ISLAMABAD: Participants of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) sit-in in the capital are slowly returning to their hometowns, apparently as part of the party’s ‘Plan B’ to lock down cities and highways in protesters’ native areas.

Various sources revealed that the number of participants at the sit-in had fallen significantly by Tuesday compared to the first day of the sit-in, Nov 1.

There were between 12,000 and 13,000 protesters at the site on Nov 9, which fell to 9,000 on Nov 10, the sources said. By Tuesday there were 8,000 people left.

“These people are very committed and ready to face all hardships,” a police officer said. He said the protesters were leaving under a plan, because they were tough enough to bear the cold weather and other difficulties.

Officials say use of force permitted if protesters try to leave venue and lock down capital

The concerned departments are gathering intelligence in the JUI-F’s Plan B, they said. So far, the plan is to lock down major cities and highways.

Senior capital administration and police officials told Dawn that following the Plan B announcement by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the deployment of police and paramilitary troops was increased in designated areas as well as roads leading towards the Red Zone, main arteries in the city and points of entry into Islamabad.

Some places will be partially sealed by placing shipping containers on half of the road, they said, adding that they were closely reviewing intelligence reports and there has been no alert for the capital until Wednesday evening so far.

Monitoring at points of entry into the capital and at toll plazas has also started in order to restrict the movement of JUI-F workers and supporters, they said. Whether to partially or totally seal entry points will be decided in light of the circumstances.

The officials said that according to the agreement between the protest organisers and the government, the participants are not allowed to leave the protest venue.

The officers said they have orders to use force, including using batons and tear gas, against the protesters if they try to spread in the city by violating the agreement. They said it has been decided that all resources and manpower will be used to confine them to the venue with heavy deployments and shipping containers.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2019