The Russians are coming, is a famous phrase from the peak Cold War years attributed to a US Secretary of Defence James Forrestal, who obsessed with his fear of "imminent" Russian threat to his country was driven crazy before committing suicide in 1949. The Lahorites are currently suffering a similar state of mind. In their case, it is not the Russians who are coming. They are going crazy for a different reason. Their scary spook is none other than the new VIPs from Islamabad. Formerly, General Musharraf used to come to Lahore for his weekends making the city's common man's life miserable if not agonising. Prime Minister Gilani is now so much enchanted with our city that he has chosen to spend most of his "free" time here and has converted the State Guest House as his Lahore Camp Office which he uses as his office-cum-residence during his increasingly frequent visits to this city. "Islamabad's VIP's are coming" is now the phrase that dreads us. This last week has been a testing period for the poor citizens of Lahore. As if the going was already not tough enough for us after the recent monsoon downpours flooding our streets and frequent unscheduled power outages, our city suffered another painful seizure with VIPs of all sorts and scale from Islamabad descending on us in full glare and glow and making our life miserable through traffic jams and security barriers. The occasion was a meeting of the federal cabinet that Prime Minister Gilani in his good judgement decided to hold in the provincial metropolis as an out of station "retreat". He brought the federal cabinet and provincial chief ministers along with a huge bureaucratic squad from Islamabad to Lahore where all five-star hotels were taken over by the government. It was nothing but an unnecessary large scale official "tour and travel" extravaganza which must have cost fortunes to the state exchequer at a time when "economy" should have been our foremost strategic priority. At the end of the day, there were no decisions that could not be taken in Islamabad. The country continues to suffer the same policies and the same problems. Prime Minister Gilani's preferential focus on Lahore for spending most of his time in this city would not go unquestioned in other provinces. Already, there is a strong underlying resentment in smaller provinces against what is seen as continued "Punjabi dominance" and a perennial though not entirely baseless feeling of their discriminatory treatment by the "Punjabi dominated" federation in terms of inequitable distribution of power and resources, and exploitation of provinces' natural wealth. As a matter of principle, the cabinet meetings should always be held in Islamabad which as the federal capital intrinsically as well as symbolically represents the unity of Pakistan. Prime Minister Gilani by using Lahore as his second home must not cause this unity to erode even symbolically. Besides their serious financial implications and logistical complications, regular cabinet meetings outside the federal capital would be seen only as a political mockery, if not a nomadic Qadhafi style governmental "safari". In case the prime minister is contemplating to take his cabinet to other provincial cities for rotational "mock" sessions, we might be witnessing a newer version of the famous "lucky" Iranian circus that has traditionally been moving from town to town in our country and is known as a source of popular "entertainment". The present civilian elected government must avoid becoming a political carousal, and would be best advised to continue to operate from Islamabad which has the necessary wherewithal for the smooth and secure conduct of its business. Far from being a "source" of popular entertainment, a travelling cabinet would only be a joke of the new century. The people do not deserve to suffer the agony that the travelling VIPs bring to them as part of their security paraphernalia. With increasing frequency of high-level visits to these cities, common man finds himself virtually under security "siege" almost every week. Traffic logjams and security gridlock's make their lives miserable. Roads are blocked, streets barricaded and main thoroughfares, especially the designated routes and adjacent localities become "no-go areas". As motorcades move around the city taking the VIPs to wedding ceremonies or tea parties in their honour, everything comes to a grinding halt disrupting even emergency services. Ambulances and fire brigade vehicles have often been held up in these traffic jams with their patients, in some cases, breathing their last without reaching hospitals or receiving emergency care and attention. In some cases, doctors are caught in massive traffic jams and kept from attending their ER patients. Indeed, the VIP movement culture in our country is without any precedent or parallel anywhere in the world. They bring common man's life to a chaotic standstill. The citizens of Lahore and Karachi, in particular, are fed up with VIP motorcades and security routes on their roads and streets. They look for relief from this recurring "state-imposed" punishment. For God's sake, do not include the big cities in your VIP junketing itineraries. Besides, the inconvenience and nuisance to the people, VIP visits also entail huge financial burden on the national exchequer. The government expenditure on security- related measures, including "hidden" expenses, is generally in the range of millions of rupees for each VIP visit. A larger part of security-related expenses remain "classified" and are usually not reflected in the official budgetary statements. Growing traffic congestion caused by VIP visits and related security measures also have an adverse effect on the overall economy and business activity of the city concerned in terms of billions of rupees spent on contingency traffic planning for each VIP visit. Businesses suffer declined sales on account of traffic congestion during these visits. Then, there is also an invisible and incalculable loss of time for every affected person during the long spells of traffic closures on these occasions. The heaviest cost is, however, incurred by the public in terms of frequent chaos on the roads, strain on their vehicles, waste of gasoline during traffic jams, pressure on their minds, missed appointments and opportunities, unkept engagements, unattended public security and enhanced crime rate in the absence of city's police and security personnel diverted to VIP duty. Meanwhile, one wonders what attracts our Islamabad VIPs to Lahore. Why do they like to spend their weekends here and would not miss a wedding or a festival of every season in this city? Perhaps they find Lahore's cultural "affluence" and its "diversity" in performing arts soothing enough to give them a "break" from Islamabad's nerve-wrecking State matters. This was overly evident in the "freshness" of statements by Prime Minister Gilani during his latest two successive visits to Lahore within a week. First, he echoed George W Bush's fault line on a new 9/11 emerging from Pakistan. Then to everyone's pleasant surprise, he gave good news to the nation after addressing the Staff College headed by the famous local commander of the Kargil debacle. He said, "Pakistan was a sovereign country and not fighting a proxy war." He also informed the nation that "Pakistan was a nuclear state and there was no threat to the country. It seems the prime minister is getting out of touch with the realities in and around our tribal areas. In any case, he must avoid his predecessor's Marco Polo habits. If he cannot resist travelling inside the country, then instead of visiting his favourite city, Lahore every weekend, the prime minister should plan systematically to apportion his free time among the underprivileged areas of the country, especially those in Balochistan, Frontier, Fata, Sindh and remote areas of Punjab's Saraiki belt including his home town Multan and its environs. Meanwhile, he would do us a favour by reducing his weekly forays into our city Lahore, which with increasing VIP visits has lost its original historical and cultural character. It is no longer the same old city. The Mall and the GOR are no longer the pride of this city. The canal is a sewerage channel and the metropolis itself is completely disfigured. The presence of a Naval War College in "waterless" GOR is an oddity and a security risk to every one living in this exclusive residential area. It is now no more than a "billboard" city with monstrous commercial ads and repulsive political "bootlicking" ugly and grimy banners dominating its skyline. Will the chief minister kindly rescue this beleaguered city from "billboards and streamers" of all sorts, including soiled political banners, and restore its original historic and cultural character? The writer is a former foreign secretary and senior political analyst