Federal Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has blamed the National Logistics Cell for the plight of the Railways, claiming that “the Ministry of Defence owes us big time, because the National Logistic Cell is a defaulter.” He said this in an interview to the BBC broadcast on Sunday. Mr Bilour also credited President Zardari with saving Pakistan Railways from going bankrupt. If what he says is correct, then he stands self-accused of a strange timidity, because the problem with the NLC should have been taken up with him, as the NLC would need to make payments out of the defence budget, which is government money over which the President would have control. Indeed, if the question of dues was not solved at the departmental level, between the NLC and the Railways itself, it should have been solved at the ministerial levels. That is, of course, if Mr Bilour’s basic contention, that the NLC could be responsible for the reduction of the Railways’ share of total cargo from 68 percent to 28 percent. He did not take into consideration the need for speed in the transport of perishable cargoes, for which the Railways does not seem to have made sufficient arrangement.
Mr Bilour, it should be remembered, has virtually run Railways into the ground, not so much because of inattention but because his allegiances would be rewarded by seeing Railways eliminated as a source of competition for truckers benefitting by it. If the Railways was to shut down, people wishing to move goods would have to turn to Pathan truckers. The ANP is showing itself, through Mr Bilour, to be a parochial party, even though the Railways, by its very nature, joins up the very regions and different ethnicities of the country.
Railways does not need to have blame for its stuttering thrown on another department, nor, as Mr Bilour also did during his interview, on the locomotives acquired during the Musharraf era. It does need a lot of hard work, and a modicum of imagination, only possible under a minister not determined to run the department into the ground. Railways worldwide are profitable organizations, which provide cheap transport for both people and cargo. There is no reason why this experience cannot be replicated in Pakistan with the right policies and the right leadership.