It is said that the health of a country is reflected, amongst other things, in the quality of its roads. If that be so, then my part of the world needs a physician and quickly. The story of our roads (barring the Lahore –Islamabad and Islamabad – Peshawar Motorway) is woven around self-serving development, corruption, incompetency, bureaucratic bungling and engineering bloopers.

The ‘Children of the Lesser God’ living in suburban communities around Islamabad have found that the only way their roads can be made travel worthy is for a ‘government or government friendly’ bigwig to take up residence in their neighborhood. An example of this is a busy road that serves around 80,000 homes from end to end and takes one to a picturesque dam nestling in the hills. One morning, residents were pleasantly surprised to notice that the road was not only being resurfaced, but was being adorned with ‘cat eyes’. Elation was short lived as the spanking new strip of asphalt continued for a short distance and then abruptly changed its course to end at the residence of a big political name. 

The process of building a new road is a comedy of errors worth filming and then watching - to perk up a dull evening. First it takes almost a year to survey the route, then another couple of years to work out remuneration and payment to effected owners. Give or take another two to three years to fight stay orders obtained by these ‘effectees’ in spite of having received money as compensation. Wait another six months for mobilization of men, material and machinery. It may then take anything between six months to a year for the road to be completed, when the department responsible for electrification arrives on the scene and excavates trenches across the spanking new surface. No sooner have the cuts been filled up, when another team tears up the road again for laying telephone cables. This ‘you build and I dig’ game goes on without creating a realization amongst authorities that these activities could have been coordinated before construction of the actual road had commenced – saving both time and money.

There are also some roads that have become personal properties of powerful people. Take for example the road that passes in front of the palatial estate of our highest executive in Lahore. Unwary motorists are liable to get very flustered, when they find their way blocked by a barrier manned by armed police that tells you in no uncertain terms to divert your vehicle and continue on what is actually the incoming lane. A friend who lives on his farm close to this road block claims that this affords him and his family the wonderful opportunity to see the road from a different perspective.

Another friend, who considers himself to be an expert on ‘national health’ insists that not only the roads, but the number of vehicles on them is an indicator of a country’s state of wellbeing. I am inclined to view this notion rather cautiously as Pakistani traffic trends are liable to mislead researchers. People living in prosperous cities around the world commute to work using mass transit systems or work out a car pool arrangement - but not so in Pakistan. Here a car raises one’s self esteem and (abetted by a liberal car financing scheme) the surge of four wheelers on our roads is enough to score out this unit as a reliable indicator of prosperity.

So, here I am, standing at the head of a zebra crossing on a busy Islamabad Road, waiting for cars to give me right of way and looking down at the missing, broken, out of alignment kerbstones stained filthy with betel juice. Almost spontaneously a prayer escapes my lips, “Oh God (Almighty), send us a ‘good doctor’ or bless us with a miracle - Amen”.

The writer is a freelance columnist.