WEB DESK: To connect Chitral with rest of the country by drilling a tunnel under the snow-bound Lowari Top has been a dream almost as old as Pakistan. It was first conceived in 1956 and work started on it in 1975 but it is not yet complete.
Going by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s commitment made to the people of Chitral at a public meeting last year it should have been fully functional by now. But it is not, and one more deadline has been given by him. He has promised that it would be opened to year-round public travel by June 2017, and also promised adequate funds.
In fact it is not only politics that had interrupted the construction of 8.75 km long tunnel, the promised funds too were held up. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto initiated the work on the tunnel General Ziaul Haq denied funds and construction was suspended. And when General Pervez Musharraf restarted the construction the next government starved the projects forcing suspension of work on the tunnel.
But the people of Chitral, to whose life and livelihood the Lowari Tunnel means so much, have remained thankful to anyone who offered to work on this project. If General Musharraf’s All-Pakistan Muslim League ever won a seat in the National Assembly it was from Chitral – that’s how the people of Chitral retuned his favour. The same MNA Shahzada Iftikharuddin was now in reception line to welcome arrival of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – because to residents of Chitral what matters is not what the national leaders say from public podium, but what they deliver on.
And if recurrent instances of suspension of work on the Lowari Tunnel were due to paucity of funds the engineering of the project too was responsible. Originally the Lowari Tunnel was supposed to be a rail link, but later on it was planned to be a road link which required huge additional digging on both sides of the groove.
The prime minister said the project would be completed by June next year at the cost of Rs 27 billion. Since 45 percent of work is yet to be done, possibly at the cost of Rs 16 billion, some independent sources are sceptic if such a huge amount would be made available.
No wonder then a local newspaper is apprehensive about meeting the deadline. It argues that with Rs 1 billion being made available annually it would take no less than 16 years more and that too if cost of construction remains unchanged. But that may not be the case, given that as compared to the Karakoram Highway, the Lowari Tunnel offers a shortcut to access Chitral and beyond Northern Areas and onto Central Asia its strategic importance may outbid its construction costs.
Regardless of negativity that characterises Lowari Tunnel completion deadlines the visit of the prime minister to Chitral does turn a page on the area’s politics. The dignitaries who received him included the two from the national political opposition – General Musharraf’s party MNA Shahzada Iftikhruddin and Jamaat-e-Islami District Nazim Maghfirt Shah.
The prime minister couldn’t help taking note of it and responded with equal warmth. “It doesn’t matter to which party these people belong to, I will be supportive to them for the development of Chitral”. And he had no ill will against anyone though some people (read General Pervez Musharraf) took votes in the name of Lowari Tunnel but did nothing to complete it. However, he did have a dig at Imran Khan who he said was “doing nothing but opposing the development process launched by the PML (N)”. Let it be so but he “will keep supporting the (PTI’s) provincial government and never take any notice of their hostile and provocative statements … because I believe it is people who will realise it and give their verdict through their ballot papers”.
That was in Chitral; what happens in Lahore on September 24 when Imran Khan leads a procession we would wait and watch.
Source: Business Recorder