Sunday 22 March 2009

Pakistan - governance by "Containers"

One of the most haunting images of last weekend (13-15 March) from Pakistan was that of forlone looking presidential palace in Islamabad hiding behind long containers, nomally used for ferrying goods across the country. Someone in authority thought using these containers would be the best way to block highways and access routes to Islamabad. Objective was to stop the civil society, protesting and demanding the return of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, from marching on to the federal capital.

Out of panic our "Hardward" trained Minister of Interior, Rehman Malik panicked into issuing orders to stop, confiscate and as a result grinding to a halt the goods transport industry in Pakistan for the whole week. His experience in Security Industry (he was in charge of Benazir Bhutto's personal security - and promoted to the rank of top sleuth in Pakistan after her assassination) led him to believe that blocking roads with long containers will stop people from marching towards the capital.

Long March is now successfully over, Chief Justice returned to his duties to administer justice, and the Prime Minister was busy dining with Mian Nawaz Sharif, head of the opposition today. I am not sure that we will ever find out the true cost to an already faltering economy of a week long hijack of goods transport industry. Containers that were confiscated were not empty - they were full of goods that had to be delivered somewhere according to an agreed time frame. Large number of these containers were carrying perishable food items. In the absence of a working insurance industry most of the losses were not covered and will be borne by the traders.

There was a human element to this episode, as well. For every truck that was impounded, for every container that was left on a road to block traffic, there was a truckers assistant left behind - for those not aware of how trucking industry works in Pakistan - with every truck on the road there is a character on board to accompany the driver, called a "cleaner". He is a lackey, under training and spare driver, person responsible to take care of the truck and do odd jobs. These poor creatures were left behind to look after the containers and its stocks, in many cases in deserted areas far away from residential and commercial facilities without access to food and amenities. They were few of the real victims of this crisis who will never be compensated.

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