Officials arrange bags containing riot kits at a police station in Islamabad.
Officials arrange bags containing riot kits at a police station in Islamabad.

ISLAMABAD: Police stations have begun taking riot gear out of armoury stores as law enforcement brace for a showdown with marchers scheduled to reach the capital later this month.

Islamabad has not witnessed violent street protests since the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) 2017 lockdown and riot gear gifted by the United States has been left in storage since, officials said.

They added that the police are now preparing for the Azadi March, announced by the Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).

Riot gear taken out of armoury stores so personnel can repair, familiarise themselves with equipment

According to senior police officers, all four zonal in-charges have issued directives to sub-divisional police officials to clean riot kits kept in police storage in their jurisdiction. They have also been asked to fix any equipment that is damaged.

The officers said that the City, Saddar and Rural zones have six police stations each, while the Industrial Area zone contains four. Each zone has 200 to 300 riot kits, and officials have been asked to familiarise themselves with handling, fixing and wearing the equipment.

The police last engaged in anti-riot activity against the weeks long sit in by the TLP at the Faizabad interchange in 2017, which almost brought the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad to a standstill.

The officers said a massive anti-riot operation undertaken at the time by police from all four sides with the Anti-Riot Unit and Anti-Terrorism Squad failed.

At the request of the capital police, the administration has sought assistance from the interior ministry in the form of manpower and finance to deal with the Azadi March.

Police and administration officials said around 10,000 officials from the police in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Kashmir and Railways have been sought for the march. A contingent of Rangers and the Frontier Constabulary has also been requested.

In addition, Rs50 million has been sought to bear transportation, meals and accommodation expenses for the personnel, as well as to make other arrangements such as shipping containers to seal areas like the Red Zone.

They added that the budget has been estimated for manpower for a fortnight.

Earlier, the Central Police Office was considering requesting the same number of personnel and the same amount of money sought during the 2014 PTI and Pakistan Awami Tehreek sit-in, but that demand was cut short because the KP and Punjab police also have to deal with marchers in their province.

The capital administration and police have asked their counterparts in KP and Punjab to intercept JUI-F leaders, activists and workers in their limits along with any possible participants at the district level.

Deputy Inspector General of Police Operations Waqaruddin Syed told Dawn that around 10,000 officials were requested from Punjab, KP and AJK as well as an FC and Rangers contingent.

Meanwhile, the JUI-F will submit another application with the capital administration seeking permission for the march from Oct 31 onwards.

Supreme Court lawyer Kamran Murtaz, who submitted the same application earlier on behalf of Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidir told Dawn the march will begin on March 27 and reach the capital on Oct 31 or later. He said he will submit another application on Monday seeking permission in this regard.

Officials told Dawn the concerned departments are examining the application but a decision has not been made so far because there is no clarify. However, they did ask for the venue to be changed from D-Chowk because it is located in the Red Zone, they said.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2019