With the provincial home department pronouncing the Mall road a Red Zone and barring all gatherings on the stretch for six months, the declaration comes as a welcome boon for commuters and residents in the vicinity. Our own tame version of the Tahrir square, the Mall Road has been the default focal point of political remonstration and protests. Where political parties such as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek etc have held the streets hostage to get their points across, so have demonstrations by doctors, nurses, clerks, teachers, milkmen, traders and peasants.
While the central thoroughfare sites a number of historical and politically eminent buildings and installations, it is the very political relevance and influence of these buildings and the power figures that reside within that make it site of effective demonstration. Similarly, the entire premise of such demonstrations is to block city arteries, causing enough disruption and resistance to snag the attention of the media and bring notice to their cause; defying such injunctions will only add to the appeal of rebellion against the establishment and shift the processions to infringe other major expressways.
There is no question that the recurring protests impede the flow of traffic and the everyday lives of the commuters. However, protests and public demonstrations are a democratic right of the citizens that cannot and should not be withheld, and in a weighted political process like ours, such public dharnas have morphed into a polity in their own right based on their ability to effect change (minute in some instances, and groundbreaking in others). Yet it is a huge undertaking for the government to regulate and control such processions, rallies and sit-ins to avoid infringement of peace and the trading activities of the citizens. Such situations have the potential to deteriorate into violence and are susceptible to suicide attacks. Where the ban is an awaited change for commuters and traders in the area and can help restore order to the suspended commutes and activities, it remains to be seen if voices of dissent will adhere to the injunction or whether it will siphon off the demonstrations and dharnas that have become a routine part of the humdrum of the city to other main arteries of the metropolis, in the deeply-felt absence of a forum for such expressions of remonstration.