The Politics of Shipping Containers

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

A government is supposed to protect the interest of its public. But what to do if it becomes the biggest hurdle in their way?

Now for the uninitiated, the politics of shipping containers probably sounds like manipulating the trade at the port, not that that was never a problem, but these shipping containers are contributing to the economy around a thousand miles from the shore. In the federal capital and in a very different way too.

We had all suffered the consequences of the blockade during the 2014 sit-in protest by PTI and PAT.  Now it is time to brace ourselves again to dread getting out on the roads and to find our way out of the gridlock. The question is, who has the time and money? No matter which side you are on, you would be forced to either stay home or join the political tamasha.

Can you blame the entire problem on the PTI and Sheikh Rasheed protests? Probably you can, because the containers were not there a couple of days ago. But here they are now. Still, they are not put into place by them. The fact of the matter is that the government can possibly handle this situation in another way. Imposing Section 144 is not the solution to every problem.

So I wonder if it is the fault of the protesters or the Federal Interior Ministry itself that people like me cannot go to work when they should be able to on a regular weekday. Of course, we are not fully aware of the reasons why shipping containers are used to block roads, perhaps to block suicide bombing trucks, who knows? But ever since these blockades have started appearing on our roads, the lives of the people of the twin cities have never been the same.

While the party in power uses shipping containers to block access from roads, the one in the opposition would use it as a stage to prolong, if not perpetuate, the misery. PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s recent call to shut down the capital is just one such example, which has already sent the stock market crashing even when the actual sit-in protest has not taken place yet. To add insult to injury, he has decided to challenge the orders from the Islamabad High Court forbidding the shutdown.

The fact of the matter is that the people want to get on with their lives and are sick and tired of the storms of made-up revolutions that our political leaders like to stir in a teacup. Clearly, most of the people reject the politics of shipping containers, something which could even be a threat to our fragile democracy. But like always, this silent majority remains without a voice.

What is even worse is that the government that warns protesters of refraining from interrupting public life is doing all it can to make things miserable for them. This is what the politics in Pakistan have come down to, only to strengthen the ignorant belief that democracy is not fit for a “country like Pakistan.” Whatever that means.

Perhaps we cannot get past the days of tear gas because we have not evolved from rioting and destroying to the peaceful protest that is often met with ridicule in our society. Perhaps we would really attain the ideals that we speak so fondly of when we really start supporting peaceful, liberal democratic values on the ground and learn to respect the democratic process.

Out of all the rights of the people that the government is responsible to uphold, perhaps the most underestimated in Pakistan is the freedom to access. People are simply too willing to give too much for too little. This reflects the way our government thinks and it also offers an insight into our minds as well. This probably means that our days of living in an authoritarian state are not over and neither is the will to resist it. Or if things have improved indeed, we have still not been able to shake off the hangover from our past of dictatorships.

I hope some day our protesters would learn to make their point without blocking roads and that our governments could restore order without taking any lives.

Is it too much to ask?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Gridlock Misery

Source: Dawn/AP

Source: Dawn/AP

I don’t mind paying a good amount of bucks when it is due. Believe me, I don’t.

But not when you are doing so for absolutely stupid reasons… Or even wasting time and energy, for that matter.

September 19, 2014 was by far the most chaotic day I have ever had in recent memory. And I was not alone. Pretty much everyone who was moving between Rawalpindi and Islamabad was that day.

The day was declared to be the “Day of Deliverance” by the protesting opposition party PTI to demand the resignation of the Prime Minister. Needless to say the Prime Minister did not resign and it was just another good old PTI concert with a bigger attendance. And the federal government decided to prevent people from reaching there.

But who cares either way?

The traffic gridlock occurred all of a sudden. It was when I was moving back to my office after attending a client meeting, before which my former supervisor had informed me about the Islamabad Highway being blocked.

I was stuck for an hour on a route that should have taken less than minutes. Then ended up reaching my home after about 5 hours when it would have normally taken me 40 odd minutes. This should have cost less than a $1 and ended up paying near $10, yet walking no less than 4 kilometers.

My misery (as a matter of fact, I had probably never walked that far to my home from the route that I took that day), which I enjoyed a little due to the surreal scenes, was nothing to that of hundreds of families stranded in a mega traffic jam that probably lasted all night. Probably some people had to get to the hospital and others wanted to just reach their apolitical, private destinations for their apolitical, private lives and chores.

In other words, it was chaos. The doomsday scenario. Somewhat close to the kind of surreal apocalyptic scenes you watch in a Roland Emmerich film. But thankfully, nowhere near in destruction. Which probably proves that most people are civil.

Or probably that traffic problems occur all over the world, from New York City to Dhaka. But not really, when you don’t have to have them.

It is another example of government making a mess of people’s lives.

It is yet another example of complete disregard of the rights of the citizens.

Yet another example of exceeding bureaucratic powers over people’s lives.

No, the chaos was certainly not because people are disorganized, unruly, or ungovernable barbarians.

It was because the government was preventing them to function freely, probably with the intention of their greater good, as is always the case.

Are you not sick of the idea of know-it-all, all-controlling government?