GILGIT: To travel to Gilgit has become an ordeal owing to the dilapidated condition of land routes connecting the region to the rest of the country. Natural calamities and neglect by concerned authorities have taken a toll on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) and Babusar Road, making the commute between Gilgit and Rawalpindi / Islamabad a tedious one.
“I frequently travel between Gilgit and Islamabad and I think the roads leading to Gilgit are in the worst condition ever,” said Malik Khawar of Gilgit, who works in Islamabad. He added that the patch of KKH starting from Islamabad and going up to Mansehra is relatively better but the rest of it reflects upon the government’s indifference towards its maintenance.
Furthermore, passengers complain that the average 12-hour journey between Gilgit and Islamabad easily stretches up to 20 hours, that too if the highway is not blocked by landslide. “In case of landslide, which is a common phenomenon, you have to wait for long hours, which makes for an unbearable journey,” said another passenger.
Meanwhile, landslides have wrecked a major portion of KKH from Mansehra District to Chilas District, which drivers find both uncomfortable and risky to travel on. On the other hand, construction work on KKH from Raikote area of Diamer to Gilgit is underway with more than 75 per cent of it yet to be paved.
When contacted, an official of the National Highway Authority, Abdullah Jan, said that paving of the highway is underway and that the current phase will be completed by the end of next year.
Similarly, recent incidents of sectarian violence on both the roads wherein passengers hauled of buses and persecuted, have made passengers wary of travelling on these roads. “Just the thought of travelling to Rawalpindi or Islamabad by road is no less than a nightmare,” said Waseem Iqbal, a resident of Gilgit who studies at a university in Lahore. He added that passenger buses are stopped multiple times along the highway to form a convoy in order to ensure security to passengers.
Meanwhile, the situation at Babusar Road, where construction work began over a decade back, is not much different. Continuous rains have wrecked an almost 50-kilometre unpaved patch of the road: the layer of soil covering stones underneath has been swept away by rains, exposing sharp stones and making the journey even more difficult.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2012.