In an incident that reflects the increasing tension between the federal and Punjab governments, led by bitter rivals the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) respectively, the prime minister’s security team and local police were involved in a brawl on Saturday.
Lahore’s Virtual University witnessed the unforeseen and embarrassing political fiasco during the university’s convocation, which was attended by Premier Yousaf Raza Gilani.
The brawl occurred near the stage of the ceremony, between two different security cordons meant to protect Gilani. The inner cordon, which consists of the prime minister’s security staff, took exception to the outer cordon, led by local police, when its staff tried to access the stage. At the centre of the entire incident was SP Saddar Police Division Athar Waheed – an officer who shot to fame when he refused to crackdown on PML-N activists in Gujranawala at the time of the long march in 2009, and later resigned. Waheed was applauded by Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, who also promised to reward his act.
According to SP Saddar Police Division Athar Waheed, he along with an SHO was stopped from going near the stage by the security constable of the premier’s staff. In addition, he said, the inner cordon staff insulted him and his SHO and the two sides exchanged harsh words. The exchange continued for fifteen minutes even after the prime minister left the venue. It eventually turned physical between Gilani’s security staff member Talat and the provincial police officials. Soon enough, the rest of the premier’s security officials jumped into the fray.
Eventualy, Talat was arrested.
Waheed said that he offered Talat a chance to apologise to the SHO and local police but he refused the offer, suggesting instead that he be taken to the police station. Talat, till the filing of this report, was still in police custody.
Centre, Punjab act
It didn’t take long for the incident to be further politicised
While punitive action was taken against Waheed by the chief of Punjab’s police, the province’s chief minister directed that the action be reversed immediately. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif immediately took action against Inspector General of Punjab Police (IGP) Haji Habibur Rehman’s decision to make SP Waheed an OSD (Officer on Special Duty) and to report to police headquarters. Shahbaz directed him to cancel his order and asked Waheed to continue his job as SP Saddar division.
The spokesperson for the Punjab government confirmed that no action would be taken against Waheed.
Sources in PML-N and the police claimed while talking to The Express Tribune that IGP Haji had a “personal grudge” against Waheed.
Meanwhile, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan reaffirmed that the Punjab government could not transfer any Punjab Police official at whim and said that the matter was just a “misunderstanding” between the security staff of the prime minster and the Punjab Police. He said the prime minister’s security staff should have obeyed Waheed’s order as he was in charge of security for the entire area. He added that the brawl should not be misconstrued as political in any way.
Deputy Inspector General Operations Rai Muhammad Tahir also tried to carry out some damage control, saying that the reconciliation has happened between SHO Muneer and Talat. Sources in PML-N added that during Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Sindh on May 15 and May 16, the Sindh government withdrew bulletproof vehicles and security from Sharif.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2012.
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