Friday, September 12, 2014

Beleaguered Pakistani Capital Inches Back to Normal --- ISLAMABAD — If there were just one image to evoke the chaos of the protests that have paralyzed this city and brought Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to the brink of collapse over the last month, it would surely be that of a shipping container. -- The authorities initially stacked the huge metal containers at crucial travel points around Islamabad, the country’s capital, to serve as roadblocks and barricades to control the protesters. But the rectangular metal boxes were soon commandeered by the demonstrators, who began using them as speaking platforms and temporary housing. Many of the containers became billboards, too, spray-painted with antigovernment slogans like “Go Nawaz Go” and “Revolution.” -- Before long, the hulking steel boxes of red, blue or burgundy seemed to be everywhere, cluttering roadsides and sidewalks and snarling traffic — a lingering nuisance that residents here wish would go away. -- On Tuesday, Justice Athar Minallah of the Islamabad High Court ordered the city administration to remove the “unnecessary containers” within a week. Justice Minallah also ordered the police to vacate public school buildings, where at least 20,000 officers had been billeted since they were marshaled in mid-August to maintain order. -- Islamabad is not used to having life disrupted by vast traffic jams, barricaded streets and teeming political rallies. It tends to be a relatively quiet and disciplined city compared with others in the country, and the government usually keeps it tidy. But the protests have derailed ordinary life here for weeks, residents say, and things are only just beginning to inch back to normal. -- “People are getting tired of the protests because things are at a standstill,” said Mariam Chaudhry, a talk-show host on state-run television. “Movement across town is restricted. One has to think before going anywhere. Other parts of the city also seem empty-ish. There are fewer people in the markets.” -- Public schools were supposed to reopen Aug. 25, but officials postponed the start to Sept. 3 because of the protests. Some schools have yet to reopen because the police still occupy their buildings, annoying parents and teachers. “It’s been 20 days of continuous holidays,” said one parent, Shams Abbasi. -- Businesses have also been disrupted and merchants in the capital say they have suffered huge financial losses. Some placed the blame on the organizers of the protests, the opposition leaders Imran Khan, a former cricketer, and the Muslim preacher Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri. -- “After 26 days of protest with no fruitful results, it shows that the two leaders have failed in achieving any of their objectives and instead they disturbed the lives of the people,” Muhammad Ashraf, a restaurant owner, said. At Depilex, a well-known salon in the capital, the first week of protests kept many customers away. “Business is only picking up now,” said Shahbaz Masih, 32, a hairstylist. -- A representative of the city’s business community, Ajmal Baloch, who filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court against Mr. Khan and Mr. Qadri over the disruptions, estimates that merchants in Islamabad have suffered losses of at least 10 billion rupees, around $100 million, a figure that could not be verified independently. --- “There are 56 checkpoints across the capital which remained unmanned for 16 days,” said a senior police official at the Aabpara Police Station, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he had not been authorized to speak to reporters. He said there was concern that crowds of protesters would overwhelm officers at checkpoints and torture them in retaliation for previous clashes. - Read More, NYTimes


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