August is officially the worst time of year (in terms of weather), in Punjab. With summer at the peak and monsoon rains, the weather is humid to the hilt and hot to the level of being extremely unbearable. This morning I happened to get late leaving for work and as my luck would have it, I ran into a traffic jam on Islamabad Highway. This wasn’t the usual traffic jam. After experiencing all sorts of jams, an average Pakistani can now tell when a jam is due to an out of order vehicle, an accident or a VIP route. And this morning, we had a VIP route to make our lives difficult.
First, let me explain what a VIP route here in Pakistan is. It’s basically when some government high official/VIP has a particular route cleared of all traffic so that they can travel on it without interruptions. All upcoming/outgoing traffic on that particular route is cleared away and all signals are shut down. Traffic police sergeants take to manning all intersections and assume traffic control.
When we noticed the jam this morning, we immediately concluded it must be due to a VIP route because the oncoming traffic was halted as well. Upon discussing the probable cause and reaching the most obvious conclusion with my spouse, I sat back comfortably in my air conditioned car and resumed reading A Game of Thrones on my Kindle. In the midst of my reading, something outside my window caught my eye. There was a public transport van standing just a few feet ahead of us and I saw the conductor jump out and open all the doors of the van. At first I didn’t get what he was doing and why. Then it suddenly hit me. It was 35 degrees centigrade outside with 50% humidity (approx.) and the van was jam-packed. The people in that vehicle needed ventilation and that’s what the conductor was ensuring. I suddenly realized how difficult the life of the Pakistani common person is. First having to travel in our dilapidated public transport, driven by manic drivers, and then having to suffer at the hands of our rulers in the form of these VIP routes. It also made me wonder, why exactly these government officials require a VIP route in the first place? I mean why can’t they travel like all other normal citizens? What urgent meeting do they have to get to in order to reach which they must have the roads clear of all traffic and signals so that they can travel uninterrupted? Why don’t the basic rules that apply to the average citizen apply to them?
Here‘s a demand to end the VIP culture by one of the political parties in Pakistan and I strongly support it. The day we stop exercising this VIP culture, we’ll move one step towards progress.