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Faizabad becomes Waterloo for security personnel

Updated November 26, 2017

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Policemen in riot gear chase protesters from the Tehreek-i-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah during a clash.─ AFP
Policemen in riot gear chase protesters from the Tehreek-i-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah during a clash.─ AFP

ISLAMABAD: The events of Saturday saw Faizabad Interchange become a Waterloo for law enforcement agencies, who despite their superior numbers, were unable to contain the demonstrators and ensure their dispersal.

Even though they were able to push the protesters back considerably and isolate them on the Murree Road bridge over Faizabad, participants of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah sit-in first lured law enforcers into a false sense of security, cornered them and then beat them within an inch of their lives, eyewitnesses told Dawn.

Besides, the operation was conducted half-heartedly and security personnel found themselves falling back more times than they were able to advance.

On Saturday morning, when the capital administration’s final deadline for protesters to vacate the interchange expired, preparations had been made and over 8,000 police, Frontier Constabulary and Punjab Constabulary personnel were stationed around Faizabad, on I.J.Principal Road and on both sides of the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road.

Just before 8am, the troops began to converge on Faizabad from all four sides, and in response, the protesters began pelting them with stones and slingshots.

The security personnel countered this with teargas shells, rubber bullets and restored to batoncharging the protesters. In the melee, it emerged that the demonstrators had teargas canisters of their own, which they lobbed towards police to devastating effect.

According to eyewitnesses, the protesters’ canisters were more advanced than the ones police had. In addition, police found themselves firing teargas into the wind, which ended up debilitating the force rather than the protesters.

Initially, as media reported the action blow-by-blow, the protesters kept getting information about their movements from the media and were able to resist the initial onslaught, which lasted until 11am.

By this time, the demonstrators had been beaten back and limited to a small portion of the Faizabad Bridge.

Here, they formed a defensive ring around the truck which carried the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah leadership – including Khadim Hussain Rizvi – and repelled the advance of security forces.

Police officials told Dawn that personnel did not want to target the truck, as there were young children on it at the time. The standoff here continued for around 90 minutes.

However, when the tired police force backed off, they were able to regroup. The protesters were also very well prepared, having masks and shields to protect themselves from teargas shells, stones and batons. The sit-in leaders even made announcement in Pashto addressing FC personnel, asking them to stop their action and leave.

During this initial clash, over 300 personnel and 53 protesters were injured and were shifted to various hospitals for medical treatment.

Some personnel were given treatment on the spot and asked to remain there, amid fears of a shortage of manpower.

Over 300 protesters were also arrested from around Faizabad in this time. FC and police even vented their anger on the hapless demonstrators, beating the injured and the arrested persons even as they were being shifted to ambulances and prison vans.

Sources said that four pistols, several axes, and numerous slingshots were recovered from some of the men.

Meanwhile, protesters and their supporters gathered in different places, including Banigala, Bhara Kahu and Lehtrar Road, police said, and began to engage the contingents positioned around Rawal Dam Chowk and Islamabad Expressway.

This group beat the force deployed to the south of the Islamabad Expressway, trapping the personnel between Faizabad and Sohan and forcing them to retreat towards I.J. Principal Road.

As a result, law enforcement officials lost control of the area they had cleared at Faizabad, allowing demonstrators to retake their positions.

This happened with personnel posted on all sides of Faizabad: protesters set dozens of official vehicles on fire along Murree Road, while security personnel retreated in a bid to regroup.

As the protesters fled the area, they spread out into residential and commercial areas around Faizabad and clashed with police in Sector I-8, as well as damaging public property on Murree Road.

Some enraged protesters even tore down the gate of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s residence on Murree Road near Faizabad, and set fire to an armoured personnel carrier that was stationed there.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2017