ISLAMABAD, July 9: The Defence of Pakistan Council managed to bring its protest over Nato supplies to the heart of the capital on Monday night after meeting little resistance all the way from Lahore to Rawalpindi, an area under writ of the Punjab government.
The participants of the “long march”, among them some leaders whose entry into Islamabad is prohibited and members of an outlawed outfit, set foot on the D-Chowk, right in front of the Parliament House, in the teeth of a suffocating security ring.
The authorities allowed the DPC to hold a rally at D-Chowk, which along with major arteries, had been closed to traffic and pedestrians for a few months.
Faizabad, an entry point into Islamabad from Rawalpindi, saw little of the confrontation anticipated between the marchers and police. In short, the DPC enjoyed a smooth entry into the capital.
Hafiz Saeed, chief of the Jamaatud Dawa, was the star attraction for the impassioned throng. He lived up to his billing with an outburst berating the government for “giving in to the American diktat” and pledging to take the fight against “US hegemony to the finish”.
Workers of the banned Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat displayed their party flags close to the stage amid cheers and boos in response to the fiery oratory.
However, the Secretary General of the party, Khadim Hussain Dillo, did not enter Islamabad, parting with the rally in Rawalpindi.
Police had posted a large number of personnel at Faizabad, but they watched silently as the marchers passed by.
An official of the Islamabad police said the DPC had been allowed to hold rally at D-Chowk, despite its closure to public, in line with an understanding between the government and the Council.
“It is a give and take arrangement – we gave them access into Islamabad and allowed them to hold a rally at D-Chowk,” the official said. “In return they assured us of abiding by the law and promised not to allow any member of any banned outfit to enter the capital.”
In reply to a question about the presence of persons whose entry is prohibited, the official said: “If they do not keep their promise, we will act accordingly. We will bring this breach of understanding to the notice of higher authorities.”
While the DPC leaders vowed to “liberate the country from US influence” and make Pakistan a sovereign state in the true sense in speeches at D-Chowk, the highly-charged participants vented their anger by raising full-throated slogans against the US and the decision-makers in Islamabad.
Rehman Malik, adviser to the prime minister on interior, had said in a press conference earlier during the day that leaders of the DPC had assured the administration that would remain peaceful.
“However, there is a possibility of a terror attack on the rally and I have told the DPC that any anti-Pakistan force could take advantage of the situation,” Mr Malik said. “We are leaving no stone unturned and strict security arrangements have been made for Islamabad.”
ONE COUNTRY, TWO LAWS: One country and two laws. This was the picture as long as the march by Difa-i-Pakistan Council was within jurisdiction of the Punjab government.
The marchers entered into, and made exit from, Rawalpindi undisturbed. The police and local administration put the garrison city’s main artery, Benazir Bhutto Road, under virtual siege by blocking link roads and entry points when hundreds of activists of banned outfits and religious parties made their way into the city.
Police facilitated the marchers. The administration had already mapped out an alternative traffic plan to ensure that the protesters met no hurdles on their way to the capital.
In Rawalpindi, police blocked all entry and exit points on Benazir Bhutto Road with steel barricades. Policemen and other law enforcers kept patrolling along the road during the march toward Islamabad. Religious parties and seminaries set up camps at eight points to welcome the marchers, with Jamaatud Dawa and Jamaat-i-Islami leading the pack. Stalls of soft drinks were also put up.
The city’s familiar landmarks like Soan bus terminal, Ayub Park, District Courts, Marrir Chowk, Liaquat Bagh, Committee Chowk and Shamsabad wore a festive look as most buildings were plastered with banners and placards.
Business came to a halt due to the long march as most shops remained shuttered.
Inter-city transporters said very few commuters came to bus terminals at Faizabad for travel to Murree and other points. Malik Sultan Awan, the Rawalpindi/Islamabad Transport Union president, told Dawn that commuters stayed at home for fear of violence. Addressing the gathering at Committee Chowk, the DPC leaders said the government should arrest the American CIA’s chief for Pakistan and launch an investigation into the Wazirabad attack in which eight Pakistani security personnel lost their lives earlier in the day.
Maulana Samiul Haq, the DPC chairman, said the march had not been conducted to overthrow the government. “It is aimed at ending US meddling in the country’s policy-making.”
“The Wazirabad incident is a conspiracy by CIA against Pakistan. The Chief Justice of Pakistan should take suo motu action over the incident and ask CIA chief in Pakistan to appear before the court,” said Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, All Pakistan Ulema Council chairman.
Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Amir Syed Munawar Hassan said the government put the country’s geographical and ideological borders in danger by accepting “dictation by their international masters”.
Former Railway minister Shiekh Rashid Ahmed said the long march was conducted to protect sovereignty of the country, threatening that DPC workers “will destroy the capital if the government dares to stop us from entering Islamabad”.
Hafiz Muhammad Saeed said Pakistan was facing problems because of its helping hand to US forces in Afghanistan. “We will not become a part of the new world order and will introduce an Islamic order in the country.”
Gen (retired) Hameed Gul said Pakistan and US would soon sign an agreement on NATO supplies, urging the nation to stand up and be counted.