Never have shipping containers been so popular in Pakistan. As anti-government protesters headed into Islamabad, police used the enormous steel blocks to try to keep them out. But the marchers brought cranes with them, moved the containers out of the way, and are now camped out at the gates of parliament. Protesters have been using the containers too though — as makeshift homes, offices and stages. On August 19, Imran Khan declared: “These containers that you have placed on all four sides are not enough to stop this ocean of people!”
Containers as a tool of protest
It has requisitioned hundreds of shipping containers to be used as hurdles along the streets and highways between Lahore and Islamabad to slow down marchers.
Yasir Naseer, President of the All Pakistan Truck Trailer Motors’ Owners Association, told Dawn that up to 1,400 of its members’ containers had been commandeered by officials, with “meagre” or no compensation offered.
Naseer also said that around 80 per cent of the seized containers were normally used in the trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some of the commandeered containers were actually loaded with goods, including perishables, he added.
Long queues of containers impounded by Lahore police can be seen parked at entry and exit points in the city. Containers are also being used to block key points in cities across the country.
Recently it was widely reported that Khan’s party had had a container converted at a cost of some 12.5 million Pakistani rupees ($124,000).
It is equipped with meeting facilities, a bathroom, and a “nifty spiral staircase” leading to the roof — and is supposedly bomb-proof.
After he was accused of spending nights at his villa instead of with his supporters on the streets, Khan has taken to staying inside the container.
Before the elections in May 2013, Tahir-ul- Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehrik party started a “long march” to Islamabad on January 14.
As The Economist reported, Qadri “delivered thunderous addresses” from a “converted shipping container placed on Islamabad’s main thoroughfare”.
The yellow shipping container that formed the base of the 2013 protest had several features. It was bullet-proof, powered by an electric generator, contained a heater, a refrigerator, a microwave oven, mattresses and a toilet.
His fortified container lay placed “atop a lorry parked in Islamabad’s main shopping centre, guarded from suicide bombers and policemen by club-wielding henchmen”, reported The Telegraph.
On January 17, Qadri made a deal with the government and ended the protest.
This year, Qadri has been giving speeches from shipping containers, but has been living at home in Model Town, Lahore.
Pakistani police have used shipping containers to try keep suicide bombers at bay or to block off buildings and control traffic during tense times, a practice that has been prevalent for five years.
Many of the containers have the official police logo painted on them.
In 2012, authorities in Karachi requisitioned containers from shipping companies to create a protective barrier around President Asif Ali Zardari’s residence in Karachi.
A London-based company is making hotel rooms from refurbished shipping containers. Officials just recruited their services for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The homeless in Brighton, UK, were given temporary accommodation in 36 converted shipping containers placed on land being used by a scrap yard in April 2013.
The Dordoy Bazaar is a massive wholesale and retail market in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, made entirely of shipping containers.
With US exports going down, 32,000-pound containers were converted into homes, that sold for anything between $500-$2,000, and were said to be hurricane-proof and fire-resistant. Florida, Georgia and Atlanta created housing units that took only a day to assemble.