Thursday, October 23, 2008

SEIGE MENTALITY - ISLAMABAD FACING CHANGE

Where people once roamed free, the markets were crowded, businesses thrived and life seemed untroubled – Islamabad may never be the same again, so believe the residents. Such are the security concerns that police, paramilitary Rangers, guns and pickets are now the significant features of a town that was known for its peace and quiet.

Gone are the days when people said ‘cheese’ and had their photos taken in front of the landmark buildings along the Constitution Avenue. Gone too are the pleasure drives on the wide and inviting roads and so have the evening strolls at the Parade Square.


Police pickets today dot the down and concrete barricades and steel barriers are up virtually everywhere. Traffic has to weave past these obstacles as the cops look for a prize cache, without much luck though.There is a sense of fear among the residents who have had an overdose of bomb blasts and suicide attacks for more than a year now. The assault on Marriott Hotel last month was the bloodiest of them all.

No wonder this has prompted the town’s fortification with the owner of the battered hotel announcing only this week that he had plans to have a security wall built to protect his facility.

In the wake of security threats the talk seems to be about walls, big and small. Already some of the United Nations offices have fortified their offices by erecting such walls. The government too has plans of walling the entire Red Zone.

How extensive such precautionary measures need to be ring on everyone’s mind but residents think that the government needs to go for enhancing the capabilities of its intelligence agencies to thwart terror.

“Putting the town under siege is not the answer – do not alienate the people,” stressed Tahir Mahmood pointing out that more money should be spent on intelligence gathering.

Agreeing to his suggestion, Kashif Pervaiz said that shutting off roads and streets only means inconveniencing the public. “Please do not trouble the locals while trying to catch terrorists,” he pleaded. The residents recall with fondness the free movement in places like the Diplomatic Enclave, the lovely drives on the road leading to the Quaid-e-Azam University and a string of other spots that are now under siege.

Hamtaya Aftab, who has seen Islamabad in its infancy, remembers the days when as a youngster he used to cycle through the areas that are today completely fenced. “Islamabad is being turned into a civil cantonment and it appears that in the days ahead, the movement of residents would be restricted to the very sectors where they live,” he said.

Hamtaya thought that all the barricades and police pickets had been set up only to harass the people. “These posts are manned by burly security personnel who have no concept of security,” he claimed.

Ahad Ahmed, an Islooite for three decades said this town wouldn’t be the same again. “Because of flawed government policies, we are being made to pay the price,” he said.

Although security in the Capital was first enhanced during the Lal Masjid operation, it has continued to be more or less intense due to events that followed. Among them were the emergency rule, the lawyers’ movement, the general elections and a spate of suicide bomb attacks.Largely the people are unhappy with the state of siege and feel that security does not mean cordoning off roads and building walls all around. Rather, they stress that it is all about intelligence.

Muhammad Mahtab Bashir
Islamabad.
mahtabbashir@yahoo.com
Voice: 0300 52 56 875

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