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A Chaand Raat message in bad taste

August 23, 2012

Visitors travel on vehicles as they cross a bridge on the last day of the religious festival of Eid in Lahore on. People traditionally visit the homes of their relatives and friends, and enjoy outdoor entertainment to to celebrate Eid.–Photo by AFP

Chaand Raat for Pakistanis means a trip to the nearest market for shopping, cooking desserts for next day, ironing clothes, last-minute changes in tailor-made dresses and even a drive just for the sake of getting out of home to celebrate. This year however, many plans were spoilt as communication was broken down.

People in cities all over Pakistan saw their cellular networks go down around 8pm. During the news bulletin Interior Minister Rehman Malik appeared beseeching everyone to “support his government and the law and order situation only for one night.”

He pressed that it was a security measure.

But for many people, this caused not only misery on one of the most enjoyable nights of the year, in several cases there was confusion since the security measure was unprecedented, and many others who were stuck in an emergency situation could not call their friends or relatives to inform them of it. Worse was the fact that an entire night and next morning was to be spent behind this iron curtain for the networks were to be officially opened by 10am on Eid.

“It seems as if Mr Rehman Malik had really no other security strategy up his sleeve,” said Akhtar Hussain Rathor, who works for a private company that deals with international clients. “My business was affected for the worse because of this ridiculous step.

It is probably not realised in the interior ministry that businessmen abroad will not care whether it is Chaand Raat or not, because the international markets are open. Only in Pakistan is this possible.”

Other business people were also affected adversely. “I could not call up anybody to give them instructions for the three holidays that were coming up,” said Zahid, a factory overseer. “Because of that, much of our cargo that travels up the country was affected and we ended up making losses. At least we should have been informed before this step was to be taken.”Banker Maham Hussain described her case. “I was stuck in traffic coming from a friend’s place late in the evening,” she said. “My parents were trying to contact me because I was not at home in time. I hadn’t expected the networks to be down so I didn’t know this issue was ongoing, but I was astonished to find my family worried to pieces by the time I reached home.”

For others it was a matter of life and death. “My husband had a severe angina pain that night,” said 60-year-old Mehnaz Aslam.

“I was stuck badly, because I could not call up my sons, and I could not even call up emergency since our cell phones did not work. It was pure coincidence that a relative came during that time and I later found out that my husband was prevented in time from having an attack.”

Others who had already gone through trauma could not ask for support. “My 10-year-old daughter has leukemia,” sobbed Almas Nazir, who came from Kasur to admit her into the hospital. “We needed blood almost immediately and I was trying so hard to call up my relatives in Lahore to see if anyone could donate some or spread the word, but of course how could I?”

Others had a situation which while was not an emergency, was still an important problem. “Me and my friends were supposed to go out at Chaand Raat,” said Ali. “We always make plans about meeting up by confirming half an hour earlier because we happen to live in quite opposite ends such as Township or DHA, or Green Town. Without our cell phones, the plans flopped badly, and nothing came out of it.”

“Since the network was down, my parents did not allow me and my brother to leave the house that night, in case we needed to contact each other in an emergency situation which is very possible on such a busy crowded night,” said Shumaila, a high school girl.

Others were merely disgusted by the sheer fascistic streak this kind of security measure had, while many were left astonished at the weakness of the country’s security system.

“We understand that nights like these must be controlled so that criminal and terrorist elements do not act or even collaborate,” said Yousuf Ahmed, who is a law student. “But are they trying to tell us that there is no other way in which this can be done?”

“This is an extremely dictatorial step taken by Rehman Malik,” commented a newspaper editor. “This is really no way to behave with the citizens.…..to suddenly shut down the most important thing, a medium of communication, leaving them in the lurch without so much as a warning, and having them suffer for the night without being able to contact each other. This is exactly similar to cutting off news networks so that people do not know what is happening around the world.”

But after a sudden spate of lawlessness in the country, a very small group of people grudgingly accepted the step as one of security.

“What else can we do when we do not have a system of nabbing these elements?” asked Shahzaib Baloch, a student of political science. “That is the basic problem. Should we as a nation simply unite to save potential lives that could have been lost in a terrorist attack or something else?”

“The fact is that recently so many people have been killed all over the country, including the horrific incident in Gilgit where they killed over 20 Shias on the 27th of Ramazan. Are we going to be selfish and celebrate after these incidents or are we going to sacrifice just a bit to prevent something like this?” he asked.

But the general feeling was that of disapproval. “Yes it is important to see that the security situation is under control, but this is certainly not the way to do it,” reacted an angry businessman. “And for that matter where was our interior ministry when those innocent people were being killed? Pondering lazily over what to do next?”