Seemingly no road leads to peace in Afghanistan no matter how often the road to reconciliation is redesigned, redrafted and rebooted. There is an entire generation that has grown up and reached maturity that has never known the country to be completely at peace. The Taliban, a creature of multiple parentings and with children of their own, have never been sufficiently unified to present a cohesive and coherent set of proposals for peace that were anything other than a reiteration of their own terms, irrespective of all other positions. In that at least, they are constant. The national government in concert with external players had cobbled together yet another hybrid beast, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) made up of Afghanistan, China, America and Pakistan in another attempt to bring peace on to the agenda and it is foundering even before the ship sets sail. The Afghan government has now called for the Taliban to be declared “irreconcilable” because they have refused to engage in talks and have pushed ahead with their spring offensive.
There are those in the Afghan government that openly doubt the relevance of the QCG, and the meeting scheduled to be held in Islamabad on May 18 is likely of doubtful utility. The reality on the ground in Afghanistan is that the Taliban, fragmented as they are, control vast swathes of the country and enjoy considerable support from the populace peddling as they are the same formula as when they were in power — a stripped-down neo-brutalist regime that dispenses rough justice and has zero time for democratic processes — or peace talks. Why talk peace and compromise when you are winning? President Ashraf Ghani has the thankless task of trying to sell the QCG to the rest of the world as a credible vehicle which will action the ‘road map’ born in February 2016, but without the Taliban aboard. President Ghani probably has little option but to stand and fight. Once again, Afghan will be pitted against Afghan and the generations-deep wounds reopened to bleed anew. Whatever influence Pakistan may have historically had over the Taliban is largely dissipated and the cycle looks set to continue — spin, rinse, repeat.
Any attempt to solve Karachi’s mass and rapid transit problems seem doomed, with the Lyari Expressway being just one of the mega projects to fail to be completed – and all for the sake of 1.6km of encroachments. It is now 14 years since the project was started, a 16.5-km stretch of multi-lane road that would connect Sohrab Goth to Mauripur, but completion is being prevented by encroachments along a short stretch that the Sindh government seems unable to remove. It is not as if the encroachments sprang up overnight, they have been there for many years. In February, the prime minister made a rare visit to the city and inaugurated the Green Line Bus Rapid Transit at the same time as making a promise that the remaining work on the Lyari Expressway would begin within 15 days. He should have saved his breath because nothing has happened since.
Nothing has happened either with the committee constituted to remove the encroachments in September 2015. To the astonishment of some, a part of the road is to be elevated in order to bridge the encroachments rather than clear them. The National Highway Authority, which has the responsibility for construction, says that the Sindh government has not moved to clear the settlements or relocate the encroachers, presumably because it has little interest and if the road can be made to go over the encroachers, then why bother to relocate and resettle — presumably at some expense to the Sindh government itself. The southbound section of the Expressway has been operational since 2010 and the encroachments have increased in size even as the project was under construction. This is inept governance at best, crass stupidity at worst. Incompetence has once again hindered development on a key project in Karachi, which is the country’s economic heartbeat. That a group of encroachers should be allowed to call the tune in this way is beyond ridiculous. A project like the Lyari Expressway cannot be allowed to flounder in this manner.
Pakistan won the Asian Team Squash Championship for the record 15th time as the pair of Farhans — Zaman and Mahboob — tamed the team from Hong Kong to annex the title in Taiwan on May 15. Pakistan has succeeded in retaining its clout at the Asian level in the team event despite the harrowing slump in the last two decades at the international level. This victory, while encouraging, does not hide the fact that the world dominance that was once taken for granted is no more there. Zaman, Mahboob, Tayyab Aslam and Shahjahan Khan are the players the Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) has pinned its hopes on but the quartet have a long way to go before they can be termed worthy substitutes for the legends of yesteryear. Most national players have struggled for opportunities to ply their trade in leading international competitions due to lack of funds and poor rankings. In addition, the PSF has also struggled to host international events and leading international players are seldom seen displaying their talents here.
However, it now appears that concerted efforts are being made to arrest the decline in squash. Stalwarts like Jehangir and Jansher Khan are back in the fray and threw their weight behind the Legends vs Champions squash series held in Karachi last month, which even attracted a few international players. In addition, the PSF has planned at least three more events this year with the Pakistan Open the biggest draw of them all. Other than organising international events, it also needs to encourage young players towards the game by creating opportunities for them to display their talents. The brazen truth is that the Pakistani youth has lost touch with the past. Our squash legends, tragically, aren’t recognised by many in the younger generation and hence the sport has lost the popularity that it enjoyed in past decades, especially at the height of the Jehangir-Jansher rivalry. Besides the PSF, the Pakistan Sports Board also needs to play its role in reinstating squash as one of the country’s premier sports.
The debate on labour rights It is no secret that labour rights in Pakistan are …