LAHORE: With the Model Town tragedy in the back of its mind, the Punjab government is not taking any chances with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). None of the 6,000 policemen to be deployed for the Raiwind march will be carrying firearms.
The provincial government has devised a two-layer security strategy to give protection to the PTI for the Raiwind march, officials privy to the development told The Express Tribune on Tuesday.
Over 6,000 cops will be deployed to guard the PTI protesters but none of them will carry guns. A reserve set of armed policemen will stay along the route of the march but will only be called if the need arises, a senior PML-N leader said. “This extra-cautious strategy is to not let anything happen even slightly close to the Model Town incident,” he said.
The Punjab government is often criticised for the Model Town tragedy, when 14 workers of the Tahirul Qadri-led Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) were killed by the firing of police during a standoff on June 17, 2014.
Another senior PML-N leader said people would not show up at PTI’s rally in large numbers anyway and the leadership did not want to give any chance to Imran Khan to capitalise on its mistakes. “A freehand given will be given to the PTI and even our offices on the route of the rally will remain closed for the day,” he said. “There will be absolutely no confrontation at all.”
MNA Talal Chaudhary, a member of PML-N media team, said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif have directed all lawmakers to desist from any confrontation. “There will be no confrontation and police and district administration will handle the situation,” he added.
PML-N lawmaker Marghoob Ahmad said the government would not only provide security to the participants but also take care of their other needs. “The PTI will be facilitated in all possible ways but nobody will be allowed to take law into hands or indulge in any violence,” he said, adding the PTI has held many protests and its Raiwind march was also bound to fail.
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said foolproof security arrangements have been made for the PTI rally and they would be free to protest peacefully. “If anybody tries to create any law and order situation, law will take its course,” he added.
War on cyberspace
The ruling party has also decided not to confront PTI workers during their protest march to Raiwind and instead build its narrative using cyberspace. The party leadership will not issue any derogatory statements or name the PTI or its leaders in its comments on social media, insiders told The Express Tribune.
“Everybody will understand even a subtle reference made to the PTI’s Raiwind march, so it can be effectively criticised without the party or its leadership’s names being mentioned,” said a PML-N leader. “This is what will be done in the coming days. However, the PML-N volunteers will mention PTI Chairperson Imran Khan and other leaders of the party [in their comments].”
Lawmaker Talal Chaudhry said the political leadership would not intervene or come to the forefront.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif have directed all the offices of PML-N to remain closed on the protest day, he added.
“We will give our opinion on the mainstream and social media for sure,” he said when asked whether the PML-N plans to use cyberspace during PTI’s Raiwind march. “We will give PTI a freehand and hope they stick to their promise and not resort to violence. In the past, however, they have broken promises and commitments and taken law into their hands.”
A member of PML-N’s social media team said PTI workers used social media to spread wrong information. “We have seen them tweeting a picture of 100 people and claiming thousands of people are protesting. Our team will remain vigilant and expose such lies,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2016.