Mudassar Rasheed, a businessman and a resident of a locality next to Model Town Link Road, Lahore lost his father on August 14 last. The deceased was a retired government servant and had been ill for some time. He passed away in the wee hours of the day and the family decided to hold the funeral and the burial in the afternoon.
They were not aware of the fact that it would be too difficult for them to spread this news among their relatives, friends and acquaintances. The mobile service was suspended in the whole of Model Town and its adjoining areas and it was next to impossible for them to go out of this zone and make calls from a place where mobile signals were available. All they could do was to make few calls from a PTCL landline but even in this case they could not contact the residents of Model Town whose cell phones were not working.
“Some friends were sent the cell numbers of people via email and requested to deliver the sad news to them. We could not easily trace the person who could give ritual bath to my father’s body,” says Mudassar.
This is just one of the many ordeals the residents of Model Town have had to go through due to its recent siege with containers. Though the message could be passed on with friends’ help, there was no mechanism in place to help facilitate the people who wanted to join them and attend the funeral.
The residents of Model Town Society (MTS) were disturbed because of the activity that was going on around the Minhajul Quran campus and Tahirul Qadri’s house and also due to the closure of different roads with the help of containers. They say they were used to dealing with security measures taken for the safety of the VVIPs living there but this was a completely new ‘phenomenon’.
This time around, even the linking streets and pedestrian walkways were blocked in order to completely shut off the ‘outsiders’, says Mian Abrar who has been based here since his birth.
He says that despite all such hassles people love to live here and have formed an unbreakable association with the place. Despite manifold increase in their financial status, people do not move from here and if they do they retain their old house. “But now I have heard people thinking about moving for the housing society fast turning into a fortress,” he adds.
Those living here include former chief minister of Punjab, Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s sister who lives in D Block, PML-Q bigwig and former PML-N MNA Mian Munir, Shaheena Wattoo, daughter of Manzoor Wattoo, who lives in B Block, former Punjab Governor Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood who lives in B Block, former nazim Lahore Mian Amir Mehmood who lives in E Block, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, Tahir ul Qadri and many others.
Besides, there are the Minhaj ul Quran Secretariat, the office-cum-residence of Punjab CM Mian Shahbaz Sharif, the mosque associated with late Dr Israr and a few imambargahs which have security cordon around them making residents look out desperately for detours.
An interesting fact is that there are several business tycoons who are billionaires but are not willing to move from here. For example the owners of Newage Cable, Tyco, Emco Tiles, Abbas Carpets, UAE Steel Mills, Ejaz Group are residents and members of MTS, says Abrar. They are wealthy enough to establish their estates, he says, but they live in Model Town which has a history and is managed by an effective society comprising residents who are members as well.
The residents were relieved when security barriers near the houses of Sharif family were removed during Musharraf regime. The house of Mian Sharif was converted into an Old House.
But now the situation has again changed for the worse, claims Muhammad Ijaz, a resident of N block. He tells TNS “our movement has curtailed ever since the tension between Tahirul Qadri and Shahbaz Sharif started. The Punjab government regularly stops us at checkposts within Model Town and checks our CNICs as if we were some criminals.” He complains they cannot move in their own locality and it appears Model Town has become personal state of Sharif family.
Though residents wish for shifting of VVIPs to some other place especially the Sharifs, it seems difficult keeping in view the strong association they (the Sharifs) have with Model Town. It was around 1970 when Mian Sharif, father of Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif, moved here from Daalgran Chowk (near Railway Road and Brandreth Road) along with his six brothers and all of them built their houses (seven in total) in the same lane in H Block. It is believed that they moved as their business had expanded and they wanted to live in vicinity of Ittefaq Foundry located in Kot Lakhpat.
There is criticism against the MTS that it does not talk boldly with the government and fails to take up the complaints of the residents. Press reports say that the society is hardly ever taken on-board while devising security plans. Even the decisions made are not shared with the MTS members.
An MTS managing committee member tells TNS on condition of anonymity that the Punjab government led by Mian Shahbaz Sharif does not acknowledge MTS as there is a perception that most of its office-bearers and members are Mian Amir Mehmood’s loyalists. “The police do not pay heed to our concerns and requests,” he says.
An official in the police squad responsible for CM’s security denies the charge. He says the security plans cannot be shared in advance. “Security personnel are deployed at multiple routes and nobody, even the police, knows which route he will ultimately use and what travel plan he has.”
The roads leading to the residences of the CM and his son are blocked altogether and barriers have been placed at the start. This would not happen in the past but now, he says, it is unavoidable as the methods of assault by terrorists have changed. “Now they do not need to be next to the target personality to cause harm. The attack can be made from a distance and that’s why the scale of the required security cordon looks bigger.”
The justifications provided by the official may satisfy some on why there is the need for extraordinary security arrangements in the locality. But can one justify why those who can afford housing in other posh localities should continue to live in Model Town under these circumstances.