 16, 2014, Peshawar endured a tragedy with an assault on the Army Public School, leaving nearly 150 children and adults dead. This was the cumulative consequence of the policies that the country and its institutions have pursued for long.
An air of gloom and doom hangs over Peshawar, which has degenerated into becoming a city with all the symptoms of dysfunction — signs which make a reversal terminally difficult. Deeply-entrenched cynicism, bureaucratic inertia, bloated egos of bureaucrats and politicians, the omnipresent nexus between the militant-mullah and organised crime, and the overarching shadows of a predominant military establishment — caught up in the consequences of its policies of the past — have all combined to turn the provincial capital with an overflowing population into a governance nightmare and a security challenge. They epitomize the governmental decline that Pakistan in general has gone through.
Greater Peshawar remains beset with the fallout of an ever-increasing population size — which has at least doubled because of the IDP influx — straining the political economy as well as burdening the social service infrastructure.
Peshawar represents the failure of multiple roadblocks that have become a painful nuisance to its residents. The presence of these roadblocks, manned by security personnel, defies common logic. Terrorists never cross these check-points. When they do come, they come heavily armed and mow down 150-odd children and adults. When they decide to kill over a hundred Christians at the All-Saints Church, they do so without detection. What is the point then of erecting security walls and putting up check posts on the busiest road of the city?
While the personalized security for some 27 VIPs cost the provincial exchequer some Rs280 million, most keep surrounding themselves with ever bigger cordons of security, while the poor suffer humiliation, long waits and often rude and offensive queries by security personnel. Long, suffocating queues on Khyber Road — a major artery — have become an ordeal for all and sundry.
The presence of approximately 226 Afghan imams in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa mosques symbolizes the leaking governance structure that has allowed aliens to infiltrate our religious institutions. Thousands of shops in major shopping centers (Hayatabad, Saddar, Gulbahar neighborhoods of Peshawar) and business areas are owned by Afghan traders, which reflects the poor administrative oversight.
Tens of thousands of NICs — even passports — in the possession of Afghan nationals, many of whom came as refugees and are now virtually part of society, also underscore how compromised NADRA is in this city.
In short, Peshawar continues to bleed and reel from consequences of willful neglect, bad governance and a poor security regime. The writing on the wall is clear: the rot began in Peshawar in the name of jihad and transformed into terrorism in and around its vicinity. The final offensive against it — the National Action Plan — is also rooted in Peshawar i.e., the attack on the army school. But the real battlefield for taking this bull by the horns will most probably be fought in Punjab.
The establishment owes Peshawar residents an apology for sowing the seeds of dysfunction here. Similarly, the civilian and military ruling elite owe an apology to the people of Punjab and elsewhere for having contributed to the outgrowth of religious extremism. In both cases, the objective was fallaciously strategic whereas it was a mere tactic that has thrown up society-threatening strategic challenges.
This article was first published in The Express Tribune. Click here to go to the original.