ISLAMABAD/RAWALPINDI: The federal capital will be cut off from the rest of the country on Nov 2, no matter who controls its entry-exit points – law enforcement agencies or the protesting Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI).
Police officials told Dawn that while PTI had announced their intentions to lock down the capital, law enforcement personnel will also be manning blockades on the city’s entry/exit points.
Although the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration and police still have no clear instructions on how to handle the demonstrators, they will be on hand in case the protesters try to breach the capital or become violent.
If security personnel are asked to intercept the protesters, police officials said, they must have control over the entry/exit points, which will be blocked either with shipping containers or by any other means.
Rawalpindi police have already chalked out a strategy to prevent people from reaching the PTI’s protest; they will be using containers and trucks to block access points to Islamabad in at least 13 places, including Bhara Kahu, Tarnol, T-Chowk in Rawat and on I.J. Principal Road.
Law enforcement personnel apprehensive of showdown with KP CM’s police guard
It is not difficult to choke or paralyse the capital, officials said. “Previous experiences suggest that even a couple of dozen people are enough,” a police officer told Dawn. Faizabad was the main interchange linking the twin cities and blocking it would paralyse other roads, as had been witnessed in the past.
Other access roads to the capital, including Park Road, Ninth Avenue and I.J. Principal Road, cannot bear the burden of traffic that plies on Islamabad Expressway and any disruption results in massive traffic jams, where vehicles could be stuck for up to five to seven hours on normal days, officials said.
Although officials said that they were ready to respond to whatever directives were issued by the interior minister or the government, insiders fear a confrontation between law enforcers from different parts of the country.
A major concern is the PTI leadership, supporters and activists coming to Islamabad from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Most people would be arriving in large groups or motorcades, which will also include the KP chief minister and other government functionaries – who will be guarded by police from the province.
“How can Islamabad or Punjab police intercept the chief minister or ministers of another province? If the law and order situation spirals out of control, what will the KP police do, and what will be the role of their counterparts from the capital and Punjab?”
Faced with this daunting question, most officials said they would not like to think of such a situation. “A face-off with the KP police will be awful for morale and most officials from the police and ICT administration are not willing to face such a situation,” an official said.
In line with their plan, Rawalpindi police have started impounding shipping containers, freight and smaller trucks on Wednesday – a full week ahead of the PTI’s planned siege. Sources said that these would be used to block the capital’s entry points, while smaller trucks would be used by police to fulfill their own logistical requirements.
The impounding of heavy vehicles sparked panic among transporters and the business community, who claimed that some of the impounded trucks were loaded with goods and were worried they would face losses if they remained in police custody for a week or more.
Islamabad police, meanwhile, are also arranging sand to fill the containers, so they cannot be moved by the protesters.
Officials said they had asked for funding to the tune of Rs50 million to implement the security plan, which also calls for blocking the path of rallies coming from KP. Blockades will be placed on the Attock Bridge, as well as Hasanabdal and Taxila.
Since Tarnol is one of the only places near the capital where freight terminals operate, police expect there to be a shortage of containers, since police from Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Attock, Taxila and Fateh Jang will all need them.
Islamabad police have already indicated they need more than 300 containers to properly seal off the capital and prevent PTI rallies from entering the capital.
Rawalpindi police had already requested the Punjab inspector general’s office for around 5,000 rubber bullets, 1,500 batons and 5,000 teargas shells. The Rawalpindi city police officer (CPO) has also asked all station house officers to deposit their anti-riot equipment at the police armoury – for stock taking purposes, as well as to check whether the tools are in proper working order.
On Tuesday, a senior police official inspected the rubber bullets available police in the armoury and was surprised to find that some of them had ‘expired’.
Another official, requesting anonymity, told Dawn the expired bullets had been separated from the usable stock, but did not provide an exact number of the latter.
According to police, available stocks include 238 gas masks, 192 teargas launchers and 5,000 tear gas shells, but they have asked for another 50 launchers and around 2,000 more teargas shells.
The armoury also has 178 batons, 690 plastic helmets, 620 riot jackets, 90 riot shields, 1,527 shin guards and 2,900 arm guards currently in stock.
Islamabad police, meanwhile, have only received four of the eight armoured personnel carriers (APCs) they had asked for. The assistant inspector general (AIG) for operations had written to the interior ministry last month, asking that the government of Sindh be asked to provide more prison vans and APCs, but so far, no response has been received.
They have also asked for space to be cleared in the two main district jails, Adiala and Attock, so that there is place to accommodate PTI leaders, supporters and activists if the order to arrest them is issued.
Reserves requested by Islamabad police have also begun to arrive. Of the 25,000 Frontier Constabulary personnel requested, only 5,000 have been sent so far. The Punjab reserves, who were asked to send 5,000 personnel, have only committed 1,500 so far.
Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2016