Pakistan diary: Braced for trouble

Security measures to prevent lawyers from reaching Lahore and Karachi slow “long march”.

imran khan in lahore
Security forces have been deployed in major cities to stave off the planned protests

I took a walk down The Mall to Charing Cross – the names are a hangover from the British rule of India – as Lahore prepared to greet the “long marchers”.

If I were to be more accurate, the title would be the “long drivers” rather than marchers. Nonetheless, this historic city is bracing itself for trouble.

Noman is a student I ran into in Charing Cross.

In an accent that is equal parts Pakistani Lahori and American Brooklyn, he tells me: “I don’t know, dude. The lawyers all came here yesterday, it was pretty cool. Y’know we’ll see. What worries me is no one seems to be able to get to Lahore because of the crazy ban!”

The ban was in reference to Section 144 of the criminal procedure code. It stops public gatherings and it is currently in place across some Pakistani towns and provinces.

It has already had an effect on the long march. Ali Ahmed Kurd is the current president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. With his small stature and shock of white hair, he is a distinctive figure.

Kurd decided that he would take his convoy from Quetta, his hometown, to Karachi in Sindh province. At the border with Sindh, the government refused him entry, citing Section 144.

He decided to just sit at the border and stayed there for a few hours, facing down the police before deciding to take an alternative route to Lahore.

Section 144 has sparked small riots across Karachi, a sprawling city of 16 million people.

Ali is my friend there, and he says that there are people who are defying the ban and trying to get to Lahore.

“The police tried to stop the convoy from leaving the city. The protesters clashed with police. They threatened the bus drivers with impounding vehicles,” he said.

“So the marchers are trying other routes, by privates cars, rail. I have heard some of them will even hitch-hike.”

Ali laughed as he told me this. 

Ali is one of the silent majority in Pakistan who look at this march, wondering what on earth his country can throw up next – military rule, war within its borders, political crisis, suicide bombers, lawyers’ revolt and natural disaster. Pakistan seems to have been through it all.

I thought about his comments as I walked back down The Mall.

In just 24 hours, lawyers will be hoping this road will be full of black-clad brethren, political activists and party workers. But people like Ali will not be on the march for any change to come. They, as the saying goes, “Need to get on the bus”.

The lawyers are well aware of this and are out urging ordinary members of the public to join in. I guess we will see if they have succeeded soon enough.

Source: Al Jazeera