For a few days towards the end of this past week (three to be exact), due to the protests against Asia Bibi‘s supreme court ruling, Islamabad was “blocked.” I got up Friday morning for an important meeting with an informant at the World Bank Headquarters, and at that time, my mobile was not working.
That morning, I went down to meet my driver, Majid Bhai, and he told me the networks have been blocked by the Government. I thought something was not right with my Ufone account, but all the cell phones in the surrounding area were not working apparently. Majid Bhai mentioned it happens from time to time, when something in the political scene erupts. It appeared to be the case in the entire city. The road beyond the World Bank headquarters, when I arrived that morning, was blocked off completely, with several rangers on guard beside the WB gate.
The meeting later in the afternoon, which would take place at the highly secured Serena Business Complex was canceled. Most people were working from home. I still saw people around, and perhaps if I was venturing out myself without a driver (who was afraid) or without a strict safety protocol from my university, I might check out where all the commotion is coming from. I guess its the risk-taking anthropologist within me, that in these types of circumstance, I am obliged to tame.
Thursday night, I was just sitting at the Mocca Cafe in Kohsar market, with an acquaintance who informed me that it was this very cafe in Kohsar that the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who defended Asia Bibi when she was first imprisoned, was shot and assassinated 8 years ago. The guy who shot him was eventually hanged. Pretty crazy, I was sitting in the area where he was shot and killed. I can’t verify if it was actually Mocca cafe, but people say it was. People from elite and progressive backgrounds come and chill at the Mocca Cafe. Some bring there laptops and enjoy the ambiance while working. I had another meeting there in the earlier days that was quite memorable. These types of experiences, of sitting and enjoying the modern elements of Pakistani society was not something I had experienced until quite recently, this trip and last winter. It remains quite interesting to me.
But, despite the “disconnection” in the city, I was glad to finally make it to a critical meeting Friday. It was quite a surreal and emotional feeling that morning. Largely because it was certainly a huge breakthrough for my research. I finally had a meeting with an important informant from one of my primary case studies, the World Bank administered Rural Livelihoods and Community Infrastructure Program. It was nice to be able to share a preliminary network diagram of the RLCIP with the Task Team Leader as well. The fact that the TTL was impressed with it was truly heartwarming. I also received key contacts in Peshawar that I am looking forward to the meeting in the next few weeks.
The city remains “too safe” for me. 🙂
But the beautiful sunsets I occasionally have the opportunity to view, like I did off the La Terrazza Restaurant of Centaurus Mall this past weekend, make up for the lack of “that kind of excitement.” 🙂
Looking ahead, into this coming week, I do anticipate another week full of activities, new insights, new information, new people, and more progress. Staying positive amid the challenges, as the city hopefully normalizes it’s law and order.
This situation certainly was yet another reminder for Pakistan to adhere to the “rule of law,” which has been lacking, as its citizens continue to be impacted at various levels across the country over such issues, and in some circumstances, beyond sudden road blockages or disconnected mobile networks. The disheartening decision of the government to succumb to the pressure from extremists by blocking Asia Bibi from leaving Pakistan is yet another sign that Naya Pakistan, with respect to the rule of law, may take a lot longer than envisioned.