Quetta Master Plan: A Remedy for Poor Souls or a Rhapsody for More Votes?

In Balochistan, each new initiative has a defined path and life cycle as if following some law – the law of fresh starts. This life cycle is, over and again, haunted by the same ghosts: an alarming situation triggering loud and generous claims of the government, the shuffling of files and the forming of committees, the cutting of ribbons and digging of ditches and finally the brushing off of the initiative down the same ditches with endless files and officials making a thick layer of dust topping. 

In case one is wondering why is it so: this is what happens when a province is run not from the policy houses but from the drawing rooms fuming with smoke. The same policymakers of drawing rooms once awakened, after the completion of their tenure or ouster through political infighting, quite ironically, call for a “new and fresh start” despite having led the previous initiatives themselves to a grinding halt successfully. 

Each of these policymakers through the course of history, has shown their liking for the beginning of things – the turbo-charged atmosphere filled with hope – and utmost hate to the chalking out of initiatives to the end: it requires courage, hard work and perseverance, qualities found very rare. It’s this reason why Balochistan, since its inception, has been subjected to these “fresh starts” a dozen times, each one staler than the last. 

Yet, despite what the history tells us the same slogans still echo the drawing rooms: the latest addition to the leaderboard, warmed over for the second time is the Quetta Master Plan. And while the first attempt at the Quetta Master Plan in 1986, thanks to the bureaucratic red tapping, couldn’t get to see the light of day, let’s hope the recent one, under the commission of Punjab Urban Unit, does. Let us contribute, in the meanwhile, in whatever positive way possible. The paper is one such endeavor. 

The overall process of Master planning is divided chiefly into two parts: Planning and Implementation. Planning is making choices among the open future options and then securing its implementation through the allocation of necessary resources. But what makes plan the Master Plan  is its implementation process: the soul of the master plan. A city, not master planned gets trapped in a laissez-faire development with serious long-term repercussions, Quetta is one glaring example. Also, master planning is not a one-time activity, merely drafting one is not enough, it’s a thoroughly hectic and continuous process. However, If the government of Balochistan treats it as a one-time activity, then stay assured this project will go down the chronicles as one of the biggest wastes of financial and human resources ever in the province’s history.

On planning – Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), an Asia-Pacific Network of professionals working on housing and urban issues related to poor communities decided in 2003 to carry out research on eight Asian cities. The cities chosen were as different from each other as possible in political, social and physical terms. Through an analysis of the successes and failures of these cities in managing growth, four planning principles were identified applying which cities were seen to be less conflict-prone, economically sustainable, and livable for the majority of their population. These principles were: one, planning must respect the ecology of the area where the city is located, failure to do so leaves it more vulnerable to natural disasters, the recent devastating floods in Quetta gave us a vivid picture. Two, land use has to be determined on the basis of social and environmental considerations, not on land value alone. Pushing the poorer segments of the population out of the city creates nothing but disparity, fragmentation and economic loss. 

Third, development must tend to the needs of the majority – the lower-income and lower-middle-income groups. These groups live in informal settlements, far away from their places of work. Cities like San Paulo, Rio, Mexico City, and Johannesburg have beautiful planned elite areas but they also have high crime rates and social conflict due to which the rich ghettoize themselves thus increasing disparity and exclusion. Quetta, with the construction of elite private housing schemes like Defense Housing Authority (DHA) Quetta and Kasi Bahria Town is well on its way to giving a tough competition to the aforementioned cities.

And four, it is essential to protect the city’s cultural heritage, both material and immaterial. By doing this, social and political continuity is established, and the citizens of the city are given a sense of identity and pride in their city’s past. Also, it aids in bridging socioeconomic and ethnic divides, which are crucial given Quetta’s multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nature.

After the planning phase, special attention has to be given to its implementation tools – protecting the plan on the legal front, zoning, land sub-division and building regulations, capital improvement and urban renewal program, the tax policy, purchase of land for public purposes, institutional re-organization and the incentives for the private sector. But what do the framers of the Quetta Master Plan predominantly need is an autopsy of the previous master plans in Pakistan – the Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi Master plans – and learn from their failures following the maxim of Bruno Bernardi; a counsel of Lorenzo de Medici; “if I were to choose a book, I would pick the 101 strategies to lose a chess match rather than the 101 strategies to win one for its better to learn from the failures of others rather than reading people flattering themselves.”

As per the autopsy: first, it should not be another engineering experiment forcing beautification projects and infrastructure development but rather a participatory solution aimed at involving the citizens and getting the voices of the commons heard so that the citizens own the plan as their own. Second, the committee should not be saturated with bureaucrats, it must include local technical experts well versed in ground reality and who can implement and see the master plan all the way through to the end. 

Third, ensuring the timely conduct and implementation of surveys and planning, else the authorities would be making plans using a decade or more old settlement maps– would have to hire a platoon of lawyers to fight those cases in court then. Fourth, the establishment of only one and fully authorized executing committee – Master plans cannot be executed while there is bureaucratic infighting over jurisdictions – supported with sufficient human and financial resources – nobody likes uneven and unplanned commercial ribbons stretched across the city, the almost normal traffic jams in Quetta is one conspicuous consequence. Fifth, the development of an institutionalized coordination mechanism linking the decision-making process of budget, infrastructure and development with land management. This will ensure transparency as well as accountability. 

Finally, the political will, the factor which surpasses all the aforementioned ones in importance. Is Balochistan government going for the Quetta master plan as a temporary icebreaker for it makes a lot of noise, a name that sits and tastes well on the tongue and lends the governing party some votes or they are genuinely concerned for the poor souls of Quetta coughing to disease like asthma and skin allergies and living in constant fear of an earthquake sweeping and tearing their homes down to rubbles? Only only time will tell.

[Image by Beluchistan, via Wikimedia Commons]

 The writer is working as an Assistant Research Fellow at Balochistan Think Tank Network (BTTN), Quetta. He tweets at @Durrannai.

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