Tale of two cities in Pakistan

February 18th, 2008 - 11:01 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Nawaz Sharif
(Poll Diary)
By Devirupa Mitra
Islamabad, Feb 18 (IANS) Islamabad and Rawalpindi are known as twin cities, but they certainly were not identical in their response to the election day. The capital city was deserted, as most of its residents, being government officers, had left for their home towns to enjoy a four-day holiday from Friday, thanks to the poll.

The only car cavalcades seen in the capital were of election officials monitoring the polls, as well as that of foreign observers.

In contrast, Rawalpindi was a cauldron of intense political activity, with long queues outside polling stations in government schools and college buildings. Cars and pick-up trucks, plastered with political posters and flying party flags, zipped from one end to another, ferrying voters from residential colonies to polling stations and back.

Trucks filled with army personnel were visible on roads, patrolling the capital city. The main road leading to the National Assembly building had been barricaded as a security precaution. But the army rangers kept away from polling stations in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, which were guarded by black-uniformed local police.

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Pakistanis spared power cuts on polling day

Besides Pakistani government officials involved in the polling process, there was another group of officials on their toes on the election day Monday - those dealing with electricity generation and distribution.

Even for ordinary Pakistanis, Feb 18 was a respite from power cuts, with the government having given strict orders to stop all load shedding for a day. As a backup, all polling stations were also provided with generators.

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Taxi drivers are all smiles

Besides hotel officials, taxi drivers in Islamabad were a happy lot on the polling day due to the heavy demand from visiting journalists to go on polling station tours.

While Indian journalists were not overcharged, by and large, other foreign reporters had to pay through their noses.

“My friend asked for 800 dollars from a western journalist to ferry around the city today and he got it. He is set for this month,” chuckled Kaiser, a taxi driver.

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Most visible face may not remain so

Former information minister Sheikh Rasheed, one of the most visible faces of the Pakistani government on Indian television channels, looks set to lose in the two seats that he is contesting in Rawalpindi.

This could bring an end to his streak of winning in the last six elections since 1985. He had changed his affiliations from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to the newly formed ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) in 2000.

This time, Rasheed seems to a victim of an anti-Musharraf wave that extends to the members of the ruling Q League.

“He has undoubtedly done a lot of work. But I will not vote for him, as he is part of the Quaid party,” said 23-year-old Sheher Khatoon. Later in the afternoon, two roads leading to his house, Lal Haveli in Rawalpindi, were closed to traffic in anticipation of any trouble.

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