Friday December 08, 2023

Army called in Islamabad’s Red Zone after day of chaos, clashes

PM Sharif vowed to foil all attempts to stage a sit-in in Islamabad, while PMLN Vice President Maryam Nawaz criticised Imran for showing contempt to the Supreme Court orders

The PTI supporters and workers gathering at D Chowk as heavy shelling clouds the atmosphere. Photo: Twitter
The PTI supporters and workers gathering at D Chowk as heavy shelling clouds the atmosphere. Photo: Twitter

ISLAMABAD/ LAHORE: Pakistan Army was called in Islamabad late Wednesday night under Article 245 by the PMLN government as it feared the situation would deteriorate while ex-prime minister Imran Khan and his supporters entered the capital and headed towards the Red Zone.

 Earlier on Wednesday, large-scale skirmishes between the Punjab Police and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) workers erupted in the federal capital besides Punjab and Sindh capitals when the law-enforcers came into action to thwart the PTI’s plan to stage its Azadi March announced by party Chairman Imran Khan.

The notification issued by the government stated: “Pursuant to the law and order situation in the Islamabad Capital Terriotry, the Federal Government, in exercise of powers conferred under Article 245 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is pleased to authorize deployment of sufficient strength of troops of Pakistan Army in Red Zone in ICT in aid of civil power for protection of important government buildings, including Supreme Court of Pakistan, Parliament House, Presidency, Prime Minister’s Office/House, PTV HQs, Pakistan Secretariat and Diplomatic Enclave, subject to laws enforced in Pakistan, with immediate effect and until further orders.

The exact number of troops to be deployed will be worked out by the Pakistan Army authorities in consultation with ICT administration.” Prior to these developments, the PMLN-led coalition government softened its stand to an extent after the Supreme Court ordered it to provide space to the PTI for a jalsa in the federal capital. However, the police shelled protesters late in the evening when they reached D Chowk on the directions of party Chairman Imran Khan. The PTI chief had directed his party leaders and activists to reach the D Chowk, Islamabad, at all costs.

Commenting on the situation, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif vowed to foil all attempts to stage a sit-in in Islamabad, while PMLN Vice President Maryam Nawaz criticised the former prime minister for showing contempt to the Supreme Court orders on holding a public meeting between H-9 and G-9 areas of the federal capital.

Late in the evening, Imran Khan entered the Islamabad Capital Territory along with his caravan. Earlier in the day, after reaching Swabi, Imran Khan addressed the people heading towards the federal capital. He denied all reports of striking an agreement with the government. “We are heading towards Islamabad and there is no chance of an agreement with the coalition government.”

“We will stay in Islamabad until the government decides to dissolve the assemblies and announces election dates,” he reiterated, adding that they will reach the D Chowk and no hurdle could stop them. “All Pakistanis, women, children, families, youth, lawyers, retired army officers, everyone has to come out for real independence,” he said.

Saying that a peaceful protest was their legal right, Imran said they would reach the D Chowk in Islamabad by crossing all obstacles erected by the “imported government and slaves of the US”. As Imran appeared on the container, he was welcomed by the youngsters raising the slogan of “diesel, diesel,” making a reference to Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUIF) head Maulana Fazlur Rahman.

“During our government, Diesel [Maulana Fazlur Rahman], Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Maryam Nawaz marched towards Islamabad but we did not create any hurdles for them,” Imran said.About the government’s crackdown on the PTI leaders and workers in Punjab, he said, “The government arrested our people by climbing\ the boundary walls at night.” PTI leaders Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pervez Khattak and others accompanied him on the container.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif vowed to foil all sit-in plans of the PTI. Taking to his Twitter handle, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif wrote: “Politics of dharna is detrimental to progress [and] stability. It has been my conviction that Pakistan will progress only through sheer hard work. We are focused on overcoming the challenges of governance. Nothing can distract us from the task at hand.”

PMLN Senior Vice President Maryam Nawaz said separately that PTI Chairman Imran Khan had assured the Supreme Court of a peaceful protest but violated its directions. Talking to journalists in Lahore, she said the SC would see how the “PTI trampled the court’s orders under its feet.” She said that the party had a “safe passage for them if they had followed the SC’s directions” but they chose not to do so.

She requested the institutions not let this ‘fitna’ grow stronger and that he [Khan] should be dealt with as strictly as possible. “The solution to dealing with fitna is mentioned in the Quran.” During the press conference, Maryam also condemned Kashmiri leader Yaseen Malik’s sentencing by the Indian court.

On Wednesday, the SC had directed the federal government to provide the PTI the ground between the H-9 and G-9 areas of Islamabad to hold its public gathering. When the hearing resumed after a break, the attorney-general told the three-member bench that the H-9 ground, which will be given to the PTI, only had the capacity to accommodate 10,000 people. He also added that a Sunday bazaar and the Sirinigar Highway were close to the venue. Following the directions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the two sides had also engaged in a two-hour dialogue, but no breakthrough could be reached.

At the same time, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb denied reports of an agreement between the federal government and the PTI, calling the news “baseless”.

Dozens of PTI workers and leaders were arrested, including former Punjab health minister Dr Yasmin Rashid, Andaleeb Abbas, Zubair Niazi, Mian Mamudhur-Rasheed, Ejaz Chaudhry, Jamshed Iqbal Cheema and former vice chairman Chief Minister’s Complaint Cell Nasir Salman. However, most of them were released soon after their arrest.

Police tear-gassed and lathi-charged the PTI marchers at Batti Chowk and Bhatti Gate area when they attempted to remove containers placed on roads. The PTI lawyers and workers had scuffles with the police outside the Aiwan-e-Adl and Post Master General’s Office. A PTI leader, Zubair Niazi, was injured during a scuffle with the police. He was also arrested, but lawyers managed to rescue him from the police. Lawyers also removed barriers put up in front of Aiwan-e-Adl.

Meanwhile, another PTI caravan, led by Hammad Azhar, managed to overcome obstacles and leave Lahore for Islamabad. However, he received a minor injury. The police stopped the PTI workers about 100 metres before the Ravi Bridge and refused to allow Dr Yasmin Rashid to move towards the Batti Chowk. When she tried to move ahead, the policemen hit her vehicle with a heavy stick, damaging the windscreen.

A large contingent of police was deployed on the Ravi Bridge. Five reserve forces were deployed at Adda Plot Raiwind Road. Containers were placed at Manga Mandi, Sundar, Mohalnawal. A man was seriously injured when he fell from a PTI container near the Imamia Colony. The injured worker was identified as Elyas, a resident of Kahna. Edhi volunteers rushed the injured to a local hospital for medical treatment. Two PTI workers were injured during a scuffle between the police and the workers on the Ravi Bridge. A PTI worker got injuries when he fell into the River Ravi from Ravi Bridge. He was identified as Faisal of Faisal Town, Lahore, who later died.

PTI workers’ resistance resulted in injuries to several police personnel and 30 PTI workers. Police restored traffic inside the city at night after dispersing the PTI workers at various places. Police used the abandoned vehicles of PTI workers for blocking roads.

Islamabad Inspector General of Police (IGP) Dr Akbar Nasir Khan asked the police not to use force against the protesting people but not to tolerate whoever tried to enter the Red Zone. Earlier, a few hundred of activists reached D Chowk and straightaway started pelting stones at the police. In response police fired tear-gas and pushed back hundreds of demonstrators who hurled stones as they tried to pass a road blocked to cross into the Red Zone. The agitators set bushes and trees on fire to express their anger against the government. Many demonstrators and several policemen were reportedly injured. The police arrested over 50 activists from different areas of the twin-cities involved in damaging private and government properties.

The second notable clash point was Faizabad where a serious brawl between the police and PTI activists continued for over five hours. The administration placed dozens of shipping containers and trucks to block off major roads leading to Islamabad.

Islamabad Police confirmed that protestors had set trees and vehicles on fire. In a statement released on Twitter, the police noted that when the fire bigrade doused the blazes, the protestors once again set fire the Express Chowrangi on fire.

The PTI workers also staged a protest at Karachi’s Numaish Chowrangi and set a police van on fire. During the demonstrations, several policemen, including a superintendent of police (SP), were injured as the protesters pelted stones at them. The police started aerial firing after which the number of protesters increased. Apart from that, riots also took place near the Khudadad Colony and Noorani Chowrangi on Shahrah-e-Quaideen. During the protests, Asif Hasan, a foreign news agency photographer, and Geo News cameraman Nasir Ali were injured.

Amid the ongoing clashes in the federal capital, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah earlier Wednesday directed the Islamabad Police and administration to allow all government employees on duty to enter the federal capital. Meanwhile, he said media persons shouldn’t be stopped and routes heading towards hospitals should remain open. “The seizure of heavy arms and ammunition from the houses of PTI officials is evidence of a bloody march,” the federal minister said. “The Constitution and the law will be strictly enforced and those who will take the law into their hands will be dealt with strictly,” he warned.