ISLAMABAD: The otherwise empty roads of the capital witnessed a massive gridlock on Friday evening, as police – trying to create bottlenecks in various places – sought to limit attendance at the ongoing sit-ins on Constitution Avenue.
Islamabad Expressway, the main artery connecting outlying parts of the twin cities and the primary route used by residents of the capital to reach the airport, was blocked for over two hours as police set up pickets along the busy thoroughfare, severely hampering the flow of traffic.
The late evening also saw isolated clashes between protesters and security personnel at the capital’s entry points, especially Faizabad, Bhara Kahu and Tarnol where police closed off all but one lane to traffic, causing a traffic jam with vehicles lined up for miles.
Multiple lane thoroughfares at Sihala, Tarnol, Golra, I.J. Principal Road and Kashmir Highway were closed down and turned into single lane roads.
Earlier in the day, demonstrators from various outlying parts of the city blocked the Expressway to protest exorbitant electricity bills and gas outages. They set fire to tryes and garbage, closing the road for traffic and damaging public property. Some protesters climbed the Faizabad flyover and pelted police with stones.
Massive traffic jams witnessed in twin cities as police set up pickets on entry points, clogging all major roads
However, intermittent clashes between protesters and police continued through the night.
In the past, law enforcers would seal the entrances to the city with containers to prevent the protesters from joining the sit-ins.
A police officer told Dawn that following an Islamabad High Court order asking for unnecessary blockades to be removed, they had to come up with a different strategy this time.
“Our strategy is to narrow the access roads and hold up protesters on their way to Constitution Avenue,” he said, adding that this was done when bookings under Section 144 of the CrPC did not work.
Margalla Road, the only thoroughfare that offers uninterrupted access to Constitution Avenue, was jam-packed with vehicles, many of them filled to capacity with PTI supporters on their way to ‘Day of Deliverance’ celebrations at D-Chowk.
On Friday, police officers deployed at pickets were seen searching each vehicle that passed, slowing down traffic in a bid to frustrate the protesters into going back home.
Police officials, although following orders, also seemed sympathetic to the plight of stranded commuters. “As a result of these protesters’ tactics, hundreds of vehicles have been stuck in long queues,” a policeman told Dawn.
“May be 10 to 20 vehicles out of a 100 are carrying PTI or PAT activists, but just to counter a handful of people, police are victimising the residents of the twin cities,” a motorist complained.
A motorcyclist was killed when he was run over by a dumper truck in the Chungi No 26 area. After being stuck in a traffic jam for hours, the truck driver was in a hurry to get to his destination and ran over the motorcyclist at high speed.
Scores of passengers trying to make their way to the airport could not make their flights in time. These included at least 20 parliamentarians on their way to Karachi.
The jams on these main roads also took their toll on traffic on inner city roads in the garrison city. Traffic was also blocked near Transit Camp, Liaquat Road, Iqbal Road, Sir Syed Road, Circular Road and Asghar Mall Road.
The situation took its toll on public transport in the city and many commuters were left stranded on Friday.
Dawn found Amir Ali, a government employee standing on the Islamabad Highway near I-8. He said he lived in the hostel and was going to his village near Bhara Kahu.
“I wanted to spend the weekend at home with my parents but the lack public transport is making things very hard for me. I will probably hitchhike to Aabpara, where I can probably find public transport,” he said.
Rasheed Khan, another citizen, complained that taxi drivers made a killing whenever public transport was unavailable.
Many transporters also complained of harassment at the hands of police officers.
Published in Dawn, September 20th , 2014