Orange Line, or Lahore Metro Train , has recently been doing rounds on the news circuit. All for the wrong reasons though.

The $1.6 billion project which is being built under the banner of CPEC aims to bring state-of-the-art mass transit to Lahore. However, the 27.1 km track, of which 25.4 km will be elevated, follows a path that might put cultural heritage sites like Shalimar Gardens, Chauburji and GPO at risk. This has prompted social activists to launch a ‘Lahore Bachao’ movement which aims to protect the heritage of Lahore while maintaining their support for the on-going developmental projects.

Though the government assures the protection of these sites, the public remains unconvinced. Hence, the issue remains hot-on-plate as protests continue, along with the construction work on the metro train.

However, in the midst of the tug-of-war between the concerned citizens of Lahore and the government officials, the significance of Metro Train is getting under-played. And significance, not just in terms of the project being a modern day wonder but for what it stands: Pakistan’s rapid transition to a stable state in a time span of just two years.   

Without wandering too far, step back in time to 2012 when Pakistan was roiled with economic turmoil and political instability. With a GDP of $224.4 billion, overall 9% increase in inflation and a credit rating cut one step to Caa1 from B3 with a negative outlook (lowest assessment in a decade), Pakistan was facing grave challenges pertaining to energy crisis, and economic meltdown. But the most problematic of them all was Pakistan’s fall to rising militancy in the tribal regions that was slowly creeping into its urban cities, mainly Karachi. The byproduct of it was increased terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 3,007 civilians, just in 2012 alone.

Even after successful democratic elections that saw Nawaz Sharif being sworn in as Prime Minister in 2013, almost similar trends followed till the mid of 2014. Pakistan was fighting hard to stabilize its economy which was suffering in the aftermath of Imran Khan’s allegations of rigged elections that followed several long marches and month long sit-ins in the capital city of Islamabad.

However, Pakistan’s biggest problem still was the increase in terrorist attack that had, similar to 2012, claimed the lives of almost 3,001 civilians in 2013 alone. Finally, at the behest of Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb as well as Karachi Operation that aimed to eradicate militancy and terrorism from its very root.

Now after two years in to the operation, the Army has finally managed to uproot militancy to a large extent. The testament to its success is the 70% decrease in major terrorist attacks around the country.

Positive effects of the operation have already started showing on the economic front, according to a report published on The World Folio. Lauding Pakistan on its fight against terrorism and terming it as the ‘world’s next economic turn-around story’, the report referred to international rating agencies which praised Pakistan due to its progress on the security front which is slowly, but steadily grabbing the interest of investors abroad.

According to IMF, at the rate Pakistan is going, its GDP will grow by 4.7% next year – the fastest in the past eight years. Showing satisfaction with the way the Nawaz government stuck to the $6.6 billion bailout package, agreed to in 2013, Pakistan is set to receive a loan installment worth $502 million. 

Also, with China initiating the $46 billion project, the deal puts Pakistan in a position to fully utilize its strategic position in the region. Though security concerns have kept investors at bay in the past, with the prospect of CPEC becoming a reality, countries like Russia are taking notice of Pakistan. Just recently, Pakistan and Russia signed a $2 billion government-to-government deal to construct a pipeline to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Karachi to Lahore.

Moreover, Gwadar, the city at the heart of CPEC has the most to gain. Previously, the province remained largely underdeveloped due to security concerns. However, now due to its vital position as the ‘economic hub’, the government is driven towards the growth of the province, and is taking all necessary steps.

To ensure flawless security at the port city, the government has decided to deploy special security force of 10,000 to 25,000 trained men. Also, it will be made a weapon-free city, a decision that will not only benefit the engineers and experts working on different projects, but the locals as well.

These developments will make way for a multitude of economic opportunities, which will not only attract foreign investments but will also result in real estate becoming an increasingly valuable asset.

As per a report published on Zameen.com, “Real estate market in Gwadar is looking up at a glimmering future. As development on CPEC continues unabated, the city hopes to become one of the most sought after realty market in all of Asia. Land here could soon be selling by the square foot, rather than acres it currently is.”

These developments, which are just the tip of the iceberg, are very significant as they mark Pakistan’s flight from a troubled state to a stable country. They not only prove Pakistan’s potential as a country but also the government’s effort to work alongside the army, a rare occurrence, for a better and progressive Pakistan.

 

Similarly, Orange Line Metro Train is a very miniscule part of a very big picture. When viewed separately, it loses merit, in major part due to the controversy surrounding it. However, when panned out and viewed in reference to the circumstances that led to it, it is a testament to how far Pakistan has come.

However, the protesters present a valid argument about the need to safeguard cultural heritage sites as these are part of our glorious history. The sites need to be respected as – much like the Metro Train project – they embody our arduous journey from who we were to who we are now.

While planning the rapid modernization of Lahore, the officials need to systematically counter-balance it with careful planning that accentuates the cultural history of the city that thrives on street culture and local folklores.

Instead of just focusing on the macro level, the government needs to make plans on a micro level that translates the very essence of the city while paying close attention to the socio-economic repercussions. This way the people of Lahore will truly be able to enjoy the wonders of mass transit without any sense of loss. And the government won’t have to sacrifice its dream of a modern Pakistan; a win-win situation for everyone.