It’s three in the afternoon and I am holed up with my laptop in my office at Khyber Medical College.
The mere thought of venturing out at peak hours sends a shiver down my spine. Who in the right mind can drive on the smoke filled, congested bumper-to-bumper traffic during the peak hours on Peshawar roads? Particularly the Khyber Road, which was once an idyllic tree lined Grand Trunk Road originally conceived and constructed by Sher Shah Suri.
Welcome to the modern world of noise and air pollution and never ending race for newer automobiles and SUVs competing in a mad rush with an assortment of rickety rickshaws, smoke belching buses, and four wheelers that could have been on the roads since the turn of 19th century!
In this light, it certainly not a pleasant experience for me, besides others, teaching in various professional institutions while commuting to work without wasting a good measure of precious time travelling from Hayatabad which is merely four kilometres in distance.
If this is modern luxury, I would be a happier person living in some remote countryside without so called development and not exposed to the daily grind of hazardous travelling taking a heavy toll on my mental and physical health.
WHO defines health as the state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. For the hapless people living in Peshawar, this definition of healthy lifestyle does not hold true.
The air and noise pollution statistics have tripled above the WHO permissible limits; unplanned urban development has defaced the renowned city of gardens and flowers, within last two decades.
The University of Peshawar is a sorry reflection of the bygone glory as well.
Designed on the ‘grid iron’ town planning pattern with Mughal, Greek, Indian influences, it was renowned for its clean and cool environment, shady boulevards and gardens.
The architecture itself lent it a graceful ambiance. The ongoing development and mushrooming of several universities within the UoP campus has cramped the open spaces and destroyed natural and built environment. UoP is no more an oasis of tranquility and bliss.
On February 14, things took a worse turn as the rival student organisations clashed on the celebration of Valentine’s Day by the Pakhtun Students Federation and Modesty Day by the Jamiat zealots.
Things got further flared up the next day, as students set on fire rooms of rival factions. Belatedly the UoP administration woke up from slumber and charge sheeted 17 students of opposing groups for arson and hooliganism.
As a consequence, all roads, with the exception of Road No 2 leading to the UoP with as many as 50 institutions and universities have been permanently sealed. The students, faculty members, employees of these institutions thus suffer the daily humiliation of ending up on long queues not only during the peak hours but even normal times.
Thus visiting the UoP for academic or other purposes is no less than a torture.
While the gates at Islamia College should have been open for outgoing and incoming vehicles with university identification cards or stickers, blockading the entire campus from all directions is nothing less than turning it into a suffocating garrison and not the bygone academic institution of learning.
The exponential growth of institutions and lack of dependable public transport has compounded the existing blockade as lines upon lines of slow moving vehicles move to and from Road No 2 contributing to the stress and anger of commuters.
When I asked the lone policeman guarding the coffee shop gate at Islamia College, he complained of over work and stress.
According to him he was on duty since 12 pm last night and shall continue till 12 noon. Where are your fellow policemen i asked? They have been summoned for “other tasks” as UoP is “under staffed” without adequate police force to guard all posts 24 hours. Given the level of security threat this is the most glaring example of unprofessionalism at UoP.
Instead of closing down all roads and entry points of UoP why not install metal detectors, increase surveillance and check faculty ID cards/ car stickers? And lastly, get on with some more boots on ground before another violent breaking news erupts on this front.
This is one reason given by the insiders for turning UoP into a garrison compound.
P.S: I have thus taken to taking a public transport to and from UoP and avoid the humiliation at the suffocating and life threatening Khyber road, dug up for yet another expansion (a yearly futile exercise by C&W department) and uprooting a few existing trees and grassy lawns nearby. And making traffic worse!
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