Life in and around the Aabpara Market, the commercial hub of the capital city, is often disrupted by processions and rallies, but on Sunday, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) broke new ground in making life difficult for area residents and creating inconvenience for motorists by holding a public gathering at the main chowk (circle).
The closure of all roads leading to the busy intersection, along with Kashmir Highway, which runs parallel to Khayaban-i-Suhrawardy, resulting from the odd choice of venue for the large gathering, also annoyed some shopkeepers in the market, who saw slower-than-usual business activity, and caused confusion for commuters as passenger vans were re-routed.
Samson Masih, a government employee and resident of G-6/1, said he could not even drive his car out of his street because the sector was almost in lockdown mode.
“My daughter is admitted in CDA hospital. I had to go visit her,” Masih said. “I have had to walk everywhere all day because there is no way for me to drive out of my street.”
The gathering’s organisers set up the stage at the chowk facing 7th Avenue, and the seating area was established along a 500-metre stretch of Khayaban-e- Suhrawardy.
This bizarre arrangement meant the police had to cordon off the chowk from three sides. Khayaban-e- Suhrwardy was blocked for traffic near the 7th Avenue exit, where police had set up three walkthrough gates. Roads were also blocked at multiple points at the back of the Aabpara market and only one-way traffic was allowed from Lal Masjid toward the venue. Kashmir Highway was also closed for traffic.
Aabpara Police Station House Officer (SHO) Haq Nawaz said security staff at the venue included two superintendents of police, 10 inspectors, 40 lady constables and 100 Anti -Terrorist Squad officers, along with guards on the rooftops and 16 police vans.
But the police had set up three of its five walkthrough gates on only one entrance, which allowed people to easily move in and out of the venue through side-streets without undergoing security checks.
People who worked in Aabpara had to park their vehicles around the G-6/1 area. Wagons were diverted through the G-6 service road and skipped several stops.
Some residents were also irked by the sound system. The speakers were loud enough that speeches could be heard in the residential areas across Aabpara.
Muhammad Yusuf, who lives in the G-6/1 government quarters, said, “Every weeknight I have trouble sleeping because of music from loudspeakers at the election camps near my house. The only difference tonight is that instead of music it is speeches.”
A police officer who was part of the security contingent at the gathering held the organisers responsible for the mess.
“The administration had asked the PML-N to hold the gathering at Fatimah Jinnah Park or the Pakistan Sports Complex, which are both open spaces,” the police officer told The Express Tribune while requesting anonymity. “Instead, the organisers insisted they wanted to hold the gathering at Aabpara Chowk.”
While most shops in the Aabpara market remained open, some shopkeepers did not see the flurry of customers expected on Sundays.
“How am I going to make a sale when all the roads are closed,” said Zeeshan Khan, a fruit vendor. “I am so bored I am considering going home.”
Clothing salesman Abdul Hadi pointed to the empty garments market and said, “There are plenty of customers on the first Sunday of the month, but today there are none.”
Some shopkeepers also missed Sunday Bazaar customers who they said would browse through in Aabpara after visiting the bazaar.
Other business owners were happy, however, with the PML-N’s show in Islamabad. Ikhlaq Abbasi, a trader from the G-9 market, claimed that traders from the federal capital had announced their support for the PML-N.
Restaurants and shops selling snack foods near the Aabpara Chowk were abuzz with activity as well. Most of the people waiting for the rally to begin decided to snack and sip tea at these eateries.
Maqbool Ahmed, a resident of G-6/1-2, said the inconvenience was part and parcel of political activity. “There are some security threats surrounding rallies but with a gathering like this, it is more like a festival and everyone is enjoying it,” Ahmed said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2013.