Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Besieged capital braces itself for onslaught

January 14, 2013

Supporters of Tahirul Qadri take part in a protest march in Lahore, Jan 13, 2013. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD, Jan 13: All roads in Islamabad may not lead to Constitution Avenue but the ones that do had been containered up on Sunday night.

Among them is the small road which passes by the five star Marriott Hotel before hitting the government’s seat of power. By Sunday night, this small road, which is usually quite busy, was covered in darkness, and a wall cut across.

The containers seemed too large for the small road where the brightly lit ‘Marriott’ twinkled in the dark sky above as a few vehicles turned back after their occupants realised that the way forward had been blocked. Vehicles reversing in the face of containers were a familiar sight on Sunday in Islamabad.

The wall of containers that had sprung up where Jinnah Avenue hits Attaturk Avenue a couple of days ago had now given birth to smaller container walls at various spots nearby, turning Islamabad’s Red Zone into a sealed compartment of sorts.

Outside too, life was not normal -- not even by Islamabad’s standards.

The checkpoints that on week days witness a crowd of cars as they pass by slowly had been removed. New ones had appeared at other places.

Some roads had simply been blocked by rocks while police cars were parked at others. Police officials and traffic personnel were present at many corners -- not a usual sight on quiet Sunday nights.

Undoubtedly the capital was preparing for an onslaught and its rulers had decided to call in reinforcements in the shape of security personnel as well as metal and steel containers.

But away from the Red Zone, the containers continued to remain in demand.

The entry/exit points between Rawalpindi and Islamabad were also treated to container walls -- at some places the Islamabad administration wanted to make sure they could block the marchers if need be while at others the local administration of Rawalpindi sprung into action to seal their city off. By late night it appeared that the Pindi administration had decided not to let the participants pass through their city on their way to Islamabad.

The sense of besiegement and uncertainty ruled the two cities amid rumours of chaos and mayhem that may follow.

Despite the fact that the protests by Shia groups in the cities and beyond had taken the proverbial wind out of the sails of Dr Tahirul Qadri as had the decision of the MQM to not participate in the march, uncertainty prevailed in Islamabad.

This was not just because of the security precautions taken by the federal government in the shape of containers and trenches.

The rumours that participants of the long march would cause mayhem and destruction once they entered Islamabad have been doing the rounds for days now. And the gloomy predictions of the political fallout of this instability, which was at the very least, supposed to lead to the end of the current democratic set-up, contributed greatly to this sense of uncertainty.

What else could explain the rumours of a petrol shortage that refused to die down despite government promises to the contrary?

And where rumours ended, the interior minister rushed in with his prognosis.

The only PPP leader left to deal with the marchers as the rest grappled with the crisis in Quetta, he had spent Saturday and Sunday giving interviews to the media in which he spoke pejoratively about Mr Qadri and droned on endlessly about the fears of the Islamabad residents and the traders.

His threats as to how he would deal with Mr Qadri and his followers if any damage was caused in Islamabad hardly soothed frayed tempers.