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ILL-INFORMED they both may be on the subject, Shahbaz Sharif and Qamar Zaman Kaira have nevertheless pleasantly surprised many people by taking an interest in a mass transit plan for Karachi. The PPP leader’s criticism of the statement by Punjab’s former chief minister, now poised for another term, was political in nature. Reacting to Mr Sharif’s declaration that launching a metro bus service for Karachi was one of the PML-N government’s top priorities, Mr Kaira said a Lahore-style MBS for Karachi would need a subsidy of more than Rs1billion per month. If the MBS would prove a white elephant for Karachi, Mr Kaira didn’t tell us what alternative he had in mind. Mr Sharif, too, it seemed had heard little about the plans for the revival of the Japanese-funded Karachi Circular Railway, and did not appear familiar with the story of Karachi’s mass transit scheme.

First proposed in the 1970s by the PPP government, the Karachi mass transit scheme involved a 9km underground ‘spine’ from Liaquatabad to Tower. The military government scrapped the scheme in 1977. It was retrieved by the Junejo government, and the project accommodated the requirements of a Karachi that had fast expanded physically and demographically. But the scheme never saw the light of day. In the 1980s, an Indus Mass Transit Company, with technology and funds coming from many countries, was set up. But the scheme remained a pipe dream. Now we have been hearing about the KCR’s revival, and it seems — assuming there will be no bureaucratic sabotage — Karachi may after all see the completion in 2017 of its first phase, providing service to 700,000 commuters daily. Quite understandably, the PML-N leadership is keen to create political space for itself in urban Sindh. But, in his haste, we hope Punjab’s would-be chief minister will do nothing that will delay or scuttle the Japanese plans for the KCR. Surely we do not want to see the KCR revival abandoned without the MBS scheme materialising.