Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Traffic Wardens

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Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has today (Dawn, 17 December 2016) promised to gift the entire province of Islam with the traffic warden system that currently works in about half a dozen district headquarters only. That’s great news. But let us look at what he Shehbaz Sharif himself did to a perfectly fine working system.

The grey-uniformed traffic wardens were a brainchild of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi when he was chief minister Punjab several years ago. They system came as a breath of fresh air. No longer the ‘Oye! Khlo ja oye, teri tay main etc etc.’ Suddenly road users were treated as humans for the first time since the 1960s. For the first time in many years, a traffic police officer would use his motorcycle to give chase to an errant driver.

Since the 1960s? you ask. That was when those white-clad British-trained traffic sergeants on white Harley-Davidson motorcycles (even tricycles) began to retire. Sadly, for some unknown reason, those well-trained and courteous officers failed to leave behind a legacy. We were left with uncouth yahoos instead.

Now, we all know that once upon a time the Mian brothers and the Chaudhris of Gujrat were as thick as thieves (no pun intended). Then that upstart Mush-a-Riffraff shunted out the Mians and the Chaudhris lost no time hopping into the khaki lap of the usurper. There began an enmity as can only endure between childish nations like India and Pakistan: the Mians and the Chaudhris were thenceforth sworn enemies. And this will continue until a new equation arises to make them chums again.

Unsurprisingly with his election as chief minister, the first thing Mian Shehbaz Sharif did was to sabotage all good done by the Chaudhry. He tried to abolish the ambulance and fire system 1122 – also a Chaudhry initiative – and failed because of immense public pressure. The next Mian sahib did was to undermine the traffic warden system. This was much easier.

All it needed was a ‘stand down’ to the Chief Traffic Officer of Lahore. From then on it was very common to see a motorist or moped-rider stopped by a warden whip out a mobile phone and hand it over to the warden. The warden would solemnly listen to the person on the other side and let the offender off. I am not privy to any such instructions that may have been passed down, but I suspect traffic wardens were told to defer to all such telephone instructions.

Surely there were some wardens not amenable to this and regardless of who they were made to speak with, booked the offender. The next lesson Mian Shehbaz Sharif’s government gave them was louder than the first one.

It was at Babu Sabu Interchange that some Qingqi rickshaw driver was stopped for driving up the wrong side. The offender without a license and documents for his vehicle was evidently some species of simian for he quickly shinnied up a power pylon. From about ten metres above, he threatened to throw himself to his much needed death if he was not let off. The good traffic warden would not relent. The furore increased and out came the ‘Breaking News’ morons with their cameras and mikes and we had one hell of a circus at the interchange.

The almighty Mian of Punjab was enraged. Why, how dare a traffic warden who owed everything for his position to the enemy torment a ‘blameless’ and poor member of society! Some two-bit bureaucrat cajoled the erring driver off the pylon. If you ask me, he should have either been electrocuted there or pushed down to his death. And what did they do to the conscientious traffic warden? They suspended or perhaps even terminated him from service.

That was about six or seven years ago under Mian sahib’s watch. Ever since that time the traffic wardens became inanimate objects standing around chatting by the side of roads. My dear friend, the late Masood Hasan once wrote that they had been turned into cut-outs of grey cardboard. You can zip through a red light in front of them, drive on the wrong side of the road, or pull any other crazy stunt and they will not bat an eye. The system put in place by the Chaudhry has been completely dismantled by the Mian.

And now Mian sahib wants to give the same system of traffic wardens to the entire province. I have just one question: will they be equally ineffective everywhere else too?

I also have a suggestion: if it will satisfy his huge ego, CM sahib could change the colour of the uniform traffic wardens wear. Then we can all pretend this was something he himself started. But in the name of all that you hold sacred (besides wealth), Mian Shehbaz Sharif, please let the system work. Make the wardens effective.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days