October 22nd, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Activists from the banned Tehrik Labaik Pakistan Friday clashed with riots police contingents at the MAO College after beginning their snail-paced long march from their party headquarters to demand the release of their detained chief. A provincial ministerial committee was holding last-ditch negotiations with its leadership to prevent the party from laying siege to the federal capital for the third time.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar constituted a committee comprising Law Minister Raja Basharat and Public Prosecution Minister Ch Zaheer Ud Din to hold negotiations with the TLP leadership to call off their march to the federal capital.
Punjab police has detained scores of the banned party’s workers, sympathisers and supporters in Lahore and Rawalpindi in a province-wide crackdown to prevent a repeat of the party’s two sit-ins at Faizabad in Islamabad in 2017 and 2020.
In Lahore, all exits and entry points to the city were sealed with containers to thwart any attempts by the TLP protesters from marching to the federal capital. Sources in Lahore police said scores of the TLP workers were detained from several areas in the city and moved to undisclosed locations.
Eye witnesses told Voicepk.net that the TLP activists began their march after Friday prayers from the sit-in camp outside their party secretariat at Chowk Yateem Khana. The protesters had reached the MAO College on the Multan Road when riots police contingents stopped them. According to eyewitnesses in the area, police fired teargas and baton-charged protesters in order to disperse the march. There was no independent confirmation of the number of protesters but videos shared on twitter showed hundreds of them marching on the road.
Earlier, Minister of State for Information Farukh Habib told reporters at a press conference that the ministerial committee was holding negotiations with the TLP leadership and they would be informed of any development in this regard.
The TLP activists had blocked all roads leading to Chowk Yateem Khana since Tuesday. Shops and businesses remained shut and educational institutions and offices located reported thin attendance. Fearing a repeat of the violent TLP clashes with police in April, commuters left offices earlier than Friday prayers to avoid being caught in a crosshair between the TLP activists and police across the city. In an announcement, the TLP leadership had told activists that they would begin their march from the party secretariat in Lahore after Friday prayers.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Imran Khan also arrived in Lahore on Friday and held separate meetings with Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and Governor Chaudhary Sarwar. However, the official press statements of the meetings did not mention whether the prime minister discussed the TLP long march with the top provincial officials.
In addition, the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement also had a public gathering at Jain Mandir, a couple of kilometres away from the TLP sit-in. The public gathering had ended as the TLP protesters peacefully marched towards Islamabad on the Multan Road.
The Orange Line train service remained suspended for the second day following Thursday’s attack on its station in Lahore by the TLP supporters. The metro bus service was suspended as well as 8 feeder routes of the service in the city.
Cell phone and internet services were disrupted in localities including Samnabad, Gulshan-e-Ravi, Sabzazar and Iqbal Town near the TLP sit-in at Chowk Yateem Khana.
The provincial government has deployed police contingents across the city to deal with any untoward situation.
Hasaan Khawar, Punjab government spokesperson, said the government was going to deal with TLP workers within the legal ambit. “However, if someone tries to take law into his own hands, jeopardise the life and security of people, the writ of the government will be enforced,” he said.
“Therefore, it’s always better to resolve such issues through dialogue instead of taking to the streets.”
According to Tanvir Ahmed Jutt, a representative of the Transporters Association, claimed that the Punjab police had seized more than 100 containers to block roads in wake of the long march. He said the seized containers were loaded with goods with essential items like fruits, vegetables, and medicines, adding that the seizure could affect the supply chain in the country. “I appeal to the Punjab government to use other means to block roads as this measure has caused losses to the transport sector,” he said.
In Rawalpindi, strict security measures have been taken where authorities have suspended the Metro Bus service and blocked its surrounding roads. Containers have been placed on the Sixth Road leading to the Faizabad area. Rawalpindi poice sources said more than 300 TLP workers had been detained in the crackdown.
According to traffic diversion plan in the twin cities, Murree Road from Marir Chowk to Faizabad was blocked with containers on both sides. Traffic will not be able to enter Murree Road from any direction. Traffic coming from North Avenue to Rawalpindi will be diverted to the IJP Road. Citizens going to Islamabad will be able to enter the federal capital using the Peshawar Road and IJP Road. However, Old Airport Road and Mall Road are open to all traffic. Additional traffic police personnel have been deployed at the High Court Chowk, Kutchehry and Mall Road to maintain the flow of traffic. The traffic police has asked citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to Islamabad to avoid any inconvenience.
In April, TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in Lahore just ahead of another call for a long march by the party to force the federal government to honour an agreement to expel the French ambassador over publication of blasphemous sketches. Rizvi’s detention was followed by violent demonstrations in Lahore and other cities. According to official figures, six policemen were killed and over 800 people were injured during these protest rallies. The federal government banned the political party following the violent protests.
The TLP activists have been calling for the release of their leader since the Lahore High Court declared his detention as illegal on 1st October. The Supreme Court remanded the matter of his release to a special bench of the high court after the Punjab government filed an appeal against the high court’s verdict.