ISLAMABAD: Hours before charged demonstrators from both the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) surged towards the red zone, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan warned that no-one would be allowed to compromise the security of the high-security area.
But as the evening progressed, it became clear that the press conference was merely so much posturing, as policemen stepped aside and allowed marchers to head towards Constitution Avenue without much incident.
Addressing a press conference at Punjab House on Tuesday evening that ended minutes before Dr Tahirul Qadri’s ‘People’s Parliament’ was called to order, the interior minister announced that following consultations between the prime minister and the army chief on Tuesday morning, the military had been handed over security for sensitive buildings inside the red zone.
However, the decision to deploy the army at key points in the capital had already been taken when the government imposed Article 245 in the city over a month ago.
Interior minister warned protesters hours before they entered red zone without much resistance
He said the high-security zone would be protected by a three-tiered security cordon, with police personnel manning the first layer, Rangers and the Frontier Constabulary comprising the second layer and military personnel serving as the final security blanket.
Echoing what he said at a press conference earlier in the week, Chaudhry Nisar made it clear that the government could not allow the red zone to be overrun due to the presence of key state institutions in the area, such as the Diplomatic Enclave that houses foreign embassies, as well as institutions such as the Presidency, Prime Minister House, parliament and the Supreme Court, among others.
The minister also said PTI chief Imran Khan had given him his word that protesters would not breach the high-security zone.
However, he said Mr Khan had not honoured his word and the demonstrators, once inside the security cordon, could not then be controlled.
However, when protesters broke through the cordon and headed towards the red zone, law-enforcement personnel simply let them past. Sources said that they had been ordered to avoid a confrontation with the demonstrators.
The minister also talked about how the PTI had gone back on its demands. “The party initially demanded investigations into allegations of rigging in four constituencies, but then changed their position and said that 10 constituencies should be investigated. Now, they’ve changed their stance once again.”
Chaudhry Nisar said the PML-N did not hold the 2013 elections. The Election Commission was formed when the PML-N was in the opposition and the name of the chief election commissioner was proposed by the PTI.
“Imran Khan and his party have been hurling abuses on PML-N leaders for several days now, but we have tolerated this. The incident in Gujranwala was also a reaction to the kind of language being used against the PML-N, but still the Punjab government ordered the arrest of its own party members on the basis of televised footage,” he said.
He also said the Lahore High Court had ruled that these marches did not have constitutional cover so the government would be well within its rights to stop the demonstrators.
“It seems that Mr Khan is trying to punish the government for his failure to gather even 50,000 protesters, although he announced that one million people will march on the capital.
“Mr Khan should be careful and not set a dangerous precedent, whereby tomorrow, an even more powerful group could assemble an even bigger contingent of people and demand that power be handed over to them. Mr Khan is leader of a political party and a role model for several young Pakistanis and he should refrain from advocating violence,” he said.
Chaudhry Nisar apologised to the residents of the twin cities for the hardships they have faced over the course of the past week.
Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2014