ISLAMABAD: The announcement that the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam’s sit-in was coming to an end after two weeks did not bring an end to difficulties facing residents of the capital, who are now concerned about the protesters moving on to Plan B – locking down highways and cities – starting from Tarnol.

A portion of Kashmir Highway was closed to the public between Oct 31 and Nov 14 due to the sit-in, and other roads in the city were completely or partially sealed as part of security preparations in this regard.

Now JUI-F leaders have announced the start of Plan B, under which protesters are to lock down highways and cities. Officers in the capital administration and police said that the first phase of Plan B also kicked off in Islamabad, as it did in many other parts of the country, from Motorway Chowk at 3pm on Thursday.

Blocking highways and motorways around the capital will disrupt the transportation of edible goods, including produce, between the capital and other parts of the country. They said that the movement of people moving between Islamabad and other areas will also be disturbed.

However, they said the situation that is emerging since the motorway and G.T. Road around the capital and its suburbs were locked down is manageable. There are a few other routes that can be used to bring essential commodities such as edibles into the capital.

But the second phase of this plan is more concerning from the administration, police and residents, because it entails the locking down of the capital’s main arteries.

There are a few options available to residents of the capital to reach their destinations, the officials said, such as the Expressway, Murree Road, Park Road, Kashmir Highway and I.J. Principal Road, which are used by thousands of motorists every day.

Protesters have previously held demonstrations on the Expressway, I.J. Principal Road and Faizabad interchange. The officials said closing these areas even for a short time brings traffic in almost all of Islamabad to a halt and keeps police and the administration on their toes.

The officials speculated that the JUI-F may use the Faizabad interchange, Expressway, Kashmir Highway or I.J. Principal Road to lock down the capital. They said that protesters in the past have given the police and administration a hard time when they tried to remove them from these sites.

They may also use the Kural and Peshawar Mor interchanges, they said. These interchanges would be effective for both the police and the protesters in achieving their goals.

Whoever takes control of the interchanges first will have the edge, they said, and it will be very difficult to take back control of them from the other side. The strategic position of the interchanges can be used to effectively lock down the capital or to counter the protesters.

A protest or sit-in in these areas will affect the lives of Islamabad residents as they try to move between their workplaces, educational institutions and homes. They will also affect the movement of emergency vehicles.

The officials said intelligence gathering about the possible locations that the JUI-F may block to lock down the capital is ongoing. Leaders, supporters and JUI-F workers in the twin cities are likely to lock down Rawalpindi and Islamabad together.

Police arrangements

A contingent of police from other provinces as well as paramilitary personnel began returning to their stations at the demand of their concerned officers, police officers said, but the Islamabad police have retained 1,000 personnel from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police and the Frontier Constabulary each and 319 officials from the Azad Kashmir police.

The police’s logistics division has also asked contractors to remove shipping containers placed around the city, except for those around the Red Zone. The contractors were asked to seek advice from the operation division about the number of containers needed on the roads.

According to the logistics division, the contractor provided 442 containers. The contractor has claimed he provided more than 550.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2019