Police in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi have blocked certain roads with containers while the metro bus service has been suspended in the latter as authorities gear up for the long march by the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) on Friday.
Announcing the long march on Islamabad a day earlier, TLP leader Pir Ajmal Qadri said the “peaceful” procession would begin after Friday prayers. “If any hurdles are created, the party also has a Plan B to thwart any official attempts,” he told a charged crowd at a protest site in Lahore.
In what appears to be a change of heart, the group delinked the march from the release of its incarcerated leader, Saad Hussain Rizvi, and said the purpose of the move was “respect for the Holy Prophet (PBUH)”.
He advised the workers to continue the mission of the group’s founder, the late Khadim Hussain Rizvi, even if “we are martyred in the march”, and asked the government to implement the agreement — a reference to the accord reached with the TLP last November to sever diplomatic and economic ties with France.
“The government better implement the agreement in true spirit or get ready to face the consequences,” Qadri warned.
Arrangements in Islamabad
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Islamabad Traffic Police said traffic was diverted from Rawalpindi’s System Road and Ninth Avenue and advised residents who wanted to go to Pindi via the Faizabad Interchange — which has been blocked during TLP protests in the past as well — or Ninth Avenue to use the IJP Road instead.
“Diversion has been placed for both sides of traffic at Murree Road, Faizul Islam stop, from and to Faizabad. Alternatively, traffic going from Islamabad to Murree Road, Rawalpindi, is diverted to Islamabad Highway.
“Diversion has been placed for both sides of traffic from Express Chowk to D-Chowk at Jinnah Avenue. Alternatively, Nadra Chowk and Ayub Chowk can be used for entry and exit to the Red Zone,” according to the statement.
In addition, diversion has been placed for traffic from Islamabad Highway to IJP Rd at Sohan Stop. The traffic is diverted instead to Faisal Avenue, the statement added.
The metro bus service was suspended in Rawalpindi but was running from the stop on IJP Road to the Pakistan Secretariat, the spokesperson said.
Police sources said 24 TLP workers were arrested ahead of the march while officers who were on leave were called back to duty.
Senior police officers earlier told Dawn that about three dozen containers had been arranged to put on different roads, including Islamabad Expressway, to stop the TLP from entering the capital or staging a sit-in at Faizabad Interchange.
The containers were being brought to the Faizabad Interchange and put on the roads at midnight. Besides, well-equipped police personnel were deployed in and around the interchange.
Police were also deputed at the entry point of the capital at Tarnol, Rawat and Bhara Kahu. Moreover, containers were arranged to block the roads at these three points but a final direction was awaited from the higher authorities.
Over 2,000 police officials are being deployed at the main points, including the entry points, to counter the TLP’s march, the officers said.
The police lines headquarters released 1,500 anti-riot gear kits for the contingents to be deployed.
Arrangements in Rawalpindi
Meanwhile, the Rawalpindi Traffic Police completed arrangements to deal with the long march. In a statement, it said Murree Road and Rawal Road have been closed for commuters while Old Airport Road and Mall Road are open.
Additional policemen have been posted at the High Court Chowk and Mall Road to ensure the smooth flow of traffic, it said.
The district administration sealed Gawalmandi, Saddar Road and Kamran Market areas.
Protests in Lahore
The TLP had resumed protests in Lahore earlier this week by staging a massive sit-in on Multan Road near its headquarters at Masjid Rehmatul-lil-Aalemeen.
Hundreds of activists and workers of the proscribed TLP participated in the sit-in to put pressure on the Punjab government for the release of its chief.
Rizvi is detained by the Punjab government since April 12 for “maintenance of public order (MPO)”. He was initially detained for three months and then again under the Anti-Terrorist Act on July 10. A federal review board is scheduled to take up the government’s reference against him on Oct 23.
A division bench of the LHC is yet to be constituted to hear an appeal of the government against a decision of a single bench that had set aside the detention of the TLP leader. The Supreme Court had on Oct 12 suspended the operations of the single bench’s order and remanded the case for a fresh decision by a division bench.
A day earlier, the Punjab police allegedly detained over 1,000 activists and workers of the TLP during a crackdown that was intensified across the province after the group announced the long march.
Dozens of fourth schedulers of the proscribed group were also among those taken into custody from all 36 districts of the province besides at least 40 in Lahore, an official privy to the development told Dawn.