Police bar Baloch protesters from entering capital

Published December 21, 2023
Islamabad: Capital police block a road to prevent Balochistan long marchers from reaching the National Press Club, on Wednesday.—Courtesy Baloch Yakjehti Committee
Islamabad: Capital police block a road to prevent Balochistan long marchers from reaching the National Press Club, on Wednesday.—Courtesy Baloch Yakjehti Committee

ISLAMABAD/LONDON: As a long march led by Baloch women against enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings, reached the outskirts of the federal capital on Wednesday, Islamabad police blocked entry points of the city along with major arteries to prevent the protesters from reaching the National Press Club.

Initially, police blocked Jinnah Avenue and other routes leading to the press club. Later on, they also blocked Srinagar Highway, causing massive traffic jams on the busy road that runs across the federal capital.

Police and administration officials claimed the blockades were erected to “intercept” the long march which started in Turbat on Dec 6, days after the “extra-judicial killing” of a Baloch youth by the Counter-Terrorism Department officials.

Well-equipped police contingents were deployed on the roads, including Jinnah Avenue, Nazimuddin Road, and China Chowk Underpass, leading towards the press club.

Labour MP submits motion in UK parliament to express solidarity with long marchers

These roads were also closed to the general public. Similarly, the police blocked the Islamabad Chowk and Chongi No. 26. An official said the decision was aimed at barring the protesters from entering the city.

The negotiations between the protesters led by Dr Mahrang Baloch also broke down, as, despite repeated requests, the police refused to entertain their demands. Subsequently, they staged a sit-in near Islamabad Chowk.

Officials said F-9 Park was offered as a protest site to the protesters, who were told that senior officials of the administration would meet them at the park.

The protesters, however, turned down the offer, saying the marchers, not the police, would decide about the location of the protest.

Meanwhile, posts on the social media platform X showed a number of activists, including former ANP leader Bushra Gohar, waiting outside the press club to greet the protesters from Balochistan.

Videos shared on social media platforms showed the demonstators holding mobile flash lights and staging a sit-in on the road outside the National Press Club on a chilly Islamabad night, as they chanted slogans in support of the long marchers’ demands.

UK MP tables motion backing marchers

On the other hand, the long march echoed in the UK Parliament as well. British Labour MP John McDonnell this week tabled a motion in parliament calling for the support of women leading the march in Balochistan.

In a statement posted to X (formerly Twitter), the MP said, “I’ve tabled today an Early Day Motion in Parliament in support of the courageous women leading the long march across Balochistan to draw attention to the disappearances, abductions & killings associated with operations by Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Dept.”

Early-day motions are submitted for debate in the House of Commons without a fixed day for discussion. With no specific time allocated to such motions, few are debated but many spark public interest and media coverage.

John McDonnell is the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, and has been an MP continuously since 1997. His constituency has a significant Muslim and South Asian population. According to the 2011 UK census data, 38.9 per cent of people in the constituency are from Asian / Asian British backgrounds (including Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Chinese). Its Muslim population is just over 10pc.

In November, the Labour MP had also criticised Pakistan’s policy of deporting Afghan nationals.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2023

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