A railway bridge collapsed, derailing the train that was passing near Gujranwala on July 2. The number of casualties recorded so far is at least 19, with the possibility of more bodies being found downstream of the accident. The train was carrying army personnel and the majority of the dead were members of the armed forces and their relatives. The cause of the bridge collapse is so far unknown. Another train had passed over the same bridge about 90 minutes earlier with nothing untoward noted. The bridge dates from the pre-Partition era — as does much of the railway infrastructure in Pakistan — and was alleged by some sources to be in a dilapidated condition. The possibility of sabotage cannot be ruled out either and there is to be a report within 72 hours as to the cause of this tragedy.
The Director General Public Relations of the Pakistan Railways, Abdul Rauf Tahir, said that all railway bridges were examined in January 2015. If true, that is a major undertaking. There are 13,841 bridges as part of the railway system, 55 per cent of which have reportedly reached the end of their useful life. There are 1,352 bridges that are 100-120 years old, the bridge that fell being one of them, and 1,245 that are 80-100 years old. Another 640 are 60-80 years old and there has been negligible building of new bridges since Partition.
It is worth noting that in 2007 it was decided to repair the 159 ‘most fragile’ bridges, a project that apparently has yet to come to fruition. Although sabotage cannot be ruled out, neither can the possibility of the bridge simply failing, and the fact that another train traversed it successfully, earlier in the day, could be entirely immaterial. Over half of all bridges in the railway system are beyond their designed lifespan. The quality of workmanship and materials used in the repair and maintenance of railway infrastructure has been criticised in the past. We regret the death of so many military personnel, and hope that a speedy and transparent inquiry will reveal the causes of the tragedy; anything less would do them a grave injustice.
Nearly a year after it first surfaced, the “35 punctures” story has been revealed to be — nothing. Why the PTI wasted the public’s time over a claim which cannot be substantiated in a court of law is rather difficult to fathom. Over the past year and throughout the party’s months-long dharna against the government, the PTI had accused former caretaker chief minister of Punjab Najam Sethi of playing a role in rigging the 2013 elections. The PTI had also promised multiple times that it would provide evidence to support these allegations, but after a year, in a television show recently, Imran Khan backtracked on this promise by stating that the “35 punctures” story was merely a political remark.
PTI MNA Arif Alvi has issued an apology regarding the use of this claim, and rightly so. Mr Alvi said “it’s time to apologise” for the allegations based on “rumours”. Issuing an apology is the ethical and mature thing to do. But other senior party members seem to have taken an opposite stance and have said the apology is in contrast to party policy. Senior member Jehangir Tareen said the party has, in fact, not backed from its stance. In all this, it still remains unclear what exactly the party stance is, with three different and conflicting statements issued from the party’s senior members. The use of political rhetoric in an irresponsible manner and making unsubstantiated allegations do not in any way behoove a party of national stature, which is regarded as a change agent and is set to play an important role in shaping the country’s future. It also hurts the other claims of rigging in the 2013 elections that the PTI has made, which might very well have some substance. This only goes to show the futility of making baseless allegations as they do nothing but hurt the credibility of those making them. One hopes the PTI learns a lesson from this episode and behaves in a more responsible manner in the future. It would do well to own Mr Alvi’s apology rather than distancing itself from it.
The Expanding Threat of IS
Over the course of the last year, the Islamic State (IS) has moved from being a ‘terrorist group’ to being a state entity albeit without defined borders or international recognition. But the fact is that it occupies and more importantly administers large areas of Syria and Iraq, and is active across the Levant and the Maghreb. It is wealthy, very well armed and attracts volunteers from across the globe. It is a week since a lone gunman, seemingly with ties to IS and probably trained by an IS cadre in Libya, killed 38 tourists in Sousse, Tunisia, and almost certainly killed — for the time being — that country’s tourism industry. On the same day as the Sousse massacre, a mosque in Kuwait wasbombed, this being claimed by IS, and there is little reason to doubt the claim. Now the IS is raiding into Egyptian territory, hitting five Egyptian checkpoints in the Sinai peninsula on July 1, killing 17 soldiers and injuring at least 30 others.
Egypt has responded by saying that it is “100 per cent” in control of the situation in northern Sinai and that 100 “terrorists” had been killed in the engagement. The IS went to social media and announced its attacks on Twitter. There is a depth of competency and diversity about IS operations that speak of a sophisticated organisational infrastructure that has both military and civilian components, and a mature and effective command structure. To mount an attack in strength on five Egyptian posts simultaneously would test the competencies of aprofessional army anywhere in the world. Anybody — or indeed any state — making the mistake of dismissing the IS as a rag-tag bunch of gun-toting zealots puts themselves and the peoples of those states at hazard. Egypt, riven politically and having virtually returned to its default position of military dictatorship, is a country vulnerable to the predations of the IS. It is strong militarily but internal schisms are ripe for exploitation. Our own leadership remains largely in denial of the IS threat, and it does so to the peril of all.
Express Tribune Editorials – 4th July 2015