The president is indeed in town

Naveen Naqvi May 19, 2010

When I left my home a couple of days ago, I noticed that there were more cops, of many different varieties, than usual in my neighbourhood. Has anyone else noticed how many kinds of cops there are these days? Special forces, extra special forces, not-sospecial- more-like-extra forces, forces-in-black, forcesin- khaki and, my favourites, forces on horses.

Oh no, I groaned. Is he in town? As I drove by Bilawal House – situated on a double road that was one of the perks of living in the area – surma-wearing, moustached, potbellied, uniformed men peered into my car. Yes, that’s right. All terrorists are women driving along in little Cuores and, therefore, I must undergo the most thorough inspection.

But they haven’t blocked all the lanes across from Bilawal House, which would mean he’s not in town, I thought. Ah, but they’re putting those pretty flowerpots at the mouth of the road. Countless Prados that roam the streets of Karachi with their missing number plates and PPP flags milled in and out of the restricted zone. He is here. Or if he isn’t, then he’s definitely on his way. Maybe it’s the brats, I thought. The Bilawal House ‘brat pack’ get the ambulance but not the fire brigade, which I couldn’t see. I didn’t have to wonder for too long. By the next day, we heard the whirr of the choppers. President Asif Ali Zardari was indeed in town for a visit, and we, the residents of the Bilawal House area had to adjust to all kinds of traffic manoeuvres.

This is not the first time and yet we never get used to it. What is even more surprising is that we don’t say a thing about it. I will, I threaten to every time. Then I think, well, there is a lot worse going on in this country. At least I’m not a peasant working all day in the field, coming home to feed six children and a drunk husband who beats me to a pulp every day. But what would happen if a queue of cars drove up to the blockade and did nothing but honk? They’d shoot at us, a friend said. Would they really? I could write about it. The wise words of a former editor came to me, urging me not to write in a fit of righteous anger.

But I’m not furious, just mildly annoyed and a bit curious. Surely it can’t be legal for the entire road to be blocked off on a permanent basis. I understand he has security concerns, but this is a residential area, not a government colony. There have to be laws that prevent this kind of blatant misuse of power. And then I saw the big story of the day. The president uses his discretionary power to bail out Rehman Malik.

Laws indeed.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 20th, 2010.