THE T-junction on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road at Tarnol, where one exits on to the Fateh Jang-Kohat Road to head towards the under-construction new Islamabad airport, is a driver’s nightmare.

Trucks and trailers, loaded way beyond their capacity, creak as they inch forward like giant snails. Long queues of vehicles — cars, vans, motorbikes, donkey-carts and handcarts — going in every which direction have choked up everything. Sweating faces flush with heat and anger and tongues spit out foul language.

“I wish the government would complete this new airport,” says Javed Akhtar, a government employee stuck in the middle of this mess. “Once it is completed our rulers will construct an underpass here for their convenience. They don’t bother about the hellish time we have every day at this point, which we have to cross at least twice a day while going and coming from work.”

Beyond this bottleneck, there’s a row of CNG stations with cars and vans queued up along the boundary walls of rapidly mushrooming housing societies and newly built commercial centres and shops.

Around 35 kilometres from Islamabad and close to Fateh Jang town in Attock district, the main gate of the Pakistan Employees Cooperative Housing Society (PECHS) looms large. Beside the gate, there is a signboard with the words ‘New Islamabad airport’ and an arrow pointing towards the housing society.

Inside the society, the main boulevard passes through scattered houses, property brokers’ offices, wheat fields and under-developed plots. Bulldozers and tractors level vast tracts of lands in the newly acquired part of the society. At the end of this unpaved road, there is a barrier in the middle of a long boundary wall dotted with watchtowers and manned by security guards. This is the new Islamabad airport which has been under construction since 2007.

Within the boundaries, a parcel of 1,800 acres of land, two concrete strips have been laid down. Like metallic tarantulas, giant machines squat around the newly built runways and under-construction buildings. Men are working on a huge cemented structure, fixing tiles and roof ceilings. The cargo terminal is under construction and the air towers’ complex is still only half complete. Overhead water tanks have been erected and work on the electricity grid station is under way.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the new airport site last month and expressed anxiety over the delay in the project. He gave a new deadline: March 2015.

“We aren’t sure whether we’ll meet the deadline as there’s no change in the pace of work,” says an official of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on the condition of anonymity because the project director has strictly banned officials from talking about it.

“The project administration avoids sharing details because of the fear of failing to meet the deadline,” he adds.

A spokesman for the CAA in Rawalpindi says the administration is trying to meet the latest deadline. “The passenger terminal is being given finishing touches,” said Mubarak Shah.

“The work on the cargo terminal is also 95 per cent complete. Work on the air towers’ complex is up to 55pc complete. We hope the rest will be completed within the timeframe.”

A new airport for Islamabad was conceived in 1984 as the capital and the adjacent Rawalpindi expanded rapidly. The masterplan was completed in 2006 and ground-breaking was done in 2007. The project was initially supposed to have been completed in 2010-11 at the cost of Rs37 billion. Delays have, however, driven the costs up to Rs70bn.

At the existing Benazir Bhutto International Airport, a flight lands and takes off every 15 minutes as it handles 100 aeroplanes a day at an average, according to the CAA. Crowds of passengers, their relatives and the rush of traffic on the road outside — which connects the army headquarters to Islamabad — have made the area too congested. The airport itself has been encircled by housing and commercial projects.

“It’s very important to shift the airport because of the increasing population around the existing facility,” says former vice chief of the air staff Air Marshal Shahid Lateef. “This has raised security threats. But I doubt that this project will be completed even within 2015.”

Lateef’s doubts are in line with reality. The new airport, planned as Pakistan’s most modern one, hasn’t even got an approach road yet.

“The road is still at the planning phase,” says a senior member of the National Highway Authority. “Its construction will take at least 18 months after the approval of its PC-1.”

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