April 13th, 2021
By Staff Reporter
A policeman identified as Muhammad Afzal was martyred and 40 others injured in the city, a day after violent clashes between law enforcement agencies and a far right religious party. The martyred police officer was discharging his duties at Shahdara, a locality bordering densely populated areas in Lahore.
On Tuesday, April 13, the Lahore police carried out a flag march across all major routes of the city to assert the authority of the state, but several localities in and around the city still remain blocked.
“The situation is better than what it was yesterday and we have managed to clear all major routes in and around the city but I must admit that areas such as Daroghawala, Shahdara, Garhi Shahu, Multan Road and Raiwind road still remain blocked,” explains Public Relation Officer (PRO) to the Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Lahore, Arif Ali Rana.
“Apart from some troubled spots, we have managed to largely clear the city,” asserts a confident spokesperson of the Punjab Home Department. When asked about the Punjab government’s plan of action in taking back control of these “troubled spots”, the spokesperson hinted towards a “wait and see” policy.
The situation on the ground, however, remains tense as workers of the hardline religious party, which has earlier too been involved in holding city streets hostage refuse to budge until the government fulfills all their demands and releases their leader.
“We have only one demand: the French ambassador should be kicked out of the country and Pakistan should terminate all diplomatic relations with France. And we will stay here until that happens,” exclaims Haji Amir, a supporter of the religious party, who is currently camped out on Multan road just a few kilometers away from the area where Saad Rizvi was detained yesterday, April 12. “The last time we went to Faizabad, the government made a written accord with us. We want the government to honor every last word of that accord. If they do not, we will keep sitting here for as long as our leadership wills.”
Members of the religious party have rejected claims of violence by their members and instead point fingers at the police for using excessive force and tactics like “live firing” to disperse the protestors. “Some 40 members of our organization are critical and six others have been killed across Punjab. The police are treating us like animals. Last night, they rained tear gas shells down on us. The police fired straight into crowds of our political workers. But we will not budge until our leader is released and the agreement is implemented in letter and spirit,” explains a spokesperson of the religious party, based at their headquarters in Masjid Rehmat-ul-Alimeen Lahore.
Citizens face worst impact of clashes
In this tug of war between the government and the religious right common citizens have come out as the biggest losers. Citizens had to face restricted mobility and an atmosphere of fear overtook the city as reports of violent protestors beating citizens and damaging property poured in.
“I was on the road from 4 in the afternoon to 12:30 at night. I had to spent eight and a half hours on the road. And I was not alone… literally hundreds of vehicles were packed together, surrounded by madness. It was a truly traumatizing experience,” says a citizen of Lahore on condition of anonymity.
“Yesterday on my way back from my factory in Sheikhupura, I had to spend six hours on the road because of the blockage and throughout that time I was in constant fear for my life. I could see protestors armed with sticks and other makeshift weapon, manning arbitrarily set-up ‘check-posts’. It was truly horrifying,” explains a local businessman.
The citizenry is looking to the government to protect them and to ensure that they are free to exercise their constitutionally mandated rights as the cities seemingly become hostage to far right elements.
On Monday evening, when the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Saad Rizvi was on his way back to his residence after leading the funeral procession of a local businessman at Multan road, Lahore, his car was flagged down by local police and he was detained to “maintain law and order” in the country.
The TLP chief was mobilizing his supporters for a grand march towards Islamabad if the government failed to kick out the French Ambassador before April 20, a mutually agreed deadline. Sources told Voicepk.net that Mr. Rizvi gave out calls for the march at the funeral gathering as well, right before he was arrested.
In November 2020, the religious party carried out a mammoth march to Islamabad, led by the late founding chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi, to protest the re-publishing of blasphemous material by French satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The march was later called off when the government signed an agreement with the religious organization promising them to kick out the French Ambassador to Pakistan before February this year.
The deadline was later extended to April 20 after negotiations between the government and the new party chief Saad Rizvi.