Twin cities to be sealed with shipping containers to intercept marchers

Updated October 19, 2019

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The city zone has demanded 250 containers while the other three zones have sought 100 each. — Online/File
The city zone has demanded 250 containers while the other three zones have sought 100 each. — Online/File

ISLAMABAD: The capital will likely be sealed from Oct 31 onwards by either the police or the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) as preparations on both sides for the Azadi March gain momentum.

According to police officers, the Islamabad police have demanded more than 550 shipping containers to intercept the march before it enters the city. The demand was made by zonal superintendents of police City, Saddar, Industrial Area and Rural to the police’s logistics division, they said.

The city zone has demanded 250 containers while the other three zones have sought 100 each. The logistics department has ordered a vendor to arrange 450 containers, they said, with the request that they be ready for further requirements.

Contingency plan in place for Azadi March

According to the officers, each container costs more than Rs5,000 a day to rent.

Around 100 containers will be needed in around 10 locations in and around the Red Zone, including on PTV Chowk, Ayub Chowk, Aga Khan Road, Secretariat Chowk and France Chowk on Constitution Avenue, Radio Pakistan Chowk on Shahrah-i-Jamhuriat, Serena Chowk on Khayaban-i-Suhrawardi, Convention Centre on Murree Road and Margalla Road.

The police have decided to block each of the Expressway’s connecting roads from both sides from Faizabad to the Koral flyover, they said, as this area becomes ‘Waterloo’ for them during protests and law and order problems.

All the connecting roads of Rawalpindi to I.J. Principal Road will also likely be sealed, the officers said, and steps will be taken to intercept people trying to join the march or gather in the capital.

The police have more than 1,000 gas masks, 200 teargas launchers and 13,000 shells available in the logistics division armoury, they said, along with enough batons, plastic helmets, riot jackets, riot shields, shin guards and arms, if needed.

More riot gear was demanded to cope with a deteriorating situation, if it arises.

The police have also threatened local traders with legal action if they do business with the organisers or participants of the Azadi March, the officers said.

These traders include catering services, tent services, hotels, motels, guest-houses and inns, generators, workshops, hardware stores, welding workshops, sound system services, excavator owners and crane owners.

The warning was issued in writing by station house officers to traders running businesses in their limits. It said traders will not deal with or provide services, assistance or items to protesters during the sit-in or strict action will be taken against them.

Rawalpindi

The police have also prepared a contingency plan under which 120 freight containers will be used to seal the garrison city and Rangers and Punjab Constabulary (PC) personnel will assist the police if the law and order situation deteriorates during the Azadi March.

Although the government has not yet told the district administration or the police whether the march is to be allowed, the police have begun giving squads riot training.

Punjab police chief Arif Nawaz Khan met the Rawalpindi regional police officer (RPO) during his visit to the city on Thursday and reviewed the law and order situation, including the upcoming march and security for the Chehlum of Imam Husain.

A senior police official told Dawn thatthe government was expected to communicate a final policy and strategy for the march on Monday.

He said police: “have been preparing their security plan on their own as to who is to be arrested and where participants of the Azadi March are to be stopped.” He added that the police have prepared lists of prominent party leaders, according to which 30 to 35 individuals from the JUI-F would be arrested.

According to the plan, points of entry into the city and roads leading to Islamabad will be sealed with 120 shipping containers, and water cannons, armoured personnel carriers, prison vans and hundreds of police personnel will be deployed in the city.

The authorities have requested for companies of the Rangers, each consisting of 120 personnel, while 2,000 additional police from the PC and the army will be on a standby in case of violence.

Police have requested 6,000 shells of tear gas, 1,600 rubber bullets, batons, masks and shields. Anti-riot exercises have begun in Police Lines Headquarters and special squads have been formed to be deployed at sensitive locations.

Police officials expect that the main encounter with Azadi March participants will take place at Attock Bridge where law enforcement agencies will try to stop the marchers from heading towards the federal capital.

Attock Bridge is one of the most of important strategic crossings on the River Indus between Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The police are planning to block it for all kinds of movement.

The police have been making lists of personnel to be deployed in four tiers. Snipers will be deployed on rooftops and mounted police will patrol various parts of the city.

According to sources, the Special Branch has been monitoring 34 seminaries that have a total of 3,500 students.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2019