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RAWALPINDI/ISLAMABAD: Many parts of the twin cities will be effectively sealed this morning as former prime minister Nawaz Sharif sets off for Lahore via the historic Grand Trunk (GT) Road.

The ousted Sharif is scheduled to depart from his Punjab House camp office amid tight security around 10am, senior police officials told Dawn, adding that his cavalcade would head towards Rawalpindi via Express Chowk, Khyber Chowk, Zero Point and Faizabad.

Sections of the main arteries of the capital – Jinnah Avenue, Islamabad Expressway, Murree Road, Park Road and I.J. Principal Road – would remain closed for the public.

About 3,100 policemen will be deployed around Islamabad, and the capital city’s police will accord the former PM VVIP protocol from Punjab House to Faizabad, police sources said.

l Sharif to be given sitting PM’s protocol; will address supporters near Rawat l Overzealous PML-N leaders place illegal banners on metro track pillars l Islamabad Expressway, Murree Road and Jhelum Road to remain closed for traffic until rally passes

A police officer told Dawn that within the capital’s limits, Nawaz Sharif would be provided the same kind of security as is accorded to a sitting prime minister.

Path through Pindi

From Faizabad, which marks the beginning of the Punjab government’s jurisdiction, over 4,000 law enforcers, including riot police and Punjab Constabulary personnel, will be deployed along Mr Sharif’s route. He will be provided high-priority ‘box security’ rather than the simple police escort given to ex-VVIPs in Rawalpindi.

A senior police official told Dawn that an ex-prime minister was not entitled to such elaborate police protocol according to rules. Whenever an ex-VVIPs passes through the city, he is given a police van to escort him within city limits.

Any person entering the rally will be subjected to a three-layered security check. Plainclothes Special Branch personnel will be deployed, while bomb disposal experts will sweep Murree Road before the rally arrives.

Sharpshooters are being positioned on rooftops along Murree Road, while Elite Force commandoes will also be on hand along the rally’s route.

Mr Sharif is expected to travel in a bomb proof vehicle, while his convoy will include 12 ambulances and four fire tenders.

A senior police official told Dawn that while there was no specific terror threat to Mr Sharif, in view of the delicate security situation following the Lahore bombing, they would be taking all the measures that are usually put in place during Ashura in the month of Muharram.

At least 445 traffic wardens, including 7 DSPs, will be deployed across Rawalpindi to ensure that traffic keeps running on the city’s roads.

Murree Road will be closed for traffic from Faizabad and motorists will have to use the Katarian-Pindora-Carriage Factory-Peshawar Road route to reach inner-city areas.

Traffic on the GT Road from Jhelum to Peshawar will be diverted to the Central Ordnance Depot (COD) junction and onwards to Qasim Market and Peshawar Road. Traffic headed towards Islamabad airport will also be diverted to COD junction and onwards to Nazar Chowk and Ali Chohan Chowk. Those travelling to Islamabad will have to use the Koral Expressway.

An official of the Rawalpindi administration told Dawn that while markets such as Raja Bazaar will remain open, shops along Murree Road will be closed, adding that traders would be allowed to open shops and plazas once the rally passed their area.

Save for a brief stopover at Committee Chowk, where Mr Sharif’s entourage will be joined by local party leaders from the garrison city, the ex-PM’s convoy has no stops planned inside Rawalpindi. Mr Sharif’s cavalcade is expected to move through the city in the shape of a rally, but most supporters may not be able to catch a glace of their leader, since he has been advised against leaving his vehicle or mingling with supporters.

However, the PM will address his supporters near Rawat, where former interior minister and local MNA Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has made arrangements for a public meeting of sorts.

Metro bus

Senior district administration officials told Dawn that although today will not be a public holiday, the metro bus service would remain suspended from 10am until the former PM’s rally was clear of Murree Road.

In addition, overzealous local PML-N leaders have hung banners and streamers welcoming their leader to Rawalpindi on the pillars of the elevated metro bus track along Murree Road, a violation of the provincial government ban on displaying any material on the pillars.

Under Section 23 of the Parks and Horticulture Authority Act 2012, political and commercial advertisements are banned from public walls without the permission of the authority. Following the construction of the elevated track in 2015, PHA also imposed ban on all advertisements pasted on the pillars along on Murree Road.

But despite this, ruling party leaders flouted the law, hanging banners and streamers from every available space.

PHA Rawalpindi has been headless since former director general Malik Abid was suspended on corruption charges and arrested by the Anti-Corruption Establishment, along with four other senior officials.

PML-N MNA Malik Abrar is the current chairman, but has nothing to do with administrative affairs.

“There is no one in the authority who will take notice of this violation; the PHA staff cannot remove the banners of the ruling party without the directives of a senior official,” a PHA official told Dawn.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2017