SWAT: Students are lobbying hard for VIPs to skip Swat from their itineraries during whistle-stop tours that create hardship for the local population.
“We appeal to them to please not visit Swat,” said an agitated college student about VIP visits to the valley. “Their visits only create problems rather than solving them.”
On October 20, students from various colleges had gathered in Mingora to protest against VIP visits and subsequent curfews.
Residents of the valley complain that every time a VIP is scheduled to visit, curfew is imposed on the busiest road in the region, the Mingora-Saidu Sharif Road. As residents are not informed prior to the imposition of curfew, the result is hours-long wait. Not just the area’s social life but also its economic activity is affected.
Mingora is the largest city in Swat and its economic hub. The Mingora-Saidu Sharif Road leads to two major hospitals, the university, colleges, district courts and dozens of district offices which are frequented by people from all over the valley. Patients en route to the hospitals suffer the most because of unannounced curfew. There have been reports of patients dying before they could reach the hospitals.
“Every other day we have trouble getting to our college. Often we have to wait in the college till evening waiting for the curfew to open. And sometimes law enforcement personnel ask to vacate the college immediately,” said college students who had gathered to protest the unannounced curfews. Once they had been asked to leave the college in the middle of an intermediate exam.
“We see no benefit of these visits and we don’t know even their purposes,” the students added.
Riaz Hussain, a resident of Kabal tehsil, recounted his recent ordeal: “I came from Shah Dairai to attend court proceedings but when I reached Mingora the road leading to the district courts was closed. I will now have to wait another two or three months for the next hearing.” Hussain says that either the authorities should move the location of the courts or stop VIPs from visiting.
This week, when the chief minister was scheduled to visit Swat district for the distribution ceremony of Watan cards, among those stopped by the police was a patient who needed immediate medical attention. His relative pleaded with the police, saying “Please let us go as delays will cause loss of his eyesight.”
While the chief minister did not end up visiting, the police and security forces sternly replied that they had orders to not let anybody pass this way. One student summed up the sentiments of a weary population: “The VIPs have made our lives a living hell.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2010.
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