The widely frequented Fortress Stadium, which is also a thriving shopping space for Lahorites, wore a different look in the first week of March when it was closed to the general public except during certain hours and put under strict security check.
All business activity was suspended and the staff at all the stores, playlands and shopping malls at the Stadium was sent off on a forced leave.
Though the orders to shut down businesses had been delivered verbally to the shop/mall owners, there were some who were already thinking about taking a break.
The reason for clearing the area of routine activity was simple: the Fortress Stadium was playing host to the once hugely popular Horse & Cattle Show — after a long break of 11 years, to be precise.
The landmark annual festival was discontinued in 2004 because of security conditions in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Quite ironically, the event has been revived at a time which many think is no any better. In fact, most people believe the situation has only got worse. The terrorists are targeting public places where they can enter in the garb of ordinary citizens and cause harm to the innocent.
Such a stance is routinely countered by the supporters of the event — the civil, military and paramilitary officials who believe this national event would help boost up the morale of the nation. They assert that this is the time to tell the terrorists out there that the nation could not be cowed down.
Eventually, the 4-day event, which started on March 5 and continued through March 8, drew big crowds, reminding the elderly visitors of the good old times they had spent at earlier shows.
Though the proceedings and the items of the event were somewhat similar to those in the past, the ambience this year was totally different. The security was much stricter this time and, mostly, bothersome for the ordinary public.
TNS talked to different people and got a mixed response on the holding of the event. Imran Ahmed, a young visitor, said the Horse & Cattle Show had been organised without much homework and the people had no idea what to do once they were at the venue.
“Those who were driving CNG-fitted vehicles were turned away on the ground that the kits could be carriers of explosives,” he said. “If that was a precondition, it should have been shared with the public in advance in order to spare them the inconvenience.”
Much of the Stadium was uncovered and the public was left to soak in rain. On the other hand, the VIPs enjoyed the show in comfortable covers and were provided with refreshments.
The morning programmes included a unity show, an army band display, parading of livestock, greyhound race, folk dance, tent-pegging, acrobatics, bullock-cart race, horse and camel dance, pet show etc. The evening shows featured performances by the torch-bearing personnel of Pakistan Rangers. Fireworks were also part of the show.
The fact that only state media was allowed at the show called to mind the Horse & Cattle Show events that were held in the 1980s and ‘90s. This may be one reason why most media coverage was about the chief guests and the dignitaries “gracing the occasion.”
The doors were closed to private media for security reasons, said a senior police official who, however, failed to give a justification. He said that the security might be strict but the people had been accommodated. “For example, there were around 250 free shuttle buses available at 11 different points in the city. Those wanting to attend the show could park their vehicles close to these points and take the allocated buses to the venue and back. The pick-and-drop points included Azadi Chowk, Qartaba Chowk, Kalma Chowk, Qainchi, Thokar Niaz Beg, Scheme Mor, Jallo Mor, Shalimar Chowk and Nawaz Sharif Interchange on Bedian Road.
Mohd Qasim, a participant, said the rains “spoilt the show” and led to the cancellation of several events.
He said the ground became slippery due to rainwater. Besides, the viewers who were made to sit in the open left the venue the moment it started raining. “In the presence of bad weather forecast, the government went on to hold the event on the dates that it did.”
He says the Stadium has the capacity for 25,000 people and it was a pleasure to see the public turning out in huge numbers. The evening shows, he says, were even better attended.
Gilani also says that it was not possible to cover the entire Stadium as this would block the view of the people. Secondly, “no one has control over the weather; it can change any time and render all forecasts useless.”
He also says that the government has identified the problems faced by the people and will try to improve upon things. “We hope we will get enough time next year to make arrangements and hold rehearsals.”
Talat Naseer Pasha, Vice Chancellor, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS), is delighted at the revival of the Horse & Cattle Show. He says that the event has been a hallmark of Lahore’s cultural landscape and was missed badly over the last decade. “It gives the Pakistani livestock producers an opportunity to showcase their animals to the world. This promotes competition among breeders and they strive to win different contests held from time to time.”