RAWALPINDI: Monday was an eventful day for the people of Rawalpindi and Islamabad as authorities upset Dr Tahirul Qadri’s anti-government protest plans for the day, and yet the fiery religious leader gained political mileage anyway.
By diverting the Emirates’ flight bringing the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief to Islamabad the decision makers only shifted the high drama to Lahore, said people discomfited by the events that surrounded Dr Qadri’s plan to lead a motorised protest rally from Islamabad airport all the way to Lahore and the PML-N government’s anxiety to prevent it.
Government had genuine security concerns as Qadri’s followers, already angry over the police crackdown outside his Minhajul Quran secretariat in Lahore that killed 12 PAT workers, gathered in large numbers at Islamabad airport after battling with the police deployed there.
PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain reached the airport with two party comrades and Maulana Hamid Raza, president of the Sunni Ittehad Council of Faisalabad, at 7am to greet PAT chief. But were not allowed in.
Ironically, authorities did the trick for him by diverting his flight to Lahore
After an hour, the guards opened the airport gate for them, allegedly on receiving a nod from Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. “I will talk to you later,” the PML-Q leader told reporters, barred like him, as television anchor Mubashir Luqman drove him and others inside.
His departure signaled to the charged followers of Dr Qadri bracing teargas shells fired by the police outside that their leader would soon be landing. However, it proved a wrong signal as TV channels broke the news that the authorities had diverted the Emirates Airline flight to Lahore.
It appeared to be a sudden decision. It followed a meeting the Rawalpindi district administration held with the PML-Q leaders at 8:10am, just minutes before the scheduled landing.
Street battles that had been going on between the police and PAT supporters since dawn had intensified in the meantime. After the politically damaging bloody action in Lahore, police had orders not to use arms and replied PAT activists’ attacks with batons, stones and teargas.
City Police Officer Humayun Bashir Tarar, who was in command there, was grabbed by stick-wielding PAT workers and was being dragged when his guards rushed to rescue. They took him inside the airport building and sat him in the Chief Security Officer’s room.
In the see-saw battle on the road in front of the airport, policemen in riot gear chased the aggressive PAT activists who would take shelter in nearby CNG filling station and inhabited localities and re-emerge for battle.
At one point, they forced the police to retreat, which made the rangers take positions inside the airport to assist the Airport Security Force.
More than 100 people were injured in the clashes, including policemen, among them DSP Shoaib Aqueel.
A special branch official caught by the PAT activists was tortured and deprived of his wireless set.
PAT supporters, young and old and including women, some with their children, looked a determined lot. “We don’t care if police is there or rangers. We will be there (airport) at all cost,” Najeed Ahmad, who had come from Bhakkar to greet the PAT chief, told Dawn.
Over 27 policemen and one civilian were taken to the District Headquarters Hospital and three police officers and five civilians to the Benazir Bhutto Hospital.
Doctor at the DHQ hospital described the condition of Sub-Inspector Rab Nawaz and Constable Mohammad Nisar, who received head injuries, as “critical”.
Air passengers caught in the mayhem were stuck inside the airport or on the roads. They too suffered the effects of heavy teargas shelling and felt relieved on hearing that Dr Qadri’s flight had been diverted to Lahore.
Condition of a two-month old baby boy raised alarm when a teargas shell burst close to his passenger mother and she fell on the road while trying to enter the airport premises.
Luckily a ranger saw the mother and her baby tumble down and rushed to their rescue and took them to the airport dispensary.
“I was to travel for Karachi. But when I reached here after crossing several police barricades, I was not allowed to enter inside the airport,” said Ms Noor, the mother, sobbing.
Published in Dawn, June 24th , 2014