After nearly a decade: Jinnah Avenue reopens

Barriers removed, traffic restored on prime minister’s directives

Police officer controls the traffic at D-chowk which opened to public after many years. PHOTO ZAFAR ASLAM/EXPRESS.

ISLAMABAD: Commuters in the capital, tired of rush hour jams near the Red Zone, were greeted with a refreshing change on Friday morning when they were able to drive freely down the previously impassable Jinnah Avenue.

In a surprising move, shipping containers and concrete blocks — placed for ‘security reasons’ — on Jinnah Avenue in front of the Parliament House and the Presidency were removed and open to the public after nearly a decade.

Police had restored traffic on the 350 metre-stretch of road, which served as the old parade ground, following directives from Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Friday.

To maintain the flow of traffic and security, officers said that extra men would be deployed at the main intersection on D-Chowk, which is only a few hundred meters from the Parliament House and the Presidency.

The venue had served as a parade ground for Pakistan Day and Independence Day parades by the armed forces the 1990s and early 2000s.

At one point, locals and foreigners alike used to take leisurely evening strolls and take pictures in front of the Presidency and parliament buildings.

However, a protest by lawyers calling for the restoration of the then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had prompted the government to seal the road for all kinds of traffic and even pedestrians in 2007.

The four-lane main road was blocked with containers on the intersection with Ataturk Avenue. The greenbelts on either side of the road were also blocked using containers and barbed wire.

Closed while citing security concerns, the intersection could not be opened in successive years owing to several political rallies and protests staged in Islamabad.

It was here that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) had held their four-month-long sit-in against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz-led government in 2014.

The principal decision to open the road was reportedly taken in October last year after Senators in the Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat called for opening D-Chowk to the public. It had followed public declarations from former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to erect a monument for martyrs at D-Chowk and to open the stretch of road.

The utility of the roadblock was further questioned after the track of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus was built over the greenbelt running along the closed section of the road.

Public remains doubtful

Considered to be the heart of Red Zone, authorities are usually very quick to seal off all entry points to the Constitution Avenue and the Diplomatic Enclave at the slightest hint of trouble.

Moreover, the containers have not been completely removed from the road. Rather, the authorities have only moved them off the tarmac and have placed them on the greenbelt, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.

While commuters started plying on the re-opened road, some residents expressed were cautious about enjoying it too much, suspecting that government could shut it down soon.

“It will be closed again whenever there is a small protest,” said a resident sarcastically.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2018.