Asia Pacific|Discontent and Defiance on the Road to Pakistan’s Election
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The highway is the most politically charged slice of a politically turbulent country. It winds 180 miles from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, through the fertile plains of Punjab Province to Lahore, the nation’s cultural and political heart.
For centuries, it was known only as a sliver of the Grand Trunk Road, Asia’s longest and oldest thoroughfare, linking traders in Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent. But in Pakistan, this stretch of the smog-drenched highway has become the stage for major rallies and protests led by nearly every famed civilian leader the country has had.
As Pakistan heads into national elections on Thursday, the road is buzzing. Politics dominates the chatter between its vendors and rickshaw drivers, their conversations seeped in a culture of conspiracy, cults of political personality and the problems of entrenched military control.
Nearly every day, hundreds fill the street — its overpasses plastered in green, red and white political posters — to rally for their side. Many more, their preferred party effectively disbanded amid a military crackdown, quietly curse the authorities before an election widely viewed as one of the least credible in the country’s history.
Mile 38: The Economic Crash
The newsstand just off the main highway in Gujar Khan is little more than a metal chair with newspapers fanned out carefully in a circle. Men gathered around the stand, chatting as they drank their morning tea and electric rickshaws rumbled by. Every day, the papers arrive with a new political advertisement splashed across their front page, said the vendor, Abdul Rahim, 60. But he has not been swayed by any of their catchy slogans or artful headshots.