Police keeping close eye on Blue Area sit-in by religious parties

Updated October 27, 2017

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Participants of the rally march down the Islamabad Expressway on Thursday. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Participants of the rally march down the Islamabad Expressway on Thursday. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: Activists of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, whose rally set off from Lahore a couple of days ago, managed on Thursday night to stage a sit-in on Jinnah Avenue, nearly a kilometre outside the capital’s high-security Red Zone.

The rally participants had been held up near the Faizabad Interchange for most of the day while a government team – consisting of a couple of cabinet ministers and capital administration officials – negotiated with the organisers.

An assurance from the Sunni Tehreek (ST) that their activists would not try to breach the Red Zone allowed the marchers some respite; the government asked the Islamabad administration and police not to intercept the rally, allowing demonstrators to reach China Chowk on Jinnah Avenue, where they erected a well-lit stage and continued their speeches well into the night.

Although their numbers dwindled as the night progressed, ST President Mufti Liaqat Kazmi told Dawn that other participants from Anjuman-i-Talaba-i-Islam, Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan and the Jamaat Ahle Sunnat had yet to join their rally.

Earlier in the day, a rally of about 400 participants arrived near Faizabad around 10am. By mid-afternoon, their numbers had swelled, causing a massive traffic jam near the Faizabad Interchange.

The men slowly marched down Islamabad Expressway, while traffic police officers struggled to regulate traffic on adjoining roads and created diversions to cater to motorists travelling on the expressway, Jinnah Avenue and Murree Road.

A sizeable deployment was also witnessed around the Blue Area, while a large reserve force remained stationed across the city, on standby in case of any untoward incident. The commercial hub is expected to remain closed on Friday, in anticipation of the gathering to be held there.

The metro bus service also remained closed for most of the day in anticipation of the rally.

But the government restricted electronic media coverage of the rally, which mostly includes followers of a firebrand Barelvi cleric.

Though it was not officially acknowledged by any department, sources in the Interior Ministry told Dawn that special measures had been taken keeping in view the track record of the movement led by Dr Ashraf Asif Jalali.

“The most pressing concern is how to keep locals from joining the rally or sit-in if negotiations fail,” the official said, adding: “We have limited live coverage of the rally, which limits the number of onlookers joining such events”.

Even though there was an uneasy calm in the capital on Thursday night, there was no letup in the security presence because of the unknown nature of the group that is leading the protesters.

The Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah was at the forefront of the many groups that stormed into D-Chowk in March 2016 and remained camped out there for several days in the occasion of Mumtaz Qadri’s chehlum.

On that occasion, their workers showed aggression against police kiosks and took out their anger on CCTV cameras and metro bus stations.

This tehreek was also at the forefront of street protests held during Qadri’s trial for Salmaan Taseer’s murder, along with other several Barelvi groups such as the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek, Aalmi Tanzeem Ahle Sunnat and the Fidayeen-i-Khatam-i-Nabuwat led by Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi.

Dr Jalali, who hails from Lahore, has had good relations with Allama Khadim Rizvi, but both parted ways around one year ago.

Allama Rizvi, who also belongs to Lahore, has registered a political party by the name of Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan and their candidate fared quite well in the recent by-elections in NA-120 Lahore, bagging far more votes than the Jamaat-i-Islami candidate.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2017