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Violent mobs catch law enforcers off guard

Updated March 28, 2016

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Protesters hurl stones at law enforcement personnel on Islamabad Expressway, as another sweeps away a teargas canister. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Protesters hurl stones at law enforcement personnel on Islamabad Expressway, as another sweeps away a teargas canister. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: It appeared as if civilian law enforcement agencies were unprepared to handle the onslaught of pro-Qadri protesters that surged into the federal capital on Sunday. This is the only explanation for the lack of visible action against protesters who assaulted security personnel and damaged public and private property on their way to D-Chowk.

Police sources said that the department figured they would not meet much resistance, given their experience with the mobs on the day of Qadri’s funeral. Although intelligence agencies had warned of the possibility that a law and order situation may emerge on the day of the chehlum, the authorities did not take any steps to prepare for such an eventuality.

This failure to share intelligence was discussed by the Punjab Inspector General Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera, who had been in the city since Sunday morning and was observing the situation developing in Rawalpindi. Just as things began to spiral out of control, the IGP went into a meeting with the regional police officer, the city police officer and Special Branch officials.


Lack of police preparation evident as protesters force their way into capital, march on parliament


“It was shocking that protesters managed to reach Islamabad from Liaquat Bagh, which is more than 15km from D-Chowk,” a former deputy inspector general of police told Dawn.

He said that it was surprising that such a large and violent crowd was allowed to reach Islamabad from Rawalpindi and questioned why arrangements were not made to contain them before they started towards the capital.

Other officers Dawn spoke to claimed that they had been waiting for orders from the interior ministry, but none had been forthcoming. Even the ever-active Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was missing in action all day Sunday. Although his office released a number of statements on separate matters, there was no word on any action being taken against the mobs that were ransacking the capital.

Even the announcement to deploy army on Constitution Avenue was tweeted by the ISPR chief.

Policemen retreat from the protesters. — White Star
Policemen retreat from the protesters. — White Star

“What we can do? Our bosses should have done their homework. We were thinking the protesters would not enter Islamabad, but now the situation is getting out of hand,” a police officer deployed at Faizabad told Dawn on Sunday evening.

Certain officers Dawn spoke to claimed that fresh reserves had been summoned to the capital on Sunday morning, indicating that there was some level of preparation. However, these preparations proved painfully inadequate.

Though the district administration placed containers on several key entry-points to the capital, even their bulk could not keep the mob at bay. As they did at the Youm-i-Ishq-i-Rasool in 2013, demonstrators removed the containers and proceeded towards the high-security zone on Constitution Avenue.

Police put up some resistance as the marchers crossed Zero Point, but as soon as they reached Blue Area, their progress towards the Red Zone was unhindered.

Eye-witnesses claimed that the police deployment here was inadequate to stop the protesters, so those who were present opted to hang back and did not deter the mob from marching towards parliament.

A police officer deputed at Aabpara said: “We thought the protesters would remain limited to Rawalpindi or may move towards Bhara Kahu – where Qadri is buried – but now we don’t know what is going on or what we should do.”

The protesters had a lot of help; a number of private coaches were seen ferrying protesters long distances.

Police’s lack of preparedness can be gauged from the fact that they did not issue any alternative traffic plan, which is standard practice on such occasions.

This caused a massive traffic jam on Murree Road, which is an important road connecting Rawalpindi with Murree and AJK. Frustrated motorists were forced to go wrong-way down dual carriageways to escape the gridlock.

Sources said that at a meeting of Qadri’s supporters, held in Sector I-8 on Saturday night, most groups had decided to remain peaceful. However, a group within the supporters did not agree with this decision. Police sources claimed that a Karachi-based religious leader instigated protesters to turn violent when they reached Faizabad.

Police also claimed that the mob had snatched weapons from their personnel, but this claim could not be verified.

— Mohammad Asghar, Munawer Azeem and Khawar Ghumman also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2016