How Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro is perceived and justified


What hawks opine is antonymous of what apologists think about red-dyed buses that ply twin cities


Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro is up and running for nine months now, still people love to take a jibe at its utility while sipping chai or coffee at some cafe or a dhabba. I asked some gentlemen, from various strata, how they perceive and sense the presence of Metrobus in their midst.

“Now I can visit Islamabad in 100 rupees,” Muhammad Waseem from Kartar Pura, Rawalpindi looked happy. “I spend 40 rupees on tickets and 60 rupees while roaming around Islamabad, when Metro was not around, the cost of same trip was twice as much, and the fatigue was all-consuming.”

Metrobus, since the project was announced, has its crusaders and sceptics. The admirers defend it for utility, comfort and provision of hassle-free, air-conditioned transport to those who were left stranded at the mercy of transport mafia. The naysayers, as the noun tells, cite the cost of the whole project — Rs44.31 billion — as too plush and shamelessly intolerable to be borne out by a third-world country like Pakistan. The naysayers, ironically, have one thing in common; they have little or no personal experience of Metrobus. They rode it once or twice in order to gather material so that they can substantiate their pettifogging or satiate their nitpicking nerve.

“States are defined by their priorities, not by the projects undertaken”, Burhan Zia voiced his opinion aphoristically. “Projects like Metro, without doubt, do facilitate a handful of people to move around comfortably, but what about the masses that live in far-flung areas? What about the dwindling state of education? Is provision of up-to-date, modern health facilities not more important, more worthy, more required than Metrobus? ” Mr Burhan tabled many questions. One could sense that his deflecting queries and putting the utility of Metrobus in the dock was nothing but an attempt to sound wise and concerned.

Ahmed Murtaza, a businessman, riding the Metro with his family, said, “I think public transport is the sole solution to all the woes of traffic and we all must pitch in to make it a success.”

Ahmed is a believer. Same cannot be said about others. Specially those who idealise life, shunning the facts and figures it is made of, while deifying a particular brand of politics and idolising a specific politico.

Kashif and Khizer, both students of business at Bahria University, lament Metrobus. They believe the very existence of a hugely subsidised bus service in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, when millions of people in rural areas are in abject poverty, is akin to an unpardonable sin.

“We have illiterate, impoverished and hapless masses in millions, and billions of rupees are being spent to realise the pet projects of those in power”, Khizer voiced his dissent loudly, “I am telling you, these politicians have no sense whatsoever, they have no brains too and their hearts are stone cold, what we need is a messiah, a saviour and thank God we have one in the person of ‘Kaptaan”.

Precisely at this juncture, Khizer’s phone rang and he left us in a hurry. The car he rode off in was Honda’s sports hybrid CR-Z, a Rs3.5 million racy toy for a boy. One can clearly see the pain these boys feel for the downtrodden, poor masses whose life will surely change when ‘this’ will alter, ‘that’ will change, ‘this’ will vanish, and ‘that’ will go away.

Muhammad Ali, who works at Secretariat, commutes regularly to Islamabad from Pindi. “I have been in service for more than 30 years; I used to attend office on a bike but now I am too old to ride. Local transport in Islamabad and Pindi is nothing short of a nightmare. The vans and buses are few and far between. To travel in them is an act of extreme valour as they are in shambles and over-crowded,” he said.

Mr Khan, however, thinks that on a personal level he is the beneficiary but on a collective scale the amount spent on it could be better utilised for education projects, health sector and development of rural areas. “I would be selfish if I didn’t admit that Metrobus provided comfort to thousands and the cost is paid by millions who have no share or stake in it”.

We can, after observing these divergent views from different people hailing from various classes, say, with some degree of certainty, that the existence of Metro in twin cities is like the proverbial “bone of contention” and the debate about its pros and cons is incessant.

Muhammad Waseem is happy because he can see the capital twice in Rs200. Burhan Zia highlights that priorities have been sacrificed at the altar of projects. Mr Murtaza deems the bus service as something essential for a city and its environment. Khizer Hayat and his friend are mad at Metro. Ajmal Khan is acutely aware about the individual comfort and the price paid for it. All of them give sound reasons for their conviction and gladly quote their respective rationale.

There are as many jealously-safeguarded narratives as there are commuters. Every man, woman, even child has a take on Metrobus in both cities. These opinions and views are grounded, even tainted, largely in political affiliations, personal likes and dislikes, and daily experience and exposure of Metrobus. From Secretariat station to Saddar and back, everyone spins their own tale; some see it through the lens of party affiliations, others perceive Metro as a ‘mighty good thing’ that has eased their day to day life.

The knockers stick to their guns of incessant criticism and bazookas disparaging the very idea of Metro. The backers, on the contrary, cite their points silently and keep on riding the red giants to reach places, both of work and leisure. To conclude, Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro has given an all new meaning to a centuries old adage: to each his own.


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