Monday, May 12, 2014
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Some named it D-Chowk (for reasons unknown), few called it Khuni Chowk and last but not the least ‘Sheikh-ul-Islam’ Allama Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri ahead of his long March on 14 January, 2013 promised to convert this avenue into Tehrir Square (a major public town square in Downtown Cairo, Egypt).No one really knows how, when and why this place is named as D-Chowk, neither anyone has the knowledge enough who for the first time ever staged protest and Sit-in (Dharna in local lingo) at the very spot.
Once remembered for an annual graceful congregation of National Armed Forces jawans, marking Pakistan Day (23rd March) with full-fledged display of armaments, Parade Avenue aka D-Chowk (on Jinnah Avenue) in the red zone area adjacent to the president House and Parliament House, now has become a Hyde Park for the protesters of in and outsiders of Islamabad, perturbing the office goers and other travellers.
The increased understanding about the right to freedom of expression amongst the people of the federal capital is a step to form the basis of a true democratic state. But this does not mean exercising the right at the cost of inconvenience to hundreds of employees working in public and private offices, including PNCA, PTV, PTCL, PTA, Awami Markaz and other private offices and residential area of Gulshan-e-Jinnah in F-5. It is not ideal for a democratic society to march on the roads to glorify the show of dissent over various social, economic, religious and political issues.
Instead of staging protest at Parade Avenue, National Press Club (NPC) in F-6/1, Super Market (F-6 Markaz) and Aabpara Chowk (G-6) are the other favourite picking spots for the demonstrators.
This trend has gained momentum with the series of protests organised by lawyers to seek justice for the chief Justice in 2007. The sufferers might be justifying but the sole aim should be to record their protest in the media so that it could be conveyed to the government.
The wave of terror that has swept the people with fear was the point of discouragement for the people to come on the roads amid the alarm of terrorist attacks, especially for Islooites, but in recent months, every now and then people are in a move to show disapproval on the national and international issues. The police officials cordon off the chowk once protesters reach Parade Avenue, causing traffic jams and flow of traffic becomes slow.
The people feel that marching on the road in front of the presidency is a way to inform the government of their sufferings. On almost daily basis, protests-cum-sit-in demonstrations are held at Parade Avenue by various private, public bodies and NGOs. The other hot spots for such protest rallies are Aabpara Chowk and National Press Club (near Super Market). The sits-in and rallies are held by FDE employees, OGDC, PTCL, NEF, NCHD and political as well as religious parties and university students on regular basis these days here at Parade Avenue.
The residents of the nearby localities often complain that these protests on daily basis have hampered their routine activities. “I am a student. Whenever I go out with my family at evening time for shopping, I have to wait for hours wasting time and fuel,” said Ahad Ahmad. He urged the authorities to arrange a single spot for these protesters to register their complaints without disturbing others.
Talking to this scribe, spokesperson for ICT Chief Commissioner Khalid Mehmood said a comprehensive policy was being devised to make arrangements for protests in red zone area of the city and other spots like Aabpara and National Press Club near Supermarket. “Under this policy, a spot will be fixed for protesters to hold rallies, sits-in and demonstrations to register their protest against the authorities concerned. “This policy is being drafted under the supervision of Deputy Commissioner to solve the problems of commuters, patients, students and office goers,” Mehmood said.
My mentor Imran Naeem Ahmad also adds for my blog in his crispy write-up under the title ‘Siege mentality Islamabad facing change’: Keep reading, here it goes!!!
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 many years now. The assault on Marriott Hotel in 2008 was the bloodiest of them all.
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 Shafi pointing out that more money should be spent on intelligence gathering.
Agreeing to his suggestion, Abdul Jabbar 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.
MK Sufi, 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.
A member of the Islamabad Citizen's Committee, Sufi 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.
Muhammad Abid, 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.
The business community too is suffering as a result of recent terrorist strikes with an office-bearer of the Aabpara Market Traders Union pointing out that they had to endure big losses. "Security fears and load shedding have forced people to stay away from markets," 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.
The writer is an Islamabad based Journalist who can be accessed at firstname.lastname@example.org