‘The accident can surely not be blamed on bad luck’ By Nusrat Javed

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Shamelessly delinquent” is the mildest possible expression that I can afford using in a family newspaper for the shenanigans “our representatives” kept displaying, relentlessly, during the first sitting of another session of the National Assembly Monday evening.

The audacious scenes looked doubly unbearable, specifically on a day when most Pakistanis were finding it too hard to bear with the news of a massive train accident, at a point of the main railways line that ensures smooth flow of traffic from North to the South of Pakistan.

The accident, which saddened many of us Monday, can surely not be blamed on bad luck. For the past many months, the personnel, diligently monitoring a definite point at Ghotki of upper Sindh, have consistently been forewarning their high ups that railway track at the said point was no more able to take heavy load and needed urgent up gradation. These repeatedly written pleas are on record as well.

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No one cared, however and on Monday noon more than a score of coaches taking passengers from Sargodha to Karachi got unhinged. While they were still stranded on the track, another train collided with them.

Around 1350 passengers were traveling through the two trains. There indeed were some instant deaths, the actual number of which the government felt reluctant to reveal at the outset. The critically injured also felt completely abandoned. Residents around the accident spot spent hours to furnish voluntary SOS help.

Azam Swati, the minister of railways, is obsessed to act like a self-declared know-all. He also suffers arrogant pangs of self-righteousness. But he took long to reach the spot to supervise and expedite rescue efforts.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the youthful Chairman of Pakistan Peoples’ Party, came to the parliament after a very long gap. At the outset of Monday-sitting, he succeeded in grabbing the chair’s attention and after getting the floor passionately pleaded that suspending the agenda for the day, the National Assembly should rather be allowed to have a focused debate to find out the actual causes behind the huge tragedy of Monday.

Ahsan Iqbal, a veteran parliamentarian from Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), got the floor after him. Instead of spontaneously extending wholehearted support to PPP’s demand, he preferred to remind Qasim Suri, the Deputy Speaker, that requests for the floor were being consistently ignored by whosoever presides the National Assembly sittings these days. After expressing the accumulated grievance like a crying baby, he turned aggressive to stress that his party was the largest opposition party and it would no more take rude disregard, lightly.

His agitated tone and tenor clearly reflected that after behaving ‘friendly’ with each other for many months, both the major opposition parties in this National Assembly were now switched to a competitive mode. Now the question is: who will lead the show in parliament from the opposition parties, PML (N) or the PPP.

After supporting the demand for a focused discussion on the tragic accident, Ahsan Iqbal went on and on to recall that while in the opposition, Prime Minister Imran Khan ceaselessly referred to historic precedents, “set by the prefect democracies in Western countries.” Prime Ministers or at least the concerned ministers immediately resigned, if a huge scale tragedy occurred in government controlled departments. “Who would resign today,” he kept thundering.

Fawad Chaudhry, the information minister, visibly kept shaking his legs during an overstretched speech of Ahsan Iqbal. He was obviously exploding with counter points crowding his fertile mind. Finally, he got the mike and after initial assuaging went straight to teasingly recall that Pakistan Railways remained perfectly working for many years after inheriting the system from the Brits. But then Nawaz Sharif became the prime minister of Pakistan in early 1990s. He “deliberately ruined Railways.” The motive behind was obviously “personal.” The “Ittefaq Foundry,” the Lahore-based Steel Mills owned by the Sharif family, eventually grabbed most of the unused railways tracks that the Brits had left as the raw material.

The PML-N could not take such below the belt hits. Acting contemptuously deaf and blind to noisemaking from their benches, Fawad Chaudhry switched to hitting hard at the PPP as well. The previous governments of these two opposition parties were then projected as ruthlessly corrupt and incompetent. That provoked the PPP members to join the fierce heckling.

Not for once, the deputy speaker ever dared to remind Fawad Chaudhry that he was drifting to absolute irrelevance. And this forced a big crowd of the opposition members to gather around his desk for spirited slogan chanting. Everyone forgot the massive accident in Ghotki.

Only after realising that the information minister had forcefully succeeded in diverting attention from the most important issue of the day, Suri finally announced that since the minister of railways was not present in the house, the debate on the Monday incident should wait until his coming. Then he preferred moving to dealing with the day’s agenda.

It didn’t help prevention of further point scoring and vicious personal attacks. Various legislators of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) firmly ganged up for agitating about another incident, happening in Karachi the other day.

A big crowd of 8000 to 10000 protesters, representing around three ‘nationalist outfits’ of Sindh had entered a gated town, developed by the mega company of a real estate tycoon of huge influence. This group is often blamed for “land grabbing” in the name of acquiring lands for converting them into modern residential colonies.

Of late, the same group was being accused of “snatching lands” spread in villages around Karachi, historically inhabited by indigenous people. The alliance of the Sindhi nationalist felt enraged about it and associated all urbanization projects in Karachi with “grabbing lands”, originally owned by “Sindhis.”

Their ‘peaceful protest’ in Karachi on Sunday mysteriously turned violent, igniting many incidents of arson and looting. The whole incident surely deserves a deep and comprehensive probe. But MQM members of the national assembly preferred to strain their lungs to project the same incident like an “attempted invasion of Karachi.” The PPP-led government of Sindh was then portrayed like the collaborator of the “invading Lashkar.”

Drumming the said story, the MQM legislators conveniently forgot that since the days of General Zia, most ‘nationalist’ outfits had often been trying to prove themselves as the ‘real representatives’ of Sindh than Bhuttos-led Pakistan Peoples’ Party. The ultimate guru of these ‘nationalists,’ G.M. Syed, regularly received bouquets of flowers sent by the military dictator. And the MQM also tried hard to cultivate deeper relations with the same outfits during the same period.

Since the late 1980s, the MQM had been claiming sole ownership of the most populous town of Pakistan. Due to fast changing demographic realities, their claim is no more sustainable. If you go by the visible facts, Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) had rather emerged as the more powerful alternative to the MQM during the election of July 2018.

The PPP and the MQM are old rivals, no doubt, when it comes to controlling the political territory and games of Sindh. But incidents like the one happening in Karachi the other day must not be used to settle old historic scores.