A SLEEK steel ribbon could soon slash through the centre of the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab, cutting the length of a commuter’s trip across Lahore to just 45 minutes from anything between two and five hours today. Just 6% of the 27 kilometres (16.8 miles) of the proposed Orange metro line would be underground; the rest would sail on pylons across the city’s skyline. Lahoris agree that the new line, a first for Pakistan, would transform their city. But they are bitterly divided about whether that would mean its salvation or the ruin of its considerable charm.
Punjab’s pushy chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, treats the metro as an urgent priority. His office makes a virtue of the fact that the line will be just a biscuit toss away from some of Lahore’s architectural gems: no better way to study them. The project appals conservationists.
For centuries Lahore was the heart of Mughal Hindustan, known to visitors as the City of Gardens. Today it has a greater profusion of treasures from the Mughal period (the peak of which was in the 17th century) than India’s Delhi or Agra...