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November 8, 2019

Winning a battle with a sheathed sword


November 8, 2019

Frequency to bring big number of people from all parts of the country to Islamabad has gradually been increasing. The city had organised protests in 2014, then in 2017 and now it is having one at the far end of 2019.

Both in 2014 and 2017, we saw that city life came to a halt and police failed to control protestors, despite resorting to heavy teargas shelling, and suffering injuries.

But this time, neither have police done any highhandedness, nor any sufferings and yet managed to keep order in the town as their Inspector General Aamir Zulfiqar knows how to win a war with a sheathed sword.

“I have taken extra care of cultural sensitivities and appointed those officials at the gathering of JUI-F who understand language and lifestyle of the protestors,” he told ‘The News’ in an exclusive interview.

Interested to understand his way of dealing with such situations, when asked, if intervention from different quarters into police affairs was a cause of mismanagement in 2014 and 2017. He replied, “One should get transferred if one cannot withstand interventions. It is about sense of responsibility.”

“Protests in Islamabad are political in their nature, even if they are arranged under religious slogans. The parties that set up these protests take part in elections and are purely political or religious-political,” he said.

He said, “Protesters are also citizens of Pakistan. The police do not treat them as enemies. Normally protests are not against police but against somebody else. But to control them is job of police, being custodian of law and order.”

He explained, “Managing large-scale gatherings become a challenge. Security of protestors remains our top priority because they can be prone to any subversive action. Second, we make sure that daily life of the residents of the area is not disturbed. Women drive cars and kids ride motorcycles. People shop and go to offices. It is our job to protect them.”

He said at the third stage the police make sure that the protestors do not enter sensitive areas like the Red Zone or the Diplomatic Enclave in Islamabad. “At the fourth level, police ensure their own security. They should be positioned to thwart any attack and protect themselves from any possible terrorist hits,” he said.

Looking at the situation at a broader canvass, Mr. Zulfiqar explained that it is a constitutional right of everybody to protest. “But one’s liberties end where one’s nose ends. When someone crosses this line, police come into action,” he said.

Commenting on the current protest, he said there is a sea of difference in handling a small crowd and a big crowd. “Use of force is the last option for any professional police officer the world over. You cannot point to a single incident of provocation or violence in the current protest. We give them respect and take care of them because they are Pakistanis like us,” he said.

He said, “At present, there is the best team in Islamabad. Coordination between the police, the administration and all other relevant bodies is exemplary, which is why we have succeeded in handling this protest successfully.”

Effort of this team is evident from flowing roads and going on of daily affairs as normal in Islamabad. Mr. Zulfiqar said there could be no better team than the one working in Islamabad now. “In the previous protests, police and other organs of administration used to container the city themselves. But now you will see schools and open and traffic is flowing, which everybody would admit is a big success.”

Boundary wall of Police Line, the imposing office where Mr. Zulfiqar sits, is bedecked with portraits of martyrs of police, most of whom were hit by suicide attackers during Musharraf era. Inside these boundary wall, not a straw can stir without his permission. Authority and discipline lie thick in the air in his office, and as a result peace and order suffuse the surroundings.