Opposition parties were in uproar on Thursday after Islamabad police conducted an operation inside the Parliament Lodges and made 19 arrests, including those of JUI-F MNAs Salahuddin Ayubi and Maulana Jamal-ud-Din.
The police action came after members of Ansarul Islam, a uniformed volunteer force of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), entered the Parliament Lodges in large numbers.
Islamabad Inspector General of Police Muhammad Ahsan Younus took notice of the group's presence inside the lodges. According to a tweet posted from the capital police's official account, he suspended the officials in charge at D-Chowk under whose watch the Ansarul Islam workers had entered the lodges. Subsequently, he personally led the operation.
Footage on Twitter showed police officials conducting a search inside the lodges and looking for "the ones in uniforms". In separate videos, police officials were seen making arrests and forcing JUI-F workers out of the lodges.
JUI-F chief calls workers to either head to capital or block roads
Meanwhile, chief of the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance Maulana Fazlur Rahman, after arriving at the lodges, also called on his party workers to gather in the capital.
"Our volunteers got here peacefully," he said. "They (police) stormed into our lodges and attacked our MNA.
"I want to tell my party workers to either reach Islamabad or block roads in their cities and resist this in incompetent govt," he added.
Later, while speaking to journalist Shahzeb Khanzada on his Geo News show, Rehman demanded immediate release of his party's workers and volunteers, also demanding an apology from the authorities.
"We demand that our MNAs and others be released and that they apologise," he said. "We have declared war and will not forgive them for this terrorism."
Following Rehman's call, JUI-F's Sindh chapter announced that it was staging sit-in protests in Jacobabad and Sukkur as well as Karachi's Super Highway, Hub River Road and National Highway. A sit-in was also staged at Hyderabad Toll Plaza and the road was blocked for traffic.
Rashid says those arrested were members of 'private militia'
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, while talking to Geo News, accused JUI-F of gathering 70 workers of Ansarul Islam inside the lodges.
"People were hidden inside the lodges," he said. "We still wanted the matter to be resolved peacefully ... but they beat and locked up police officials and did not hand over Ansarul Islam members."
In a press conference later, the interior minister said the police had arrested 19 members of a "private militia", adding that the two JUI-F MNAs "were sitting in the police station" of their own will and "for the popularity of their company".
The minister said that all private militias were dissolved in 2019 and now no one was allowed to keep such a force anymore.
"We will also stop those who want to come out on the roads," he warned.
Referring to Rehman urging his workers to take to the streets, Rashid said: "Please don't take the law into your hands as otherwise action would be taken."
He said he had directed all chief secretaries and IGs to take action against anyone who took law into their hands.
Islamabad Police's spokesperson echoed Rashid's remarks, denying that it arrested the JUI-F MNAs, and adding that Ayubi and Jamal-ud-Din "are in the SHO's room at Aabpara Police Station and refusing to leave".
The police spokesperson also claimed that Ansarul Islam was banned and declared a proscribed organisation by the federal and provincial governments on Oct 24, 2019.
In 2021, however, sources had told Dawn that the reference seeking the ban on Ansar-ul-Islam was still pending with the cabinet wing.
Shehbaz demands immediate release of detained JUI-F workers
Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif condemned the operation and demanded for immediate expulsion of police from the Parliament Lodges.
"Raiding the residence of members of the parliament is [open] bullying," he said. "Police's torture and arrests of parliamentary members is highly condemnable."
"The government should come to its senses and detained workers should be freed immediately."
Sharif accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of taking the country towards chaos due to "the fear of the opposition's no-trust move against him".
PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique said he was in a meeting with Ayaz Sadiq when he was told that police had entered [the lodges]. "They said they have warrants for JUI-F workers. We tried to explain to them that you can't enter the lodges this way," he added, calling the move "illegal".
Police should not become PM's tool: Maryam
PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz said Islamabad police should refrain from becoming a "tool" of PM Imran and his government.
"Taking the blame for such madness-based actions is not appropriate. [You] will have to suffer losses," she warned.