LAHORE: A showdown between law-enforcement personnel and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek began on Friday — much before it was expected — when hundreds of club-wielding PAT workers attempted to break through the police cordon and remove barricades put around the Model Town locality housing Tahirul Qadri’s residence and offices.
The police could not sustain the first assault and retreated as the mob beat them up with clubs, removed barbed wire on the Faisal Town roundabout, seized a crane and started removing the containers that had been placed at all entrances to Model Town the previous day.
The law enforcers had cordoned off the area in an attempt to prevent the PAT from organising a ‘martyrs’ day’ on Aug 10 to commemorate the activists killed in a police raid on June 17.
According to officials, the ruling PML-N became apprehensive when PAT chief Qadri asked those coming to participate in the event to carry copies of the Holy Quran.
The government feared that religious sentiments would be exploited as immediately after the Quran Khwani, the workers would be asked to march on Islamabad for joining the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf protesters there on Aug 14.
Responding to Dr Qadri’s call made while talking to media earlier in the day in which he had asked the people to take to the streets for a final push to oust the rulers, activists from various towns across Punjab tried to reach Lahore.
Clashes between activists and police took place in Faisalabad, Bhakkar, Mianwali, Khushab, Okara and Sargodha after authorities were asked not to allow any caravan to reach the provincial capital.
In Mianwali and Sargodha, policemen, including a DSP, were taken hostage by protesters.
A police station was set on fire in Khushab and arms and other government property were looted from one in Sargodha.
Entrances to Lahore, including the motorway, GT Road and other link roads, had been closed by erecting barricades. Filling stations on these roads were closed. The police were, however, barred from resorting to firing in any case, sources said.
In Lahore, PAT workers who had already made it through to the Model Town central offices of the party tried to remove the barricades around the locality to make way for their colleagues coming from outside the city.
Raheeq Abbasi, a PAT leader, said the workers got enraged when police misbehaved at barricades with women activists going to Dr Qadri’s residence. He also alleged that women had been ‘kidnapped’.
After the earlier retreat, reinforcements were sent, tear-gas shells fired and police resorted to baton charging the activists. Senior police officers were seen encouraging their subordinates to take on the charged mob.
More than 10 police personnel, two SHOs among them, and many PAT workers were injured in the clashes. Some people fainted because of tear gas.
Hundreds of activists arrested from across the province were being sent to prisons for fear of attacks on police lock-ups.
Mr Abbasi put the number of arrested workers at 5,000.
Talking to reporters, Dr Qadri claimed two activists, one of them identified as Abul Hameed, had died of gunshot wounds in Bhakkar and Khushab.
The PAT’s provincial spokesman, Mushtaq Ahmad, claimed over 100 activists either suffered baton injuries or were affected by tear gas.
Punjab Law Minister Rana Mashhood said at a press conference late in the evening that the ‘assailants’ in Lahore had been hired from far-flung areas of the province.
The ‘hired terrorists’, he claimed, had been identified through video cameras the government had installed at various places and raids were being conducted at their houses.
He said another case was registered against Dr Qadri on treason and terrorism charges. The PAT leader’s name would be put on the Exit Control List after a report from the joint investigation team on the June 17 killings, he added.
“The law will run its course and prison is Tahirul Qadri’s destiny.”
According to a TV channel, the Punjab government has decided to approach the Canadian government to get Mr Qadri’s citizenship cancelled for inciting violence in Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, Aug 9th, 2014