SUKKUR/KARACHI: Scores of activists and supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf staged a sit-in at Kamoon Shaheed on Tuesday afternoon to protest the Punjab police's decision to block the border by placing containers on the main thoroughfare.
In addition to the hundreds of vehicles carrying PTI workers to Lahore, a large number of private vehicles were also not allowed to cross into either province at the border.
The convoy comprised PTI workers who were on the way to Lahore from Karachi and other parts of Sindh .When it reached Kamoon Shaheed, which serves as a border between Sindh and Punjab, they found that the highway had been blocked by placing containers on the main road. A large contingent of police and Rangers personnel were deployed to stop the participants from crossing over into Punjab.
Rahim Yar Khan District Police Officer (DPO) Sohail Zafar Chatha, who was present at the site, claimed that Section 144 had been imposed in his district and he could therefore, not allow the procession to cross into the Punjab. He added that unarmed persons would be allowed across the border in groups of two's and three's.
The officer refused to budge even after the PTI Sindh president Sardar Nadir Akmal Leghari tried to convince him otherwise.
Meanwhile, the public relations officer for the DPO, Arshad Nawaz, told The Express Tribune that no political worker had been arrested or harassed at the border. He added that the police were simply doing its job and were not trying to stop the PTI workers from joining the Azaadi March, as per the orders of the high court.
On the other hand, the PTI workers led by Nadir Akmal Leghari staged a sit-in at the national highway to protest the blockade. Sardar Leghari condemned the Punjab government for its 'undemocratic' attitude. He added that the government was afraid of PTI's long march and was therefore resorting to undemocratic tactics to stop its workers from reaching Lahore.
PTI Sukkur regional coordinator Dr Rabnawaz Kalhwar told The Express Tribune that the activists would continue to protest until the police allowed them to cross over into the Punjab. "Despite the high court's orders to remove all barriers, the police are not allowing us to cross the border."
In the convoy
The main procession left Karachi on Monday night from Insaf House, located in PECHS. They were joined by others at Sohrab Goth as well as from other parts of Sindh. Together, the caravan comprised a little less than 1,000 people who were travelling by road to Lahore to participate in the Azadi March.
In the air-conditioned bus, Hafsa was saving a seat for her two sisters. "They are coming. They just went to use the bathroom at KFC," she said shyly, admitting that this was one of the major concerns for them.
The party said that eight buses had left Karachi and would travel via Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Nawabshah, Khairpur, Sukkur to reach the Sindh Punjab border. Others joined the convoy in private vehicles. No one knew how long the march would last, where they would sleep or what they would eat. The participants' eager faces, however, betrayed none of the anxiety they felt.
Young men who sat in the back of the bus said they had plenty of biscuits, dry fruits, and mineral water. Next to the driver's seat lay a sack of dates and chickpeas - emergency ration, they said.
Some students were going on the trip without informing their institutes. "Don't print my name please. My school doesn't know I am going. I just told them I was sick," said one of the participants who barely looked of age.
A loudspeaker in hand, Arsalan Ghumman, said that they had no security and no weapons for protection. "Our boys only have the Pakistani and PTI flags."
The same emotions were witnessed in the other buses. Faiza Abdullah, who had numerous pictures taken before departure, said that she had left her four children with her brother. "This is important. We are ready to face the batons and be arrested. Nothing can stop us." Labourers from government departments had given leave applications 15 days ago, risking their jobs, said Zubair Ahmed, head of the party's labor-wing. Private employees, too, had faced difficulty in getting a leave.
The lathis and the fear of getting arrested did not worry these 'freedom-fighters' though. They were, however, unhappy with the fact that Tahirul Qadri had somehow managed to steal the limelight. For elderly Yousuf Hussain, his belief in Imran Khan stood above the petty politics. "We have faith in him. He will bring about the change we all crave."
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2014.