LAHORE: Tension gripped many parts of Punjab amid protests and road blockades over the Supreme Court’s decision in Aasia Bibi case and sporadic action by police on Thursday.
In Lahore, the demonstrators kept the metro buses off the track, train traffic suspended and the exit points of the motorway choked.
There was a sense of fear as stick-bearing people, especially youngsters, appeared on roads and markets in the city. Many traders were forced to pull their shutters down. The city also remained in the grip of rumours about impending operation against the protesters.
The media reported that Chief Minister Usman Buzdar had authorised operation against the protesters, with police forming the first line (for arresting the protesters) and the Rangers backing it up and the army supporting both. However, the talks of operation lost steam by evening as Islamabad started making claims of negotiations with the protesters and said the use of force would be the last option.
A section of the media also reported success of talks and end of protests shortly. However, the reports were quickly rubbished by TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi who took to the Tweeter to claim: “All these reports were planted ones. The sit-ins and demonstration would not stop come what may. The only authorised announcement would be made from the Lahore sit-in and workers should not lend ears to any propaganda.”
All wholesale and retail markets and educational institutions were closed. Those who had to attend offices faced inconvenience of adopting alternative routes. The major roads were blocked and crossing the agitating activists appeared risky. The activists blocked various portions of the canal bank roads from Thokar to Jallo by burning branches of trees and tyres. The Mall housing many government offices was totally blocked from Governor’s House to the PMG office.
Rail service between Lahore and Karachi besides Lahore and Rawalpindi remained disrupted throughout Thursday, delaying the arrival and departure time of major trains.
An official of Pakistan Railways at its headquarters here said that the worst-hit train was the Khyber Mail (20-Down) which reached Karachi from Peshawar Cantt 13 hours and 45 minutes late than its scheduled time.
Tezgam (7-Up) reached Rawalpindi from Karachi Cantt 7 hours and 43 minutes late than its scheduled time. Khushhal Khan Khattak Express (20-Down) could reach 4 hours and eight minutes, Awam Express (14-Down) 3 hours and 30 minutes and Allama Iqbal Express one hour and 43 minutes late.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson said all trains were leaving Karachi for various upcountry destinations according to their scheduled time.
The protesters led by activists of the religious parties torched vehicles and public property at many places. In Sheikhupura, fifteen police constables deployed on the motorway to perform duties suffered injuries when a mob pelted them with stones.
In Toba Tek Singh, the Home Department issued detention orders for one month of 36 activists. The city police registered a case against six others.
More than 200 people, 25 of them nominated, were booked for blocking roads and hooliganism in Okara, 34 people were arrested in Chiniot, more than three dozen in Faisalabad and many in Kasur.
The Sargodha city police registered a case against 250 people including the Anjuman-i-Tajran president for blocking main roads.
Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2018