ISLAMABAD - Bringing the weeklong political show to a head, PTI Chairman Imran Khan and PAT chief Tahirul Qadri led their marchers closer to the seat of power – the Parliament House in the heart of capital’s restricted Red Zone.
Security forces, including army, deployed for the protection of sensitive installations and buildings did not block the marchers as they moved on peacefully after their leaders gave them the go-ahead on Tuesday evening.
However, it was a perplexing situation at the start of the march into the Red Zone as the marchers started cutting the chains and removing the containers which had been placed to block the way. Cranes were also used to clear the passage. About then, no one knew how the police or security forces might react, though statements had started coming from the government that it would not use force as ordered by the PM.
Army had been called in by the government to augment security in the area. Some reports said about 300 troops of the Army were deployed as an outer tier of the security cordon. The army deployment and subsequent statements issued by top military officials were taken as symbolic.
PM Nawaz had met COAS Gen Raheel Sharif during the day to discuss the situation and the decision to call in army was announced subsequent to their meeting.
Before leading the march into the Red Zone, PTI Chief Imran Khan delivered a speech at Kashmir Highway, stressing on the marchers time and again that they would move peacefully towards the Parliament House through Aabpara Chowk. He asked his marchers to promise loudly that they would not damage any property on the way and set an example by being peaceful.
“We will protest in front of the parliament, we will not enter inside but will stage such a big crowd that people will forget Tahrir Square,” Imran said in his address to the marchers.
The charged crow of PTI started moving towards the chowk, keeping their party chief at the tail. At Aabpara Chowk, Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) workers along with their chief Tahirul Qadri and other senior leadership had already started moving towards the Parliament House.
Around midnight, PTI protesters, after removing containers placed on the Suharwardy Road and Ataturk Road near Nadra Headquarters, started reaching near the Prime Minister Secretariat on the Constitution Avenue.
On this occasion, Imran Khan told his supporters that they would storm PM Office if Nawaz Sharif did not resign today (Wednesday).
There onwards, PAT protesters were on the front while PTI’s followed.
Imran Khan, who intended to head the march, had to follow the marchers as his container-truck, similar to the one used by the PAT chief, could not find a place through the crowd.
PAT workers were the first who, using a crane, started removing the containers placed at Suharwardy Chowk, a few yards from Embassy Road, and then while going through Ataturk Road reached Nadra Headquarters Chowk where a wall of containers had been in place. PAT workers removed this blockade and started going towards the Constitution Avenue.
A PTI worker got injured while using the crane to remove the containers.
The organisers of the PTI rally had already asked female workers to reach the Embassy Road and wait for the leadership to move towards the Parliament House.
Imran Khan, at the start of the march, had told his supporters that he would lead them and they would follow him. He said, “They would turn Red Zone into Green Zone.” He asked the prime minister not to hide behind police, claiming “police, army and bureaucracy had decided not to stand by you (PM).”
Taking three promises from his workers, Imran said: “You will remain peaceful, will not create chaos and will neither enter the Parliament House or Diplomatic Enclave nor will you occupy any important government installation. If any untoward incident happens to me, you will not spare Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.”
Imran took assurance from his charged workers that they would not storm any embassy, saying the people residing in Diplomatic Enclave were their guests. “We are facing allegations that we want to occupy Parliament but we don’t want to occupy it; we want to exercise our democratic right (to protest),” he said.
The government is telling them they could not enter Red Zone, Imran Khan said and questioned, “Is Red Zone not part of Pakistan?” He said they were forced to protest after all legal ways were closed to them. He taunted the PML-N for attacking the Supreme Court and firing on 85 people in Model Town.
He said the government had deputed police personnel in plain clothes and they might try to create violence. “I will not spare you if any kind of violence was used against my followers,” he said while referring to Nawaz Sharif. “Ask your Gullu Butts to avoid using violence,” he said.
He asked police, especially Punjab and Islamabad police, not to obey illegal orders of the prime minister who he said “is corrupt, should be behind bars and has come into power through rigging”.
“If there are real public representatives in the Parliament, why are they afraid of the public?” Imran Khan questioned.
When Imran asked the masses to join his protest, some protesters carrying batons and others empty-handed, raised slogans: “Who will save Pakistan, Imran Khan Imran Khan”.
Earlier in the day, Imran Khan chaired his party meetings in the container and it was decided that no negotiations with the government would be held until the protestors reached in front of the Parliament House. The meeting had a consensus that the PTI would not negotiate with the government before reaching Constitution Avenue.
On the other hand, after his five-day-long sit-in in the Aabpara Chowk, Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Tahirul Qadri took a step forward and announced to stage a sit-in in front of the Parliament.
Before starting marching towards the parliament on Tuesday evening, Dr Qadri held the session of his “Public Parliament” that he was heading himself. In his speech made to his loyalists as the head of the “Public Parliament”, he said he was nothing, but the people sitting in front of him (mostly his students) were the real decision-makers.
He, in a dramatic style typical of him, started asking questions to his followers. He announced that on the basis of their answers, further decisions would be taken.
He asked his followers, “Would you like to keep sitting here or prefer to stage a sit-in in front of the Parliament?”
The answer was an obvious, big YES.
Then he mentioned those martyred in Model Town incident and asked, “Will you go back before you get justice for them? Again the protesters loudly answered “NO”.
Preparing them for his further plans, he asked, “Would you go back before the prime minister and chief minister step down or are arrested?” His followers shouted “NO”.
He said those responsible for the massacre in Lahore were Sharifs. To project that he was neutral, Qadri said he had no pressure on anybody sitting in front of him and anyone could differ with him and could also leave the “parliamentary session” and sit-in.
Then he asked, “Whether an FIR against the PM and the CM should be registered or not?” The crowd again emphasised that it should be registered.
Qadri, anticipating international coverage, asked some questions in English.
His resolve to topple the present government was reflected through his questions. “If the sitting government accepts your 12-point agenda, would you allow it to keep sitting?” The protesters said “NO”. Qadri then said it means the people do not trust the government. He concluded the ultimate goal seemed to be toppling the government. The decision to march on was thus made.