Islamabad closed off ahead of planned anti-government march to occupy the Pakistani capital
ISLAMABAD - In Islamabad, buildings have been draped with lights, bunting and green-and-white national flags in preparation for Pakistan's 68th Independence Day on Thursday. That however, is the extent of celebrations. The capital's streets, usually bustling on the eve of Independence Day, instead wear a desolated look.
An uncertain, confused and tense political atmosphere is the cause of the muted celebrations. Popular politician Imran Khan plans to use August 14 for a "long march" from northeastern Lahore to Islamabad, with the aim of forcing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's resignation.
Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which came second in last year's general elections, has formed an ill-fitting marriage of convenience with Tahir-ul-Qadri, a Canada-based politician, and his quasi-religious political movement. Qadri wants more than Sharif's resignation, he is calling for a revolution to end electoral politics in Pakistan.
The daunting anti-government alliance insists they will not leave the capital without achieving their goals.
The lead-up to the march has meant violent clashes between police and opposition activists in the country's populous northeastern Punjab province, which killed 23 people. To stop the protesters from entering, Islamabad has been cut off from the rest of the country with major roads blocked using containers and barricades. Four days of the blockade mean supplies of food, oil and other essential goods have dwindled -- prices have gone in the opposite direction.
"It’s a very special day when the nation should express its unity and love to its country. But unfortunately, we stand divided on this day," said taxi driver Mukhtar Alam, while driving along one of Islamabad's deserted roads.
"I am scared like any other citizen. We do not know how long this all will persist if any untoward incident happens in regard to the long march."
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