RAWALPINDI/ISLAMABAD: The way the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has reacted to Dr Tahirul Qadri’s anti-government protests is being viewed as disproportionate and aggressive, and there is an impression that the government may be feeling ‘insecure’ with all the attention Qadri has managed to attract over the past few weeks.
No one seems to know why the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) workers, who were supposed to meet government representatives to work out a plan for Monday morning, were packed off to Adiala Jail.
PAT leaders say they assured the administration that there would not be a law and order situation when party workers gathered at the airport to welcome their returning leader.
PAT said they could not understand why their people were being arrested when they had assured the administration that there will be no law and order issue at the rally to welcome Dr Qadri.
PAT spokesperson Ghulam Khan told Dawn that the district administration had been trying to ‘trap’ party leaders for the last week on the pretext of a meeting.
“At 6pm on Saturday, the Rawalpindi district administration called our office-bearers Tariq Mehmood, Ahmed Nawaz Anjum, Mansoor Khan and seven others for a meeting to decide the venue of the rally. But rather than talking to them, they just kept them waiting until midnight,” Khan said.
“A little later, they informed us that they will have a final decision soon. But instead of conveying a decision, the administration simply booked our workers. We have not had any contact with them since Sunday morning,” he said.
But the ruling party is unrepentant and insists that Dr Qadri’s party should reconsider its stance.
PML-N lawmaker Malik Ibrar said PAT should have accepted the district administration’s offer to shift the rally venue to Rawat or Gujar Khan. “Had they accepted, they may not have been arrested,” he said.
He shrugged off the arrests saying that their party workers have had to face ‘protective custody’ several times in the past.
Rawalpindi District Coordination Officer Sajid Zafar had stated in a letter sent to the Punjab Home Department that district police had not given security clearance to the planned gathering outside Islamabad airport, which is why PAT’s request for a rally there was turned down.
In the wake of this response, many are asking why the PML-N is giving Dr Qadri’s party so much importance, seeing as they aren’t even a major, mainstream political party and have no representation in parliament either.
Some feel that the ruling party’s clumsy handling of this event is helping PAT’s cause and, following the Lahore tragedy, Dr Qadri’s party may be able to ride a wave of sympathy going into Monday.
PML-N leaders dismissed Qadri’s rallies by saying that such activities have an adverse effect on the country’s economy and are ‘bad for business’.
“We are not afraid of PAT or its leader. We just want to protect the economy. During Imran Khan’s rally in Islamabad on May 11, business activities across the country came to standstill as investors feared a major change that day,” former PML-N MNA Hanif Abbasi told Dawn.
He said PAT’s sit-in last year also had a similar effect on the economy and that the administration had a hard time providing adequate security to the hundreds of people there.
Admitting that the Lahore tragedy could have been averted had the situation been better handled, he defended the government, saying, “The police officers involved were only trying to prove their loyalty to the government”.
PML-N leader Malik Shakil Awan said PAT wanted to destabilise the government with rallies and sit-ins over ‘non-issues’.
He said that the government could not allow such events for sake of the safety of the people involved.
“There is a credible terrorist threat to large public gatherings following the initiation of the North Waziristan operation and certain political actors want to take advantage of the situation,” he said.
PML-N Rawalpindi City President Sardar Naseem said Dr Tahirul Qadri was toeing someone else’s agenda and there could be no negotiations with him.
The party’s senior leadership in Islamabad too was bent on trying to dispel the impression that the government had panicked in its response to the ‘threat’ posed by Dr Tahirul Qadri’s protest movement.
“We are facing a credible threat from militants who are looking for any opportunity to hit back,” federal minister Ahsan Iqbal told Dawn.
“There are dozens of groups who want to bring about ‘a revolution’. If we allow one group to stage a sit-in, then tomorrow every one will want to do the same to puch their own agendas,” he said.
The party’s information secretary, Mushahidullah Khan, said that following the attack on the Karachi airport, the government could not afford to risk a major gathering at Islamabad airport.
He also criticised the media for going overboard with its coverage of Dr Tahirul Qadri’s protest movement.
Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2014