Federal ministers and PTI leaders blamed each other on Tuesday in the aftermath of the killing of a policeman who was gunned down during a raid in Lahore against people "taking the law into their own hands" last night.
Kamal Ahmad, a police constable, was killed during an operation in Lahore's Model Town locality last night after an unidentified person opened fire on him, Lahore DIG Operations Sohail Chaudhry told reporters outside a hospital.
The raid coincided with the post-midnight police crackdown on PTI leaders' residences, ahead of the party's planned long march to Islamabad on May 25 (tomorrow).
DIG Chaudhry, without naming any political party, said the police was cracking down on activists who were "taking the law into their own hands and doing hooliganism".
When the police party reached the home of an activist — Sajid Hussain, against whom the police filed an FIR afterwards — an unidentified person opened fire from its rooftop, the DIG said.
"A bullet hit the upper part of the constable's chest, which is a very critical area. A lot of effort was made [to save him] but when we reached here (the hospital), he had become frail."
The policeman later succumbed to his wounds, DIG Chaudhry said. He vowed that the person responsible for the firing would not be able to escape and raids were being conducted to arrest him.
A first information report (FIR) filed later notably does not mention the police operation was linked to the raids on PTI leaders, but does identify the alleged shooter.
The FIR stated that a police party, during a search operation in Model Town, rang the doorbell of Hussain's house at 1:40am. Shortly afterwards, two "armed people", identified as Sajid Hussain and Akrama Bukhari, appeared on the terrace and Hussain asked in a "threatening tone" why they (police) had come to his house late at night, it said.
The police party responded that they were conducting a search operation regarding tenancy, according to the FIR. However, Hussain and his son became angry and started "threatening the officials with dire consequences".
"Hussain asked his son Bukhari to fire straight at the police party. Bukhari, with the intention of killing, fired straight at the police party. A bullet struck the chest of Constable Kamal Ahmad, who was standing outside the house."
Hussain also fired at the police party and a bullet hit the government vehicle, the FIR stated. The constable died on the spot, it added.
The FIR was registered under Sections 302 (murder), 34 (common intention), 324 (attempt to murder), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and 427 (causing damage) of the Pakistan Penal Code, and Section 7 of Anti-Terrorism Act.
Both Hussain and his son Bukhari were arrested later, police said.
There were reports of late-night police action at the homes of former federal minister Hammad Azhar in Lahore, while the Lal Haveli residence of Sheikh Rashid Ahmed as well as the homes of Fayyazul Hasan Chohan and Ijaz Khan Jazi in Rawalpindi were also purportedly raided.
In addition, former information minister Fawad Chaudhry also claimed in a tweet that his home in Islamabad was under observation, which was why he had left for Jhelum.
Videos circulating on social media purportedly showed police raiding the homes of other Punjab-based PTI leaders, including Usman Dar, Malik Waqar Ahmed, Engineer Kashif Kharal, Mazhar Iqbal Gujjar and others.
Govt, PTI trade blame
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said he was "deeply" saddened to hear of the constable's martyrdom. "I fully stand by our law enforcement agencies in their mission to protect the lives & property of our citizens," he added.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah termed the policeman's killing "proof that [former prime minister and PTI Chairman] Imran Khan is a terrorist".
"Kamal Ahmad's killers are Imran Khan, Sheikh Rashid and their followers," he claimed and vowed to hold the planners of the "khooni (bloody) march" accountable.
The firing incident had proven that the PTI do not want a peaceful march, he alleged. "Those who used to abuse [people] have now started shooting. They took the law into their own hands, now the law will make them answer."
The interior minister also claimed that Imran wanted to start a civil war in the country in the guise of the long march.
"We will prevent civil war, chaos and disorder in the country through the law," he stressed.
Sanaullah offered his condolences to the constable's family and said his family would be given the Shuhada package, under which families of slain police officials are given compensation and other facilities.
The government would take the responsibility for the family's welfare and the children's education, he added.
Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz also paid tribute to constable Ahmad and offered his condolences to his family.
He directed the Punjab inspector general of police to submit a report on the incident and arrest those responsible for it soon.
Hamza has also summoned a meeting to review the law and order situation in the province which will look at the existing measures to ensure protection of the lives and belongings of the public as well as further steps to maintain peace.
Meanwhile, former information minister and PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry claimed that police officials had "misbehaved" with women and children and "tortured" people. Over 450 workers, including women, were taken into custody, he claimed.
"Ex-servicemen and people who are retired from civil institutions were also targeted. According to the reports, the family of a retired major opened fire at forced entry into their home after midnight believing they were robbers."
As a result, the policeman lost his life, he added and claimed that Sanaullah and Hamza were responsible for the incident.
Fawad said the police had conducted raids on 1,100 homes last night and entered people's houses without any warrants.
Section 144 imposed in Punjab
Later in the day, PML-N Deputy Secretary General Attaullah Tarar told a press conference in Lahore that Section 144 was being imposed in the province, adding that the government had taken the decision after consulting with its allies.
He came down hard on the PTI, saying that they wanted to disrupt peace and spread anarchy in the province. "What was Constable Kamal Ahmad's fault? [...] What answer will you give to the five children he has left behind? Have you lost all of your humanity?" he asked.
The PML-N leader maintained that the official was merely performing his duty when PTI workers opened fire on him from the roof. He also called out the PTI chairman for "hiding" in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and alleged that he had directed party workers to collect weapons in an effort to disrupt peace in the province.
"He (Ahmad) was performing his duty. You did this merely to fulfil your political goals," he asserted, adding that the government was aware of Imran's every move.
Tarar also said that CM Hamza would take part in the funeral of the martyred official, while the government would provide aid to his family under the Shuhada Package.
He dared Imran to come to Lahore and lead the long march to Islamabad from GT Road. He alleged that the PTI was facing difficulty in mobilising the public because of which workers had been directed to disrupt law and order.
'Red line has been crossed'
Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb in a statement said a "red line has been crossed" as she referred to the policeman's killing. "Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has expressed his unequivocal intention to ensure the protection of the economy and the people.
"It is time to draw a red line to save Pakistan's economy and people," she added. "We have drawn a 'red line' ... and will not allow anyone to cross it."
PM Shehbaz's spokesperson Malik Ahmed Khan, meanwhile, said if the PTI wants general elections, it should return to parliament for electoral reforms. "Talks will be held inside parliament. Not on the streets. The state will establish its writ. No chaos will be tolerated."
The opposition party's fears were realised late on Monday night, when despite assurances that their leaders will not be targeted or arrested ahead of the planned march on the capital, police raided the residences of several key PTI figures.
PTI chairman Imran had, on Sunday, announced the PTI's plans to hold an 'Azadi March' on Islamabad on May 25 (tomorrow), reportedly after talks with the establishment over early polls fell flat.
The police action was in stark contrast to the resolve expressed by PM Shehbaz’s spokesperson, who had claimed earlier in the day it had been decided not to arrest any PTI worker ahead of the long march.
Even Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal had made the same commitment when he said that the "coalition government believes in democracy and respects the right to protest". He claimed that as long as whatever Imran Khan does is within the boundaries of the law and Constitution, it would be accepted while the government will deal with protesters if there is any violation.
However, Hammad Azhar tweeted just before midnight that police had raided his house to arrest him, but that he managed to evade capture. Talking to reporters, his mother claimed that a heavy police contingent had first knocked at their door before entering to search for her son.
After the incident, former Punjab health minister Yasmeen Rashid reached Azhar's residence and started a sit-in to protest the police action. Footage circulating on social media showed the former Punjab health minister, a cancer survivor, seated on the pavement as police vehicles were visible in the background.
PTI chairman Imran Khan also decried the "brutal crackdown" saying the peaceful protest is the right of all citizens. He also said it raised "serious questions about the handlers".
"The brutal crackdown on PTI leaders and workers in Punjab and Islamabad has once again shown us what we are familiar with — the fascist nature of PML-N when in power."
He then issued a warning: "I want to warn the crooks and their handlers that these undemocratic and fascist steps will further exacerbate the economic situation and push the country into a state of anarchy."
In a later tweet, Imran said his government had never prevented the then-opposition from organising their own marches. "PPP, PML-N and JUI marches against our government were never stopped nor did we carry out any crackdown on their workers. This is the difference between democrats and kleptocrats."
Won't take dictation
Earlier, the high-level PML-N meeting attended by Punjab Chief Minister Hamza, his cousin Maryam Nawaz, federal ministers Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Sanaullah and Khurram Dastgir, and Awais Leghari, lasted for about three hours.
"We cannot take dictation from Imran Khan to dissolve assemblies and announce fresh polls forthwith. We are not afraid of going to the masses, but if we do so now it would mean we are succumbing to Imran’s pressure and showing weakness, which we should not," a party insider quoted Nawaz as having said.
The PML-N and its eight allied parties have so far agreed in principle to complete the remaining term of the government till August 2023. However, the coalition is open to reviewing its decision as per the fast-changing political situation.
The PML-N believes if it shows flexibility over early polls it will be deemed to be succumbing to Imran's pressure, which the party cannot afford to, at least at this stage. "We should not allow Imran to take a group of people to the capital every now and then, and dictate his terms. We can talk with anyone on the issue of early elections as it suits us too, but Imran can’t force us," Nawaz made it clear.
After the meeting, Nawaz took on the PTI chief on Twitter and said: "People can’t be left at the mercy of miscreant jathas which have already played havoc with their lives in terms of poverty, inflation and joblessness. We as a nation need to stop them."
Imran's impatience has made it relatively easier for the coalition government to take a decision. "Deliberations among the coalition parties were under way whether to call early elections or not, as the PML-N was reluctant to take the blame for any unpopular decisions to fix the ailing economy, and wanted guaranteed backing of the powerful military establishment to help it see through the remaining 15-month tenure. But the PTI chairman rushed to announce his long march, making it easier for the coalition to decide to stay in power and not give in to Imran’s demands," the party insider said.
PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz, who in her recent speeches at public rallies, has vociferously advocated for fresh polls and even claimed that her father (Nawaz) also thought so, agreed that the coalition should now face Imran's pressure tactics and defeat him.
Moreover, the participants of the meeting also agreed to take on board all the allies while making government decisions. Nawaz also directed Shehbaz to start consultations with his 'handpicked' National Assembly opposition leader Raja Riaz for the appointment of a new National Accountability Bureau chief.
In the meeting, talks with the IMF, tanking economy, free fall of the rupee, Hamza's problems running Punjab in the absence of a cabinet and the election commission's de-seating of 25 PTI dissident MPAs were also discussed. The PML-N leadership stressed consolidating power in Punjab, which it said was its stronghold. In the possible run-off election for a chief minister in the province, Hamza's position appears weak with 172 votes against the PTI-PML-Q's 173.