ISLAMABAD: Smoke and teargas fill the air around Islamabad’s D-Chowk as police engage members of PTI’s advance party, who attempted to occupy the iconic location in preparation for the arrival of Imran Khan’s procession.—Mohammad Asim / White Star
ISLAMABAD: Smoke and teargas fill the air around Islamabad’s D-Chowk as police engage members of PTI’s advance party, who attempted to occupy the iconic location in preparation for the arrival of Imran Khan’s procession.—Mohammad Asim / White Star

• Demonstrators remove obstructions at KP-Punjab border, clash with security personnel en route to capital
• ‘Advance party’ attempts to congregate at D-Chowk amid teargas, reports of injuries
• Imran vows not to leave Islamabad until elections announced

ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR: The entrance to the capital’s high-security zone resembled a war zone until late on Wednesday night, as PTI supporters and law enforcers continued a game of hide and seek, the latter trying to drive the former away with teargas and the former regrouping and returning once the air had cleared.

After midnight, when a large number of PTI supporters - including women and children - managed to gather near D-Chowk, police continued attempts to get them to disperse. Until the filing of this report, there was information about at least one metrobus station being set alight, while videos posted to social media by PTI leaders showed raucous crowds present on Jinnah Avenue.

In an apparent move to counter the demonstrators who seemed set on advancing towards the high-security zone, the Interior Ministry called on the army to maintain law and order in the capital and protect key buildings such as the apex court, parliament, Presidency and PM House as well as PTV headquarters etc.

The notification, issued early on Thursday morning, stated that military personnel would be deployed with immediate effect and until further orders.

Earlier, the PTI long march had arrived in the capital on Wednesday evening after a slow and steady start, crossing with ease most of the hurdles placed along their way.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Wednesday reiterated that he and his supporters would not vacate D-Chowk in Islamabad until a date for new elections was announced by the “imported government”. He made these remarks in Hasan Abdal after an advance party of his supporters managed to reach Islamabad’s D-Chowk before him.

Imran also urged protesters to carry the Pakistani flag, calling today’s march a “defining moment” for Pakistan, however, a Dawn staffer saw some participants carrying the Russian flag as well.

There were reports of injuries to a number of protesters, while at least one person was killed after falling off a bridge on the M1 Motorway. Scattered clashes were also reported between demonstrators and security personnel at various points, with teargas and batons being used liberally by law enforcers.

Police claimed that at least 27 personnel were injured in clashes with protesters, while dozens of party activists were also picked up by security forces.

Earlier, many PTI leaders, who were also leading separate rallies from different cities, were taken into custody on their way to Islamabad, including Yasmin Rashid, Andleeb Abbas, Mian Mehmoodur Rashid, Ijaz Chaudhry and Amjad Ali Niazi.

Although the Supreme Court had directed PTI to stage its protest alongside Srinagar Highway in Sector H-9, a large number of PTI supporters managed to get close to the highly-secured Red Zone, where the houses of parliament, government installations and the diplomatic enclave are located.

The contingent later turned unruly and set fire to trees along Jinnah Avenue, prompting security personnel to resort to heavy tear gas shelling to disperse them. Afterwards, police completely sealed the Red Zone.

PTI Islamabad MNA Ali Nawaz Awan told Dawn it was their strategy to reach D-Chowk, by the evening and workers wanted to match the arrival time of their rallies.

Setting off from Peshawar

The long march towards Islamabad started from Peshawar around 10am. The procession was led by several ministers and MPAs, while Imran Khan and KP Chief Minister Mah­mood Khan joined the convoy via helicopter at the Wali Interchange near Swabi. From there, Mr Khan boarded his container and began to lead the procession down the motorway.

Although the numbers that set off from Peshawar were nothing to write home about, their ranks swelled as more and more rallies joined them.

According to police, when two separate rallies – one from DI Khan, led by Ali Amin Gandapur and the other from Mianwali, led by Amjad Niazi – merged at Hakla Interchange, a clash took place between the marchers and police, where Mr Niazi was arrested.

At each interchange, i.e. Rashakai and Hazara Motorway, the host was joined by rallies from different areas, the motorcade consisting of cars, wagons, hiaces vans, coasters and buses.

Before setting off from Peshawar, former prime minister Imran Khan had declared: “Our protest is peaceful and this is our legal right.”

In a message to all Pakistanis, he called on retired soldiers and others to leave their homes and take part in the Azadi March.”

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pervez Khattak, and other PTI leaders accompanied Imran Khan on the container.

After reaching Swabi, Imran, holding a Pakistan flag, delivered a speech to supporters saying that “we are going to D-Chowk and no one can stop us” as the crowd cheered.

Crossing Attock

At the border of Punjab and KP, barricades placed by the local administration and police to avert the long march to be proved a mere ‘sandcastle’ as an advance contingent removed the obstacles despite resistance from police, allowing the main caravan led by Imran Khan to pass into capital territory.

The obstacles, which included mostly shipping containers filled with sand, were placed on Ghazi Brotha Bridge, Haroon Bridge near Hazro and Patahgarh near Burhan interchange on the M2 motorway, but PTI demonstrators used heavy machinery, cranes and other equipment to clear a path for their leader’s convoy.

The glass pieces embedded in the road by the Taxila administration were countered by using road-rolling equipment.

According to Rescue 1122 sources, two PTI workers were killed when they fell off the bridge while trying to clear a path for the convoy, while another PTI worker and a official from Attock police were also injured by teargas shells.

Munawer Azeem and Kalbe Ali in Islamabad, Muqaddam Khan in Swabi and Amjad Iqbal in Taxila also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2022

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