ISLAMABAD: The government’s apparent policy to wait out a blockade at Faizabad by members of a religious-cum-political party seems to be frustrating the protesters who have been camped at the intersection since November 8.
The zeal and energy of the protesters seem to have ebbed with a corresponding slight decrease in the number of protesters.
When the protesters, led by cleric Khadim Rizvi, started their march from Lahore on November 6, they seemed to be prepared to spend days, if needed, in the capital as they brought tents, power generators, and medical supplies along.
The crowd, which was charged and aggressive until a few days ago, now appears relatively less boisterous.
The government’s reluctance to use force or to bow down to the protesters wishes, coupled with the cooler weather seem to have dampened the protesters’ spirits.
The security cordon of the protesters, comprising hundreds of men, some of them in their teens, continue to occupy main Faizabad intersection, all its loops and a few hundred meters of surroundings.
Shipping containers and barbed wire separate them from the law enforcers on all four sides.
Sporadic scuffles and clashes have also taken place between the two sides over the past few days, but the law enforcers have so far shown restraint. However, both sides remain vigilant against each other as police have arrested dozens of isolated sit-in participants while the protesters have frequently rounded up and held people whom they believe to be policemen in plain clothes.
The sit-in participants are frequently warned by organisers to not venture out of the sit-in venue or else they will be nabbed by the policemen.
“Do not go out of the sit-in venue. But if you must, then go in groups of at least eight to ten men each,” booms the announcer from the main stage. Police say they have arrested around 150 protesters over the past few days. At least 17 FIRs have also been registered against Rizvi and hundreds of other organisers and participants of the protest.
The government has tasked a mediatory committee of clerics to talk and convince the organisers to open the Islamabad Expressway and let the Metro Bus function.
Protesting the protest
Dozens of transporters and drivers also held a protest demonstration a few hundred meters from the sit-in against the Faizabad blockade on Tuesday. The transporters said their business had been badly affected due to the blockade and requested both the protesters and the government to work out a solution to the crisis at the earliest.
In Rawalpindi, Shamsabad and Inayat Bazaar traders — who are suffering from the blockade — warned the city administration that they would block the Double Road if the blockade was not cleared within the next 24 hours.
They also demanded that alternative routes and the Metro Bus service should be restarted.
“For the past 14 days, the business activities at Faizabad, Inayat Bazar and Shamsabad have been on hold. Shopkeepers keep waiting for buyers, but they cannot reach the stores,” complained Traders Association President Akram Abbas Goshi.
Transporters have started taking advantage of the sit-in by fleecing commuters by overcharging for travelling on the various routes between Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Hikmat Yar Khan, a resident of Rawalpindi, said that residents were facing difficulties in using local transport.
"It is very difficult to get to our offices when we were being overcharged by the transporters, especially by the taxis,” Hikmat said.
At certain places, commuters could be seen trading harsh words with drivers and conductors over extra fares being charged, said Islamabad resident Abbas Ali.
Islamabad Traffic Police (ITP) spokesman Salman Ali said that extra staff had been deployed at various points to facilitate the road users and to control traffic. He advised commuters to use Peshawar Road, Murree Road and Double Road to reach Islamabad. Those heading towards Airport could use Koral Road and Lehrer Road.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN RAWALPINDI AND APP)
Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2017.