RAWALPINDI: The protest march that headed for D-Chowk from Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi on Sunday exposed the lack of planning on the part of local police, and the lack of control over the police force after it failed to treat the matter seriously.

The march was the second notable incident of its kind in the garrison city’s recent history, after sectarian violence broke over on Ashura in 2013.

Then too, police and district administration failed to assess the intentions of groups of religious workers and leaders, forcing the government to turn to the army for help.

Police sources told Dawn that the police, intelligence and administration were left in the dark by religious leaders, who had been in talks with them for the last few days over Mumtaz Qadri’s chehlum.

They said they were assured the mourners would remain peaceful and disperse after the dua, before Asr prayers.

The district administration, on the other hand, presumed that the chehlum would be calm, since Qadri’s funeral was observed peacefully despite the crowds.

A source said that one of the groups involved in talks with the police and administration had hinted at a march towards Islamabad, while the other claimed they would disperse after Asr prayers.

Instead of making security arrangements as they had for Qadri’s funeral, the police relied on the assurances of religious leaders.

The police did place cargo containers along Benazir Bhutto Road’s link roads, and deployed police in riot gear.

“Around half of the police force was deployed in the city on Sunday compared to the deployments on Mumtaz Qadri’s funeral, because we were not expecting that they would march towards Islamabad,” a senior official said. “At one stage, the stock of tear gas shells ran out while trying to disperse religious workers at Shamsabad.”

During the ensuing clashes, police picked up a number of protesters from Faisalabad, Gujrat, Gujranwala, Bhakhar and southern Punjab.

However, the police have not registered cases and have started consultations with legal experts as they await final orders from their superiors regarding the registration of cases.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2016