Imran vs Nawaz: Nov 2 will be a high stakes battle between protesters and police

Neither side can now afford to blink, the stakes have been decided.
Published October 25, 2016

Equipped with loaders, lifters and thousands of supporters, Speaker Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Asad Qaiser has taken refuge along Islamabad-Peshawar Motorway. He is waiting for a nod from Bani Gala on whether to retreat to Peshawar or move to Islamabad for participating in the planned November 2 lockdown of the federal capital.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNA Engr Hamidul Haq, who also accompanies Speaker Asad Qaiser, told that thousands of supporters have taken temporary shelter in the rest area along the motorway near Swabi waiting for an ‘order’ from Imran Khan.

“We have loaders and lifters so that we could remove the obstacles placed by the federal government. We will force our way into Islamabad and we can do it easily,” Mr Haq said.

Tensions continue to rise in the run-up to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)’s November 2 sit-in, as clashes between protesters and police have already erupted in the capital.

“November 2 is going to be a demonstration of force between police and political activists,” one police officer of the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) predicts.

With the expectation of a massive turnout of charged PTI workers, the police officers of ICT deem the current deployable strength of 11,000 personnel insufficient to control the large crowds likely to gather at the demonstration.

The police force has requested an additional deployment of 25,000 personnel, with a summary regarding the same already send to the Interior Ministry.

If approved, police forces on November 2 would be able to field 36,000 personnel with additional support from the Frontier Constabulary (FC). Extra personnel have also been requested from Punjab, Sindh and Azad Kashmir.

Preparing for the showdown

In multiple media interviews PTI chief Imran Khan has stated that he expects a crowd of at least a million on November 2. Evidently, having endured one PTI sit-in and witnessed the charged crowds in recent days, the government is not taking these claims lightly.

According to police officers deployed in the federal capital, the capital police have conducted extra anti-riot training of police personnel, with focus on handling riot gear including shields, batons and non-lethal weapons at the police training school.

Law enforcement agencies are also contemplating a plan to arrest key leaders of PTI and its die-hard workers, according to official sources.

As per initial plans, in order to hinder the movement of PTI workers, hundreds of shipping containers have been placed on all approach routes to Islamabad, with the objective of slowing down and diverting those who wish to join the planned sit-in.

“Police will need to use huge numbers of shipping containers and heavy machinery to prevent PTI workers from shutting down the capital,” another official said.

The Islamabad High Court's Thursday ruling however also ordered the capital administration not to place any containers or block roads.

At what cost?

ICT's proposed measures to control the protesters will not come cheap.

To cope with the cost of deploying such a significant number of security personnel, and to finance other measures taken to thwart PTI’s plans, the ICT police have forwarded a summary to the Ministry of Finance for the release of Rs468.24 million.

An official said that out of the total sum, the city police estimated that Rs93 million will be needed for meals, Rs18.5 million for fuel, Rs1.7 million for accommodation, Rs1 million for stationery and paper, Rs64.2 million for vehicles and heavy machinery and Rs273.7 million for other miscellaneous expenses.

The funds requested will also be used to buy tear gas shells, rubber bullets, batons and other riot control equipment.

*While this is part of PTI's plan, Imran Khan's lawyers have assured the court they will restrict the rally to Parade Ground

PTI's leaderships and supporters, on the other hand, seem determined to make an impact. The party has two plans in place for the upcoming dharna.

With the main stage set-up at Zero Point, PTI workers will enter Islamabad through various routes, and on all routes they can expect to face hurdles and security forces.

PTI’s initial plan is to assemble workers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at Tarnol, situated on the Grand Trunk Road, and then march towards Golra Mor to block the Kashmir Highway leading to the federal capital.

Activists from Punjab have been instructed to gather at Rawat to blockade the newly-constructed Islamabad Expressway, thus severing Islamabad from Punjab.

The Kashmir chapter of PTI has been entrusted with the task of severing vehicular traffic by staging a sit-in at Bara Kahu and Attal Chowk. Faizabad interchange will be blocked by local party activists.

“This arrangement is meant to disconnect Islamabad from the rest of the country. We will not occupy government buildings neither will our workers stop ambulances and vehicles of police and security agencies,” said Naeemul Haq, chief spokesperson for the party.

The workers, explained Haq, will be charged with occupying key intersections in Islamabad to disconnect the corridors of power from the masses.

“Government departments like FBR, ECP, SECP, FIA and other institutions miserably failed to take action against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after the Panama papers leaks exposed offshore companies of his children. We want to get rid of the prime minister and the departments that protect his corruption,” the PTI leader said.

PTI also has a Plan B, which will come into effect if the government uses heavy handed tactics.

If the police forces arrest PTI workers, the party’s activists will also stage sit-in outside the police stations where the arrested workers are being held.

“We will send 200 activists towards the police station that arrests a single PTI worker. Punjab government should refrain from arresting our workers,” said Chairman Imran Khan, issuing a direct warning to the authorities.

Neither side can now afford to blink, the stakes have been decided.