Activists of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and policemen fought pitched battles in the streets on Tuesday, leaving as many as eight party workers, including two women, dead and 85 others injured. Some policemen were among those injured.
The clashes erupted in the early hours of Tuesday and continued for up to 14 hours. The confrontation began when a 15-member police team tried to remove barriers outside the PAT leader Dr Tahirul Qadri’s residence and Adara Minhajul Quran’s Central Secretariat in Model Town Colony.
Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Chaudhry Shafique Gujjar claimed that the policemen had gone to the PAT leader’s residence to assist an anti-encroachment team. “The operation was a routine one until the PAT activists started pelting the police with stones,” he said.
Their rearguard action forced the police and the city government team into making a retreat. However, a stronger contingent of at least 50 law enforcers returned to the PAT secretariat at around 1:30 am.
At that point, Gujjar said the police tried to coax the PAT activists into removing the barriers around Dr Qadri’s home. But later when their pleas were ignored, they were forced to retaliate against the PAT members. Since the police found themselves outnumbered, they had to retreat again, a police official told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity.
Police reinforcements were called in from three out of six divisions in Lahore and the operation was resumed at 4:00am.
By that time, the number of demonstrators had also swelled. Police resorted to a round of aerial firing, along with shelling and baton-charging the protesters.
The CCPO Lahore claimed that petrol bombs were thrown at the police from rooftops of houses in the area by the PAT workers.
The running battles between the police and the PAT activists continued until the police retreated from the spot again and called for more contingents. By 9:00am, all six divisional SPs of the operations wing as well as six SPs from the Investigation wing, along with their forces were called at the scene by Lahore DIG Operations, Rana Abdul Jabbar.
An operations SP, requesting not to be named told The Express Tribune that the police started baton charging the protesters and resorted to aerial firing but the latter would not budge and again managed to push the police force back by at least a kilometre away.
Finally, three reserves of anti-riot policemen were called in from the Qila Gujjar Singh police lines along with contingents from the CID police.
“Even after the anti-riot police reached the spot and police were firing in the air to intimidate the protesters, PAT workers refused to budge,” an operations SP said on condition of anonymity.
He said some SPs repeatedly suggested to the DIG Operations Rana Abdul Jabbar to call back the policemen but he ordered them to stay put and to push back the PAT activists with full force.
After a police constable was shot in the stomach, law enforcers began firing at the demonstrators, allegedly on the orders of the DIG Operations Jabbar.
At that point the police managed to push the PAT activists back and clear all the barricades that they had erected.
The injured were taken to Jinnah hospital for medical assistance. A dozen of them are said to be in a critical condition.
According to hospital and Rescue 1122 sources, at least 21 policemen were injured in the incident while two among them are said to be in a critical condition.
Police officials said they had arrested 53 demonstrators from the spot and claimed that automatic weapons were also recovered from their possession. They were shifted to Chuhng training centre.
Once the clashes died down, anti-encroachment officials swung into action, clearing barriers and removing the rubble.
Several houses were damaged by aerial firing and missiles were thrown from both sides. Police officials smashed window panes of houses and the windscreens of cars parked near the PAT secretariat.
Later addressing a press conference, Inspector General of Police in Punjab Mushtaq Sukhera said: “We all, as policemen, present ourselves for the judicial and the departmental inquiries and whoever is found guilty will be brought to book.”
He said no police officer could justify the killing of citizens, adding that an inquiry committee had been formed on the instruction of Punjab chief minister under additional IG Punjab Sarmad Saeed Khan. “The committee will complete its inquiry before the judicial commission’s inquiry,” he added.
According to sources, more than 1,000 police personnel, including elite force commandos, took part in the operations which were resisted by around 4,000 PAT activists.
Dr Qadri’s press conference
PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri likened the police action to ‘state-sponsored terrorism’. He claimed that the government had launched the operation against his activists for favouring the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and armed forces in the ongoing military operation against terrorism.
Addressing a press conference through a video link from Canada, Dr Qadri said the government had three purposes behind this operation.
“Firstly, the government bears a grudge against me and my activists for favouring the ISI in its media trial by a TV channel. Secondly, the government tries to create unrest in the country so that the military operation in Waziristan may not succeed and thirdly, because the government is baffled by my imminent return to the country,” he said.
He said though the government tried to intimidate him and his activists he would still return to Pakistan on June 23 as scheduled.
The PAT chief said he would lodge an FIR against prime minister, Punjab chief minister, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq, state minister Abid Sher Ali, Information Minister Parvaiz Rashid, Inspector General of Punjab and other top police officials.
Top police officers removed
Following the clashes, CCPO Lahore Shafiq Gujjar and deputy inspector general (operations) Rana Abdul Jabbar have been removed from their posts and made OSDs along with SP Model Town Tariq Aziz. Zulfiqar Hameed has been named CCPO instead of Gujjar.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2014.