(Clockwise from left) A video grab shows a JUI-F worker being accosted by security personnel in Parliament Lodges; JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman issues a call for nation-wide protests while speaking to the media; and, a group of Ansarul Islam volunteers, who came to provide security to JUI-F lawmakers, sit outside Parliament Lodges on Thursday. —Tanveer Shahzad-White Star / INP
(Clockwise from left) A video grab shows a JUI-F worker being accosted by security personnel in Parliament Lodges; JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman issues a call for nation-wide protests while speaking to the media; and, a group of Ansarul Islam volunteers, who came to provide security to JUI-F lawmakers, sit outside Parliament Lodges on Thursday. —Tanveer Shahzad-White Star / INP

ISLAMABAD: Tensions that had been simmering since the opposition submitted its no-confidence resolution against Prime Minister Imran Khan boiled over on Thursday when a heavy contingent of police raided the Parliament Lodges to expel members of the Ansarul Islam — the volunteer force of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) — who were invited to provide security to opposition lawmakers.

At least four legislators, along with two dozen Ansarul Islam volunteers, were arrested during the operation, police officials told Dawn.

A couple of legislators also courted arrest in protest over the police action at the parliamentarians’ lodgings, they said, adding that all the arrested persons were shifted to a police installation for further action.

A case is most likely to be registered against them on different charges, including resistance against the police.

Police raid Parliament Lodges to forcibly remove Ansarul Islam volunteers guarding JUI-F lawmakers

Earlier in the day, JUI-F lawmaker Maulana Salahuddin Ayyubi reached the lodges — where nearly all members of parliament are allotted accommodation — alongside a few dozen motorcycle-riding volunteers. Some of the volunteers entered the lodges with the lawmaker, while others gathered outside the main gate.

Images of their presence outside the lodges aired on news channels caught the attention of authorities, who asked the capital police chief to remove them from the premises, police officials said.

In response, a large force, consisting of an anti-riot unit, police commandoes, the Counter Terrorism Department and Anti-Terrorism Force along with prison vans reached the Parliament Lodges — located opposite Parliament House — under the supervision of the DIG and SSP Operations. According to police sources, all volunteers then moved to MNA Ayyubi’s Lodge (A-401) and locked the door.

Senior police officers asked them to surrender, but they refused, police said.

All the while, different political leaders and their supporters from various opposition parties started to arrive at the lodges.

Subsequently, police cordoned off the premises and blocked all roads leading to the lodges. The heavy contingent then poured into the building that housed MNA Ayyubi’s flat and took positions in the corridors around it.

Police initially tried to stop the influx of political leaders and prevented them from entering the premises, but eventually had to relent and opened the barriers at the gate.

Around 8pm, the police party broke down the door of the MNA’s flat, which led to a physical confrontation between police, legislators and the Ansarul Islam volunteers, officers said, adding that during the confrontation a number of MNAs and volunteers sustained injuries.

Police succeeded in arresting around arrest two dozen volunteers, and at least four legislators (including a senator and three MNAs), who were then dragged and bundled into police vehicles.

After the police party left, an incensed JUI-F chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman arrived at the scene with a large number of party workers and activists in tow, announcing his intention to court arrest and issuing a call to all his supporters across the country to come out onto the streets to protest the state’s high-handedness.

Sources in the police department told Dawn that Special Branch had been asked to keep an eye on the movements of opposition party leaders, workers and activists and share any information with local police.

Speaking to reporters outside Parliament Lodges, the Maulana said that the government was afraid of their volunteers, which was a legal entity. He questioned the need for police action, asking if they were carrying illegal weapons, disturbing the peace or found in possession of narcotics.

He said that their party members were apprehensive about their security, which was why the volunteers were called in. He said that besides police, his party had a responsibility to provide security to its members, as well.

PPP leaders Asif Ali Zardari and his son Bilawal strongly condemned the police action at Parliament Lodges, saying that this was proof that Imran Khan is panicking.

Mr Zardari called on police officers and the Islamabad administration to not follow illegal orders, while Bilawal said that that Imran Khan had breached the sanctity of parliamentarians’ homes as many of them live with their families in the lodges.

PML-N’s Rana Sanaullah, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and PPP’s Faisal Karim Kundi also condemned the police action at the lodges in the strongest terms.

Govt response

In a late night press conference following the melee at Parliament Lodges, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that all the private militias had been dissolved in 2019. He claimed police did not arrest any MNAs, and those who are in police stations were there of their own free will.

He claimed that only 19 members of the JUI-F’s “private militia” were in police custody, and also issued a warning to those who were mobilizing in protest at Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s call.

He claimed that police officials were assaulted at the lodges and their vehicles were also damaged adding that they tried to negotiate with the JUI-F leaders for around five hours before launching the operation.

He also said that if opposition parliamentarians were not satisfied with police protection, he could offer them security via paramilitary forces such as the Rangers, FC etc. However, he maintained that in that event, he should not be taunted for handing over the capital to paramilitary forces.

It is worth noting that the interior ministry had, in 2019, ‘abolished’ the Ansarul Islam after saying that they were ‘capable of functioning as a military organisation’.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2022

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