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The traffic stoppers

Rethinking the VIP protocol management

The traffic stoppers

Dear All,

The PTI announcement that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government intends to finish off ‘VIP protocol’ in the province must have come as welcome news to those citizens who have ever had to suffer the frustration of being stuck in the traffic or other mayhem caused by such protocol.

Last Monday I almost missed a doctor’s appointment because of the total traffic chaos caused by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Karachi visit. All the traffic lights along Sharea Faisal and various offshoots seemed to be switched off, and traffic policemen were directing the flow of traffic. Except that there was no flow. It was after 4pm on a working day in Karachi, the start of the evening rush hour, so this disruption was particularly maddening as the traffic was choked. I made it to my doctor — late, of course, and no thanks to our leader. The irritation was compounded by the fact that my phone network wasn’t working; presumably for reasons of security.

I was reminded of a similar incident about a decade ago when I almost missed my flight out of Karachi because the country’s former Chief Executive and martial President, General Musharraf, was in town and most of Shahrea Faisal was blocked. By the time we got to the airport, the airline had actually closed their check-in desk but somehow we persuaded the staff to check us in.

My young children watched bemused as I raced over to the counter the staff was about to abandon, to beg and plead with them. We got on the flight, but no thanks to General Musharraf.

Last week, the security protocol organised for PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at Civil Hospital was reported to have created more than just inconvenience — a young child died because her father was unable to bring her into the hospital. The incident was widely (and loudly) reported on local television channels, and obviously the tragedy of an infant’s death made the whole protocol business even more despicable. That the PTI leader Imran Khan chose to announce the KP plan to end VIP protocol immediately after this incident was, of course, mere co-incidence because, obviously, political opportunism could not have been a factor.

Whatever one thinks about the timing, the fact is that the intention to move away from this sort of protocol is laudable. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s culture is, in many ways, far more egalitarian than that of Pakistan’s other provinces, so this would be a great place to start such reform. However, this is also the province where terrorist threats remain a terrible reality. Last week’s suicide attack on a NADRA office in Mardan proved to be a stark reminder of this.

But the elimination or reduction of such protocol is still a good idea because it would put leaders and so called VIPs on the same threat level as everybody else. Plus, it is recognition of the fact that ordinary citizens matter too: we refuse to be treated like cattle or cannon fodder, and we cannot be expected to be silent about the inequity and disruption of such protocol/security.

Also intriguing is the idea that some ‘VIP’ delays and road closures are less bad than others. When the Islamabad expressway was blocked as part of the arrangements for the wedding of the son of the head of ISPR, it seems not to have become the burning issue that it might have had the dad been a politician rather than the General in charge of Defence PR!

So, kudos to those who actually reported or tweeted about this.

Let’s hope the KP initiative proves a success…

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The author is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.

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