A colleague of mine returned from a weekend jaunt to the Punjab capital in a state of excitement. His reasons for being upbeat prompted me to take a trip to Lahore and see things for myself. I am now writing this week’s column from the City of Gardens after spending a considerable time on the streets, talking to people that I know and many, who were complete strangers.

The first thing I noticed on entering Lahore from the M2 was the absence of a traffic gridlock at Thokar Niaz Beg. Attributing it to Friday, I continued driving expecting a nightmare at Kalma Chowk, but found none. I asked a parked motorist as to what had brought about this change - “the new road network”, he promptly replied. Regretfully, this is, perhaps, the only bright spot in an otherwise dark and steaming metropolis.

I can understand the rationale behind the need for power loadshedding, but what is happening to the residents of Lahore and other places in Punjab, is nothing short of a cruel joke. Electricity in the Punjab capital is shut down for up to 18 hours each day. The 60 minutes’ reprieve in between these blackouts is not sufficient to charge ‘uninterrupted power supplies’, which soon give up. For those homes and businesses that possess generators, continuous running raises fuel consumption to unmanageable limits.

One person I spoke to belonged to a village in district Khanewal, where power shutdowns had created a water shortage. Deprived of piped clean drinking water, residents had bored wells and installed motors to draw out the precious liquid. Loadshedding had, however, created a situation, where motors lay idle and wells had become useless, forcing inhabitants to converge on three houses that had hand-operated pumps. Families living in these homes had, in a remarkable show of collective responsibility, magnanimously tolerated long lines of neighbours and water seekers with a smile.

The city of my birth continues to suffer from an acutely rising garbage disposal crisis. This is a problem (not confined to Lahore alone) aggravated by the apathy of those responsible to keep areas clean and by those that produce this garbage. While the former conceal their lack of commitment and apathy by citing non-availability of funds and requisite equipment, it is nothing but absence of civic sense amongst the latter that manifests itself in open heaps of stinking trash that litters localities other than those, which are elitist in nature.

Election is the buzz word in Pakistan these days and nowhere is it more apparent than in and around Punjab. In Lahore, one simply has to drop a comment while standing at, let us say, an outlet selling betel leaf and one gets to hear viewpoints that would put a seasoned analyst to shame. I tried this technique and was overwhelmed with conventional street wisdom. The outcome of this exercise was that the opinion that Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf had lost ground to the Sharif Brothers in Lahore. The phenomenon was attributed to the infrastructure that the Punjab Chief Minister had provided to commuters and its timing. There was also much opinion that the PTI had begun its campaign rather late allowing time for PML-N to wean away voters, who had waited for Khan Sahib’s tsunami to unleash itself in a sustained manner. There was another school of thought that the faces appearing on PTI posters were unknown - I countered this last argument by saying that new faces meant new blood, new vigour and, above all, change and deliverance from those that had alternately been tested and found wanting.

The businesses I found happy were the eating spots and catering setups, who looked forward to a rise in revenues as Election Day approached. Interestingly, it was the dhol parties that were optimistic to make as much as they could, while they produced their heart-throbbing beat at processions, public meetings and finally during victory celebrations.

And now to Karachi from where a friend has reported that election posters on the streets are simply asking the people to vote for the ‘Party’. Many of these posters do not have photographs or names of candidates, but are canvassing on an institutional basis. Notwithstanding the political controversies that this ‘Party’ generates, this is an interesting approach to electioneering, demonstrating a position of strength, notwithstanding the fact that it has its pros and cons.

Pervez Musharraf has finally delivered himself squarely in the hands of those who hold no mercy for him. I do not belong to any group that supports him, nor do I condone his actions from the promulgation of the National Reconciliation Order to his malicious confrontation with the highest judiciary. I, however, urge all concerned to set their personal feelings aside and let sagacious pragmatism prevail, lest it taints more than one institution for all times to come. I am not suggesting that we let the former President’s actions go unaccounted for - all that I am advocating is that accountability needs to be done, upholding the notion of natural and legal justice with dignity and grace, absolutely free of vengeance or rancour. After all, Musharraf’s crime is certainly not greater than the actions of the political ‘Party’ that precipitated the decapitation of Pakistan in 1971 or the charge of treason cannot be levied on him with so much of ease, when there are politicians, who have openly expressed secessionist tendencies, moving around the country in absolute freedom.

    The writer is a freelance columnist.