One-man party steals the show in Rawalpindi
RAWALPINDI: The entire country’s attention was focused on Rawalpindi for most of the day on Friday, where Sheikh Rashid was to hold a jalsa where Imran Khan had promised to make an appearance.
The government’s promise to stop the two had turned the city into a story from late Thursday night when Lal Haveli had been surrounded by policemen.
By the time Friday morning rolled around, Sheikh Rashid was on the run and the story being chased by all news channels.
Through his tweets, quick interviews to channels in “undisclosed” locations and mini-statements, Sheikh Rashid was a man of the hour. Thanks to the government’s highhandedness and the absence of the PTI’s leadership, the one-man party had become the ‘hero’ of the day. Even his breakfast (of paye and murgh cholay) was telecast as news.
His coverage on television made it seem as if Rawalpindi was a city of containers, policemen on the hunt and one fugitive.
But in reality for most of the city, life continued as usual. The trademark hustle and bustle of Saddar and other commercial areas remained unchanged. Shops opened their shutters after Friday prayers as per routine and even the peddlers felt comfortable enough to bring out their pushcarts.
But this normality faded away as soon as one entered Raja Bazaar from City Saddar Road.
Containers were suddenly visible, blocking the routes to Lal Haveli, which has been in national news for the past week or so. Here and there, even barbed wire was visible.
The two-kilometre patch of Murree Road from Liaquat Bagh to Waris Khan was the scene of a battle once the afternoon prayers were over. Policemen and party workers faced each other in the midst of tear gas, stone throwing and sloganeering.
Committee Chowk, which falls on this patch, was the area occupied by the policemen, while the PTI workers kept running in and out of the narrow streets nearby. Like guerrilla fighters, they would suddenly appear, shout a slogan or two, throw stones before disappearing once again.
The policemen hit back with excessive force – so much tear gas that local residents were forced to shut their windows and doors.
“I was going to my brother’s house but the tear gas hurt my children; they felt as if someone had thrown chillies in their eyes,” said Mohammad Naveed, a biker on Murree Road.
In the four hour standoff, the police managed to arrest PTI MPA Ijaz Khan Jazi and a few workers. There were not too many protesting workers there. They appeared in groups of 10 to 15.
But the scene had its fair share of onlookers.
Local residents climbed to their rooftops to see the clashes while the policemen found time to take selfies.
The chaotic scenes of policemen and workers faded into the background when Sheikh Rashid suddenly appeared on the scene, after a montage shots of him riding pillion on a bike through narrow streets and then running as fast as he could.
He arrived at Committee Chowk where City Police Officer Israr Abbasi was leading the police force.
Climbing atop a DSNG van, he pulled out a cigar as would have a victorious general sitting astride a tank after a war.
Surrounded by cameramen and reporters, he spoke briefly in his usual style before disappearing once again.
“Sun lo Hukmaranon, I have arrived at Committee Chowk, crossing the hurdles you created to stop me from speaking against you.” He said the days of the government were numbered and that the people would go to Islamabad on Nov 2. No one would be able to save Nawaz Sharif, he thundered.
He and Rawalpindi – in that order – were the story of the day. A star was made for a day, all thanks to the government’s crackdown.