LAHORE: As the crackdown on the PTI intensified after clashes between the pol­ice and the party supporters, the Punjab caretaker government on Monday gave a ‘free hand’ to Punjab police regarding action against the PTI.

The announcement comes at a time when police are conduc­ting raids at the residences of PTI leaders and workers wan­ted in connection with cases pertaining to attacks on police teams in Lahore and Islamabad.

A source told Dawn that lists of those providing food and logistic support to the PTI workers at the Zaman Park residence of Imran Khan were also being prepared for action against them.

In a press conference in the provincial capital, Caretaker Chi­ef Minister Mohsin Naqvi appeared quite categorical with regard to his governm­ent’s intention towards the PTI in the coming days, if it dared to flout the law of the land.

“The writ of the state and the government will be established at any cost. If this time anyone challenges the writ of the government and attacks the police it will be dealt with an iron hand. If they (a reference to the PTI) resort to violence, they will get a stern reply as I have given a free hand to the Punjab police in this regard,” the interim CM said.

“They (PTI workers) will receive a response that will make them remember. Enough is enough... the state will enforce its writ,” he said, adding the police chief had been given complete authority to make decisions after reviewing the situation.

The caretaker government has been upset over the ‘fierce resistance’ of the PTI workers at Zaman Park during last week’s two-day operation to arrest the PTI chief in the Toshakhana case.

Saturday’s torching of an Elite Force vehicle and thrashing of policemen allegedly by the PTI workers at Zaman Park forced the authorities to review its strategy and “act more aggressively” against the PTI men this time around.

In its earlier operation at Zaman Park, the police and Rangers had decided not to use ‘live ammunition’ for its success. It will be seen whether the authorities will stick to this decision in the next round of the operation.

JIT to probe police-PTI clashes

As the law enforcement agencies and PTI workers engaged in ‘pitched battles’ during the last week, Mr Naqvi announced the formation of a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe “acts of terrorism against the Punjab police”.

“The government has formed a JIT to investigate the events of the last few days. We are also writing a letter to the Election Commission providing it with details of ‘beyond political activities’ (of PTI) that have taken place in the past few days in the city,” he said.

He said the Punjab police and Rangers had managed to reach Mr Khan’s residence twice but they were informed about the presence of weapons which was the reason “I sent both forces back as we did not want the loss of life.”

Mr Naqvi also confirmed the assertion of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz that “some terrorists” were hiding in Zaman Park.

“Some people involved in terrorism were present there and their pictures had been collected. People from outside Punjab are also involved in these activities. Ordinary political workers do not carry out such attacks (on police),” he said.

According to CM Naqvi, Imran Khan threatened the Punjab police officers which could not be tolerated by the government. To a question about the caretaker government’s action against the PTI at the behest of the PDM leadership, Mr Naqvi said the interim government was not acting upon the narrative of any political party.

Asked if Mr Khan’s party was being denied a level playing field in the April 30 elections in Punjab, he said: “We are ready to give a level-playing field but he (Khan) is not ready.”

‘Viceroy of fascist govt’

Reacting strongly to Mr Naqvi’s statement, former federal minister and PTI leader Moonis Elahi said in a tweet: “Mohsin Naqvi — the viceroy of the fascist government —wants to make Punjab a police state to prolong his rule by postponing the elections in the province. He is overseeing the interests of the PDM. Now to please his masters Naqvi has started hurling open threats at the masses.”

PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry advised Mr Naqvi not to make tall claims beyond his capacity.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2023

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