Peshawar: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had announced the establishment of an international airport in Bannu, a gateway to the volatile North Waziristan tribal region, alongside other development projects in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) last year.
On May 2nd, while speaking to a cheering crowd at a public gathering in Bannu, the beleaguered prime minister had said: “We will build an international airport in Bannu.”
“Repeat after me: This is ‘Naya Pakistan’,” he hit out at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) with their oft-repeated slogan as both the ruling PML-N and the PTI have been trading barbs over Panama Gate (Panama Leaks) Scandal about offshore companies of Prime Minister’s children.
The PTI has been calling for the resignation of the prime minister over allegations of corruption after the Panama Papers revealed the premier’s family’s offshore holdings.
Nawaz was accompanied by his political ally, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam- F (JUI-F), during the visit to parts of the KP district. Rehman had assured Nawaz of his party’s all-out support in the wake of Panama leaks crisis.
“We do not hold the government in KP, but we will build a new Bannu,” the prime minister had assured the crowd.
Not only had he announced the construction of Bannu airport, Nawaz had then declared multiple development projects in KP such as a university in Lakki Marwat, development of the Baran Dam in Bannu, an electricity transmission project for Bannu and that the of the Indus Highway from Rangeela to Dera Ismail Khan.
Truth Tracker moved to check whether the promise by the prime minister regarding the establishment of an international airport in Bannu has materialised.
When contacted for comments, Musadiq Malik, Spokesperson of the Prime Minister, initially said that he would be in a position to comment on the Bannu International Airport after getting an update himself.
A day later, however, Malik failed to return phone calls after repeated attempts by News Lens.
Malik Shah Muhammad Khan Wazir, Special Assistant to Chief Minister for transport, who is from the constituency where the proposed airport has to be built, said, “Construction work has not yet started but some people were seen surveying in the area.”
He said that the local tribe has given 3,400 kanal of land free of cost for the airport but the local administration has demanded more land.
“I held a meeting with the commissioner of Bannu and told him that the local tribe is ready to give another 10,000 kanal of land, free of cost, which is farther from the populated area but he did not receive a response from them,” he added.
He said that he just got a new Tehsil in Baka Khel area approved where the airport is to be built but the JUI-F and the PML-N have been opposing it on the ground that Baka Khel is a dangerous tribe and would create problems, thus providing the area with a Tehsil status is not a wise idea.
“But on the other hand, the PML-N and JUI-F say that they are building the airport in this very area but I ask them, how is this location feasible for an airport and unfeasible for a Tehsil?” he questioned.
Let him recall that the prime minister had also announced the establishment of a university in Lakki Marwat, another district adjacent to Bannu, Wazir said that the construction of a university needs a proper procedure under which the Higher Education Commission (HEC) would send an act to be passed by the provincial assembly.
“We did not come across any such act to establish the university, which is an ambitious project,” he added.
When asked to comment briefly on whether the promise to build an international airport in Bannu would materialise, Wazir recalled the prime minister had announced three airports at Swat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan.
“If the central government is really sincere enough to provide funds to KP generously, why has the province’s electricity royalty not been released so far?” he asked.
“It is nothing but a smokescreen to distract the public’s attention from the Panama Leaks and to deceive them,” he noted.
Sobia Shahid, Member Provincial Assembly (MPA) from PML-N, said that she had no knowledge about any development project regarding the construction of Bannu international airport.
Azam Khan, another MPA from the JUI-F, said that work on all projects announced by the prime minister is almost underway.
When asked on what stage the construction work has reached on Bannu airport, Khan said: “Manual work on the airport has not yet been started but the paperwork is done.”
He said that the project would be completed before the term of the PML-N, which will expire after a year and a half.
A senior official at the Ministry of Planning said that he is not sure whether the prime minister has released funds on his own, otherwise, the PML-N has to approve the project first to get funds.
When contacted, Commissioner Bannu, the top administrator of the district, and District Coordination Officer (DCO) were not available for comment on the issue.
However, a local official in Bannu, who wishes to remain anonymous as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said that there has been no official correspondence regarding the construction of Bannu international airport.
He further explained that there is no Civil Aviation Authority in Bannu to know about the status of the airport.
Mian Iftikhar Hussain of Awami National Party (ANP), who was the former information minister of the province said: “Forget about Bannu international airport, just come and see the state of the Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar, which is virtually in shambles.”
He said that Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), with its lost credibility, did not want to fly to Peshawar airport. He is unsure of what kind of an international airport the PML-N is going to build in Bannu.
“I am wondering whether the prime minister is making promises and that he does not plan to fulfil,” he added. “Such boastful promises must be materialised,” Hussain stressed.
Rustam Shah Mohmand, former Ambassador and an independent analyst, said that although building an international airport is a difficult task, the PML-N is likely to kick start some sort of work on the project.
“Building a new airport is a long-drawn process because the government will have to acquire land, design engineering work, appoint consultant and then award the contract,” he added.
He said that if the PML-N starts working on the airport, perhaps it would take two to three years to complete and the credit would go to the incumbent government.
“The question is that, there are airports in Kohat and Dera Ismail Khan already, is it a good idea to acquire agriculture land and build another airport in Bannu?” he asked.
Mohmand said that, naturally, the prime minister had to announce projects in KP to minimise the influence of PTI Chairman Imran Khan at the centre of the Panama Leaks issue.
Keeping in view the comments of opposition, ruling lawmakers, official and independent analyst, the prime minister had to start a whirlwind of tours in KP last year to ease some pressure in the wake of the Panama Leaks saga by announcing development projects.
Though the PTI is in power in KP, the prime minister announced several gigantic projects to win the favour and support of the masses. Otherwise, no construction activities have been observed in Bannu to build the airport.
Truth Tracker rules that the PML-N has compromised its promise.