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Default December 1st, 2016.

Date: Thursday, December 1st, 2016.

A whiter shade of pale

The political foreshore is littered with the hulks of parties that for whatever reason were no longer fit for purpose, or had lost direction and relevance eventually to beach themselves to avoid a sinking. It is premature to place the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in that scenario, but it is not inconceivable that a desolate stranding is where it is headed. The PPP is about to enter its 50th year and it is far from being in the best of health. On Wednesday 30th November it began a week of rallies in Lahore to celebrate foundation day. Lahore is the birthplace of the party and once a stronghold, but times have changed as have fortunes.

The leadership of the party is one of the many problems. It is ‘co-Chaired’ by the widower of Benazir Bhutto who leads an absentee life abroad, and his son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari who is the maternal grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — a model built for tension and conflict if ever there was one. The younger Bhutto has of late been pushed forwards politically to very mixed reviews and his inheritance is not a mantle he wears easily. There are (denied) reports of rifts with his father and other reports that Zardari pere is considering a return to his natal shores.

The week of celebrations is being held within the confines of the boundary walls of Bilawal house rather than at street level, and is said to encompass root and branch party reorganisation at divisional and district levels. The party took a drubbing at the last general election and is no longer the power in the land that it used to be. Whether it can stave off the drift backwards will depend on whether the promised review re-energises a once-great party.

Challenging the dominance of the PML-N in Punjab is no longer a winnable fight, but fortunes in Sindh may take a turn for the better if the current woeful performance can be turned round. Elsewhere a dead horse is being flogged. The PPP has turned a whiter shade of pale, a lonely beach on the horizon.

Introducing train e-tickets

Purchasing a train ticket in Pakistan is a game of survival of the fittest. Long lines, delays and bureaucracy do not help the beginning of a train journey. The recently launched e-ticketing service has also failed to resolve the difficulties involved with purchasing train tickets.

Although the e-ticketing service was launched after a gap of nine years, according to a report by the Auditor General’s office, it is still not fully computerised and the electronic system is manipulated thus creating further problems in reserving berths and seats. As opposed to benefiting Pakistan Railways, the e-ticketing system is then adding to the losses of the already cash-strapped entity.

Malpractices and poor technology has also led to the ticketing system being an unreliable one with the system often showing errors or abruptly shutting down for hours. Pakistan Railway’s online reservations does not yet have the load of all trains and is not available for most trains. But even with this relatively small load, the system is failing to work efficiently. This only harasses consumers and disproportionately targets women, minors and people with disabilities who may not be able to go through the ordeal of standing in long lines.

E-ticketing is neither new nor unique and it is not as if Pakistan cannot cope with e-commerce. Countless online businesses have emerged in recent years, which are running successfully with cashless transactions and barely any physical presence. Airlines have also had successfully running reservation and online ticketing systems. It is unfortunate that our state institutions are slow in keeping up with needs and when a system is developed, it is marred with inefficiency.

Countries in our region have long crossed these barriers and are light years ahead in public transportation services. Bangladesh has had an e-ticketing system since 2012. Meanwhile, China has developed the second longest train network in the world. Pakistan needs to desperately catch up, and at least get a website working right.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2016.
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