Sunday, 6 January 2013

Reflections from my stay in Pakistan VIII: Multan’s beauty

The beauty of Multan lies in the city's ability to manipulate time. Time simply moves slower in the City of Saints. Sometimes it appears as if time is suspended for periods. It is almost like Multan is exempt from the laws of physics and motion. Perhaps it is the summer heat which pervades the atmosphere? Or maybe it is my western notions of time, i.e. measured in minutes and seconds not by seasons and crop harvests. After all, Multan is in Pakistan's agricultural heartland.

Time may move slowly in Multan, but it has not completely stopped. During the premiership of now former Prime Minister Gilani, Multan received a large dose of funds meant to bring the city into the modern world. Nonetheless, despite the present government's largesse, Multan cannot divorce itself from the broader issues plaguing Pakistan.

Electricity is top of the list. Electricity comes and goes like the mood swings of a psychotic patient - one moment there is electricity and the next moment darkness.

Then there is poor governance. Roads are built to suit the civilian government's personalities. If a road benefits from the 'sponsorship' of any of the government's 'leading lights,' it will be built quick time. On the contrary, a general public works project will crawl from the sanctioning stage to actual construction. Pakistan's bureaucracy not just manipulates time but actually succeeds in suppressing time.

Multan: a city where rural and urban worlds collide routinely, including finding farm animals in the garden!
The absence of electricity and good governance has created problems for Multan's traditionally strong agricultural industry.

Water pumps and tube wells are essential prerequisites for maintaining stable water supplies at any farm. Because both items require electricity, crops suffer due to 'artificial' shortages of water, i.e. available water cannot be extracted from the ground and / or delivered to crops. Consequently, Pakistani farmers are experiencing low crop yields or reducing farmed acreage to cope with lower water supplies.

But the civilian government is more concerned with maintaining its hold on power - implementing a cohesive national agricultural policy is not a priority. Surprisingly, most Multanis also seem more preoccupied with the politics of patronage or scandals surrounding the (former) First Family and not the difficulties of the city's farming business.

Maybe I do not understand democracy? All evidence from Pakistan points to democracy being a system focused on the short term, which sacrifices all at the altar of political expediency. Or maybe I do not understand President Zardari and his ruling party's priorities (does he even have any)? Or maybe I just don't get Multan and its near rural outlook on life? Nevertheless, Multan is a beautiful city operating at its own tempo.

I, for one, am looking forward to my next visit to the City of Saints.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

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