Twin cities ‘contained’ once again RAWALPINDI: Fearing a repeat of what happened when supporters of Mumtaz Qadri overran the twin cities earlier this year, the administrations of the twin cities took stringent measures to ensure that the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) Qisas Rally doesn’t reach the Red Zone.
To this end, the district administration begun blocking roads in the garrison city on Saturday morning; all roads from Katchery Chowk to Marrir Chowk and onwards to Rehmanabad (near 6th Road) were blocked with containers.
This all but paralysed life in downtown Rawalpindi and citizens struggled to go about their business, taking long detours and sitting in traffic jams most of the time.
Confusion over PAT intention to march on Islamabad prompted admin to take ‘extraordinary’ precautions
Schools and colleges were also instructed to declare a holiday and several students had to return home, while others found themselves trapped in the absence of public transport.
The provincial government had also ordered stopping the metro bus service for a day to avoid a repeat of what happened when Mumtaz Qadri’s supporters ransacked metro bus stations on their way to the Red Zone.
There was also confusion over whether PAT would end their rally in Pindi or continue onwards to the capital. The party had earlier planned a rally in Rawalpindi on August 28, but postponed it after Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan agreed to stage simultaneous rallies in Lahore and Rawalpindi on Sept 3.
“The new dates were communicated to us on August 28 and we were told that Dr Tahirul Qadri would lead the rally,” said PAT Rawalpindi Spokesman Suhail Abbasi.
Another senior PAT leader told Dawn that both his party and PTI had decided to build pressure on the government.
“We wanted to give them the message that the people of all big cities are against them; these protests are a referendum against the ruling elites, just like the 2014 sit-in,” he said.
The PAT rally began to gather steam in the afternoon and reached a climax when Tahirul Qadri finally reached Rawalpindi on Saturday night.
Around 7pm, Awami Muslim League President Sheikh Rashid Ahmed also brought a rally of around a hundred workers to Liaquat Bagh via College Road.
A small number of supporters and workers from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) also joined the PAT rally there. Their turnout was unimpressive due to divisions in the party’s local chapter, which is currently without proper leadership.
In addition, local PTI lawmakers were in Lahore for their party’s rally on The Mall, and therefore could not mobilise a large chunk of supporters, who were unaware their party had decided to join the PAT rally.
“Most people were unaware about the PTI leadership’s decision to join the PAT rally in Rawalpindi since there are no local office-bearers to inform them,” PTI MPA Arif Abbasi told Dawn over the phone from Lahore.
A senior City District Government Rawalpindi (CDGR) official told Dawn that police and the administration were apprehensive about the PAT leader’s reported intention to march on Islamabad. “The administration does not trust the party since it has changed its plans in the past as well,” he said.
He recalled how, in March, religious parties had gathered at Liaquat Bagh for Mumtaz Qadri’s chehlum, but then decided to march on the capital at the last minute and managed to force their way into the Red Zone, where they camped for several days and caused widespread damage.
“The provincial government had directed the local administration to take measures before the start of the rally to prevent PAT workers from entering the federal capital, since that could create problems for the federal government,” he said. He said that PAT’s local leadership was not sure if their chief planned to head to Islamabad or not.
“We blocked the road for security reasons. The home department had received reports of possible threat of terrorist activity in the run up to Sept 11. PAT was advised not to hold any rally or public meeting in this time, but they turned down the advice,” District Coordination Officer (DCO) Talat Mehmood Gondal told Dawn.
“Due to the looming threat, it would have been difficult to secure the route of PAT and AML rallies from Marrir Chowk to Rehmanabad. Securing this six-kilometre stretch, located in a congested downtown area, would have posed a major challenge for law enforcement agencies,” he said.
He said the PAT had been asked to provide volunteers, who could identify party workers and supporters before entering in the rally.
“Permission for the rally was granted with the advice that [PAT] should maintain security for their leaders and cooperate with law enforcement agencies,” he said.
However, PAT Rawalpindi spokesman Suhail Abbasi told Dawn that the administration and the local police tried to prevent people from joining the rally from Marrir Chowk and other access points.
“There was also a minor clash at Marrir Chowk when police started searching PAT workers and supporters there. The workers shouted slogans against the police and the government, but PAT District President Sultan Naeem Kiani and Minhajul Quran Rawalpindi Chapter emir Anar Gondal reached the spot and managed to settle things,” he said.
Munawer Azeem adds from Islamabad: The capital was also on partial lockdown as the administration feared that after addressing the rally in Rawalpindi, Tahirul Qadri would try to march on Islamabad.
Some of the main thoroughfares connecting Rawalpindi with Islamabad were sealed with containers, while roads leading towards the high-security Red Zone were partially blocked, capital administration and police officials said.
Containers were placed on the Islamabad Expressway at Faizabad and Koral, and on Rawal Dam Chowk at Murree Road, while blockades were also set up Khayaban-e-Suharwardy near Attaturk Avenue, on Shahrah-e-Jamhuriat near Nadra Headquarters, and at Jinnah Avenue near D-Chowk.
Around 4,000 personnel, including riot police, were also on standby deployment in case an untoward situation developed, they said.
An officer of the capital administration, on condition of anonymity, told Dawn that these measures were taken as a precaution, given past experience with rallies and protests in the twin cities. “In the capital, it is hard to act at the eleventh hour, so these decisions were made in advance,” they added.
In 2014, both PTI and PAT had taken permission to hold a demonstration in Aabpara, but later reneged and managed to push their way into the Red Zone, and ended up camped outside Parliament House for over 100 days.
“There were reports that PTI and PAT leaders had already threatened to march towards Islamabad on some pretext,” he said, adding that if they did, the capital administration and police was empowered to intercept.
The Rawalpindi’s downtown was virtually under siege as the administration blocked all the ways to Rehmanabad on Murree Road to preempt violence as PAT leader Dr. Tahirul Qadri had to stage protest rally called Kasas movement for revenge of 2014 Model town killings.