ISLAMABAD: The brutal clashes continued for a second consecutive day on Sunday between riot police and workers of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), many of whom came armed with batons and slingshots.
Shipping containers were set ablaze, several vehicles were torched, and hundreds of tear-gas canisters lay strewn on the capital’s normally pristine Constitution Avenue after almost 24 hours of pitched battles between the two sides. The clashes started Saturday night when PTI and PAT workers started marching towards the Prime Minister House. According to medics, the clashes left three protesters dead and over 700 injured.
The police had responded with heavy tear gas shelling which Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) termed the “use of biological weapons”, whereas PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri alleged the authorities used ‘phosphorus grenades’ against the unarmed protesters.
Although the protesters forced their way into the Parliament House premises the previous night, they set up a camp and did not make any effort to enter the building on Sunday. Army troops had been deployed there. The premises also provided shelter to the protesters as there was no tear gas shelling inside. They were seen offering prayers and sleeping on the lush green lawns.
Outside, the violence continued throughout the day as the police responded to every effort made by the protesters to remove barricades leading to the Prime Minister House. But the PTI and PAT workers were prepared as well. They carried batons, iron rods and slingshots and damaged some property on the Constitution Avenue.
Surprisingly, a group of policemen also smashed windows of a car. But the police came under fire when the footage was flashed on television channels of the law enforcers assaulting media persons.
The police was shown in a positive light later in the day when SSP Operations Muhammad Ali Nekokara reportedly refused to use force against the protesters and was sent on forced leave by the government. Then the officer who was asked to take over from Nekokara also excused himself. Finally, SSP Traffic Asmatullah Junejo was given the charge.
In a brave move, Junejo addressed the media and said, “We have to defend the red line whether we like it or not.” He appealed to PTI chief Imran Khan and PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri to ask their workers not to cross the red line. “The red line is sacrosanct and has to be defended.”
Commenting on the argument that peaceful protests are allowed in front of the White House and 10 Downing Street, Junejo said, “The protesters over there are allotted time for protests and that there is no precedent of holding protests in front of the Prime Minister House.” Addressing the PTI, he said, “I give you my word that the police would facilitate [your workers] if Imran Khan, after becoming prime minister, allows such protests in front of the PM House.”
He also assured that the police would avoid the use of excessive force, claiming, “They [protesters] are our brothers and sisters.” However, he said there might be some miscreants, not affiliated with any party, who were creating unrest.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2014.