By Ayesha Mir
No matter how calm and lush it is on the outside, Islamabad nowadays is reeking of conflict and confusion internally. It seems that much like our Government, ‘Islamabadis’ too are unsure of how to proceed with their lives.
A thick cloud of uncertainty looms above their heads in the form of an invisible, yet life-threatening virus.
Recently the Deputy Commissioner of Islamabad said that the capital city may be the first in ‘flattening the curve’ as extensive surveillance in the city has slowed down the spread of new Coronavirus cases.
On April 14, he reported that thanks to the lockdown, no new positive cases had been reported in the last 48 hours. At present, there are 154 confirmed cases in Islamabad.
But no matter how refreshing the news may sound, it could be too soon to make anything out of it. One major cause for concern is that Islamabad International Airport alone is bearing the brunt of all international passengers, and this may end up in a serious problem.
It is also quite difficult to assess what the public is thinking and how it is responding to the lockdown.
On certain days, despite the closure of offices, schools, and restaurants, an alarmingly high number of vehicles are seen on the roads, causing one to wonder, “Where is everyone even going?”
But while the Coronavirus may have disrupted all other plans, it hasn’t been able to stop the arrival of a beautiful, blooming spring from spreading out in every nook and cranny of the city. The irresistible sight of neon pink bougainvillea, blushing roses, and delicate cherry blossom is an excuse for many residents to flock outside for a walk. Although it makes one wonders if this negates the purpose of social distancing entirely.
In response to decreased traffic and improved air quality, there have been many reports of wild animals – including leopards, barking deer, foxes and porcupines – who dwell within the Margalla Hills, have broken through their hideouts and have dared to cross over into human territory. Some have even descended to the streets of Islamabad!
Despite troops of monkeys arriving in Sectors F-6 and E-7, audaciously stealing clothes off of people’s balconies, and animals ‘reclaiming’ back lost territory, many people are inevitably rejoicing the sight of empty roads and are celebrating calm evenings as a pleasant reminder of a vacant and serene Islamabad from decades ago. The iconic Margalla Road, which was otherwise crowded with traffic jams, is now a site for evening strolls and bicycling.
All is not rainbows and sunshine though: as the government still figures how the lockdown will shape up in the coming days, citizens’ patience has been pushed to the limit and they are now seeking ways to resume a normal routine.
Many white-collar workers and businessmen are in deep despair as the lockdown has extended for another two weeks. They worry they will not be able to bear losses beyond this month. Some have even reopened their businesses, while others never shut theirs completely, to begin with.
The Deputy Commissioner may have given repeated assurances to the public through his tweets, but the implementation of the lockdown doesn’t seem to be as strict as was posed.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, since the beginning of the outbreak, has been especially sympathetic towards the working class, and while the launch of welfare gestures such as the Ehsaas Program has been welcomed, it is difficult to decipher how he will protect millions against both poverty and the Coronavirus.
The PM seems to be keen to act on the former rather than the latter; according to him, since the country has experienced 70 percent fewer cases of the Coronavirus than initial estimates, it may be time to resume commercial activities. He has allowed certain industries, especially the construction sector and small businesses, to resume their activities out of concern for economic fallout – albeit without any data on whether the ‘control’ in the number of cases is because of lack of tests performed or because of a low transmission rate.
In a tragic irony, as people were told to stay at home, On Thursday, April 16, the homes of many poor families living in slum settlements of Islamabad’s G-11 area were ruthlessly bulldozed.
It seems no matter how ‘pro-poor’ the Government’s narrative may appear to be, it certainly didn’t stop the CDA and the Islamabad Police from demolishing around 75 homes in the abadi. Many of the daily wagers residing in the abadi had already lost their means of survival due to the pandemic. Bulldozing their homes during this crisis was nothing short of cruelty.
In a video posted by Ammar Rashid of the Awami Workers’ Party on Twitter, a daily wage laborer explained how he begged the authorities to spare him for the sake of his children, but the officials beat him up and left him homeless instead.
The Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari did take note of this unsanctioned action, and the DC reported that the concerned official has been suspended and arrangements for food and shelter for the concerned families were underway. But it still leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth.
Though restrictions on public gatherings and educational institutions remain in place, there is an innate confusion over who this applies to or what action may be taken against those who violate the lockdown.
Amidst Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman openly defying government orders for a lockdown of mosques, the Chief Justice demanding the removal of Dr. Zafar Mirza, the reshuffling of the cabinet over the yet another sugar mill scandal, and the obvious tension and political point-scoring between federal and provincial governments, the pandemic seems to be revealing more about our ruling party’s weaknesses than we can afford to bear at this hour.
One can only wish that just as nature seems to be using this time to heal and restore itself, our nation should do the same.