In the not so distant past, families use to gather at the capital’s D-chowk near the Parliament to witness the Defence Day parade, which has not been held for several years due to terrorist threats and austerity measures. This year though, the men in khakhi and their arsenal were replaced this year with activists of an anti-India jihadi outfit — declared by most of the outside world as a terrorist organisation — that is accused of conducting the 2011 Mumbai attacks.
Ostensibly celebrating the country’s defence day, members of Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) took out a demonstration rally from Liaquat Bagh to Islamabad, with JuD chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed leading the ‘Defense of Pakistan caravan’. People from far-flung areas including Azad Jammu and Kashmir began arriving in the capital from Thursday night and early morning Friday, congregating at the historic Liaquat Bagh for Friday prayers — led by the firebrand cleric himself.
Although the twin cities had not given the parade any security, JuD’s spokesperson Muhammad Asif said they had made their own arrangements and did not need help from the twin cities’ administration. JuD volunteers, donning black uniforms, were seen conducting security checks on participants and had formed a human chain around their leader.
Workers of other religious parties also joined the rally en route to Islamabad’s D-chowk via Benazir Bhutto Road.
Rawalpindi’s traffic police control room estimated that over 6,000 vehicles including buses, cars and motorcycles transported the thousands of participants to Islamabad. In front of Parliament House, 350 police personnel were deployed to provide security to the estimated 20,000 participants of the rally.
During his prayer sermon in Rawalpindi, Saeed — who was a founder and head of the banned terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) before it was renamed — asked the government not to compromise on its defence. He demanded that the government refuse to grant India most favoured nation trade status and accused the neighbouring country of being behind rising sectarianism and target killings in the country.
“Everyone knows India is behind the law and order situation in Balochistan, K-P and Karachi,” he claimed.
At D-Chowk, the stream of anti-US and anti-India slogans continued, with saeed promising that the “JUD does not incite people”. Moments later, he made rally participants vow “to be ready to sacrifice anything to free Kashmir”. He also called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discuss Indian involvement in Afghanistan at the upcoming all parties conference.
Oddly, his position on trade with India changed by the time he arrived in Islamabad, as he stated that he did not oppose it, as did his views on terrorism. After he first alluded that India and the US were behind attacks in Pakistan, he later admitted that the Taliban “made some mistakes”.
Chaotic scenes were witnessed along the bustling Benazir Bhutto Road when the JuD rally started its march towards Islamabad, occupying both sides of the road.
Traffic police had to divert motorists on alternative routes due to which hundreds of vehicles remained stranded on Rawal Road, IJP Road, Katchehry Road and Dhok Chiragh Din after BB Road near Faizabad and Mareer Chowk was closed for public transport. As the rally made its way to the capital, the Islamabad Expressway was clogged, while Blue Area had already been cordoned off by the authorities to accommodate the caravan.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2013.