Logistics: No Evil Foreigners Required


July 27, 2010: Despite having one of the most extensive railroad networks in Asia, American supply experts were shocked to discover that 46 percent of Pakistani railroad engines were out of service. Most of these engines were just worn out, but nearly 20 percent could be back in service within weeks if spare parts were available. All this was a problem for the United States, which moves most of the supplies for its troops in Afghanistan via Pakistan. Currently, most of the material is moved by truck, which is much more expensive. The U.S. has also been providing Pakistan with military aid, as the Pakistani army battles the Taliban along the Afghan border. U.S. officials have found that most of the Pakistani supplies for their troops have to be trucked in, even though some rail lines are available. The shortage of engines prevents use of many of these rail lines.

The problem here is corruption and bad management. The railroads are a source of patronage, with many jobs given to those who can provide political support, not get the work done. Then there has been the decades long policy of shifting money from the railroads to road building. That's because roads reach more parts of the country, and are politically more popular (because anyone can use them). But this has been a wasteful practice, because moving goods and people by railroad is a lot quicker and cheaper.

The government has run out of excuses for the decaying railroad system, and has turned to China to bail them out. Railroad officials say they need 400 new engines, to replace the 360 aging ones they already have. Only about 200 of those existing engines are running. The railroads sought new engines from China five years ago, but politics and bureaucracy delayed approval of the order. Now the Chinese have 75 engines on the way, along with spare parts to put 30 existing engines back in service. Attempts to privatize the railroads have been blocked by the bloated payroll and pensions, and government threats to limit setting fares at profitable levels.

Pakistan is not unique in the way it has mismanaged its transportation infrastructure. Most poor countries have the same combination of corruption and bad politics causing the same kinds of problems. Without good transportation infrastructure, foreign aid is much less effective, and economic growth is unlikely.

When Britain left in 1947, Pakistan and India had the best rail systems in Asia. Britain began building railroads in the region in the 1850s, and India has maintained its portion of the system. Even poor Bangladesh has done a better job than Pakistan, which has ruined one of its infrastructure treasures. It did this all by itself, no evil foreigners were needed.




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