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‘Daytime action more likely to succeed’

Updated March 30, 2016


A man holds a stick while taking part in a sit in protest against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri outside the Parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 29, 2016.—Reuters
A man holds a stick while taking part in a sit in protest against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri outside the Parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 29, 2016.—Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Even as a large contingent of police and security personnel closed in on the participants of the sit-in at D-Chowk on Tuesday evening, the interior minister cooled things down by declaring that the Red Zone would be cleared in the light of day.

But on the third day of the protest, life on Constitution Avenue had pretty much returned to normal, expect for the police cordon around the Red Zone, preventing people from leaving or joining the sit-in.

Given their bitter experiences over the past couple of days, the press corps also chose to maintain a safe distance from the sit-in as DSNG vans and newsmen remained parked at least 300 metres from the main podium.

In an effort to improve their relations with the media, the protesting leaders also held a press conference on Tuesday evening where they again expressed a willingness to negotiate with the army. “There are some elements in the government who we don’t even want to see; but people such as Ishaq Dar are welcome,” Dr Mohammad Ashraf Asif Jalali, who is the chairman of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah – which is the umbrella body of all the protesting parties – told reporters. They criticised the government for not taking their demands seriously and called the interior and information ministers “agents of anti-Islam forces”.

They also accused police of using “brute force to crush our march” and also alleged that it was security officials and not protesters who had torched and damaged public property. “Similarly some miscreants had mishandled media persons too,” he claimed.

Protesters try to mend fences with media

This did not go down well with reporters. But Sarwat Qadri of the Sunni Tehreek said that the protesters were aggrieved by the lack of coverage they were given. “There were numerous people in Mumtaz Qadri’s funeral and not a leaf was damaged but still the media did not cover us.”

Videos from the sit-in also did the rounds on social media, but the most popular one showed some members of the sit-in throwing their slippers into the air as helicopters flew overhead. When the choppers broke away, the crowds jeered and congratulated themselves for “scaring them off”.

Delayed action

There are several reasons for putting off a possible operation against the protesters until Wednesday, said several people Dawn spoke to on Tuesday. Sources in the police and ICT admin said senior officers had advised against any action at night.

“Darkness is not strategically suited to an urban location as law enforcement personnel have limited space to manoeuvre,” a senior police officer told Dawn.

Similarly, a senior ICT administration official said that security personnel were not looking to repeat mistakes made during the PTI, PAT sit-in.

“There are several different departments such as the Islamabad police, the reserve force, FC and Rangers personnel and even trainees that are called in and expected to work together, but they lack coordination and commanding all these different companies in the dark is difficult.”

Notice issued

The capital administration had issued a notice to the leaders of the protest at around 6pm, giving them a two-hour deadline to vacate the Red Zone or face action. The notice was issued to Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, Dr Ashraf Jalali, Mufti Abid Mubarik, Maulana Shadab Raza and Hamid Raza Qadri from the office of the district magistrate.

The notice charged them with “an attempt to frustrate the government drive against terrorism”, adding that “it is essential to put an end to such unlawful assembly”.

“You are called upon and commanded to disperse and move away from the place of unlawful assembly immediately,” the notice said, warning that “law enforcing agencies shall take action in accordance with law by removing illegal gathering and unlawful assembly” if they did not comply.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2016