Gridlock Gripped Karachi After Bhutto's Slaying
LIANE HANSEN, host:
WEEKEND EDITION essayist Tim Brookes arrived in Pakistan on a University visit just a few hours before the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. He was caught up in the chaos that followed and sent these observations.
Mr. TIM BROOKES (Essayist): I wasn't in New York during 9/11, but I'm told that everyone had the same two impulses: to call their friends and to get home. And as a result the cell phone circuits and the roads were jammed.
That's exactly what was happening in Karachi on Thursday. I was at the Aga Khan University when the call came in. Oh no, whispered my colleague. That's bad. That's terrible. She turned to me. We want you to go home right now. As we head out nobody knows what to expect, but my driver Zober(ph) is tough and experienced, and we're in a reinforced pick-up truck.
The radio news isn't urgent, peppered with useful English phrases: traffic jam, bumper-to-bumper. But this isn't just bumper-to-bumper; it's door-to-door and elbow-to-elbow. A three-lane road has five lanes of traffic; a four-lane road has seven. Small family cars, vast trucks painted with bright designs and verses from the Koran. Taxis (unintelligible) back that their literally shape was held together by bondo; scores of motorbikes and mopeds swarming the sidewalks and threading the gaps between car bumpers.
I remember news reporter people fleeing Hurricane Katrina, of the hundred-mile traffic jam caused by Hurricane Rita. Traffic in Pakistan tends to be an open-faced sandwich anyway with very little hidden or enclosed. And tonight this seems to be even more true - hand carts, donkey carts, a boy on a bicycle carrying two large wooden crates, two boys on a moped carrying an extension ladder and metal piping. The family of five squeezed into the bed of their tiny pick-up along with what looks like a giant refrigerator. Another family of five on a motorbike, they're brightly painted, but it have 20 or more people on the roof. Everyone looks like a refugee.
It's strange when I arrived in Karachi just five ago every road had a soldier lounging at the corner or on a bridge. Now, there's no sign of them, nor a police to help sort out the traffic. Yet, there's no sense of threat. It's only later that a feeling of grievance will emerge here and there. Tires will be burn, shots will be fired, mostly in the air. Campaign billboards will be pulled down and torched. So now, people are standing around watching, talking, even joking. One boy, of maybe nine, grins as he helped his father push their car.
Finally, we get home, the 25-minute journey taking more than three hours. We stare at the TV. Nobody knows what will happen in Pakistan, but I feel as if I've been granted a vision of how the world will end, not with a bang but with an apocalypse of traffic.
HANSEN: WEEKEND EDITION essayist Tim Brookes in Karachi, Pakistan.
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