Twin protests suspend life in Islamabad

Published August 18, 2014
A supporter of anti-government cleric Tahirul Qadri, sleeps on the ground under a truck in Islamabad on Sunday. – AP Photo
A supporter of anti-government cleric Tahirul Qadri, sleeps on the ground under a truck in Islamabad on Sunday. – AP Photo

ISLAMABAD: Twin protests demanding the Pakistani government step down have wreaked havoc in the capital, Islamabad, where commuters must circumvent shipping containers and barbed wire to get to work, protesters knock on people's doors to use the bathroom, and garbage is piling up.

“People are talking of revolution but (they) don't care about the difficulties we are facing due to this situation,” said Zafar Habib, a 56-year-old government employee in Islamabad.

Tens of thousands of people have descended on the capital in recent days, answering the call from cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and anti-government cleric Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) to push for the government's ouster.

Day 5: Will PTI negotiate with the government?

The protests have taken a strain on the city of roughly 1.7 million inhabitants, many of whom work for the government, embassies, or non-governmental organisations. The difficulties began last Wednesday, when the government started to beef up security, and show no signs of letting up in the next few days.

The most affected neighbourhoods have been in the eastern part of the city where the protests have been centered, not too far from the so-called “Red Zone” and a diplomatic enclave that house government offices, embassies and other sensitive installations.

Residents say protesters – mostly women – knock on their doors early in the morning, hoping to use their bathrooms. “This is frustrating! I and other residents were trying to accommodate the women but then today some men also knocked on my door,” said Sajid Khan, a real estate agent.

Male protesters have also been crowding the washrooms in local mosques or simply going into the nearby forests. Garbage is beginning to pile up as well.

“My main concern is the deteriorating hygienic condition. This will make us and our children ill,” said retired government servant Jahangir Zahid. Residents and people trying to get to work have also been stymied by both the protesters and the security measures the government has taken to deal with them.

“I have to put in more hours and fuel to reach my office these days,” said software engineer Adeel Ahmed. While the crowds have fallen well short of the million marchers that both Khan and Qadri promised, their presence and the heightened security measures have virtually shut down business in the capital.

Business owners say many of their suppliers are not able to reach their shops. Shaukat Ali, who owns a meat shop, said Sunday that his supplier hasn't been able to come so all he had was a crate of chickens to sell.

Bicycle store owner Adeel Zafar said his shop has been closed for a week because of the protests. “Why we are being punished?” he said. Protesters say they have little choice but to rely on local residents for help.

Saeed Ahmed came from the city of Faisalabad, about 300 kilometers (185 miles) away, to support Qadri. Ahmed said they were ready to suffer what may come in support of Qadri's revolution but complained that local residents weren't too cooperative.

“At least let us use the restroom and share a little food with us,” he said. “This is what our religion teaches us.”

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