ISLAMABAD - FASIHUR REHMAN KHAN - As they put up a conservative estimate of around 50,000 people, knocking at the doors of Islamabad in the next 48 hours, the country’s top law and order officials were equally surprised and taken aback on Saturday afternoon’s meeting after failing to get clear-cut instructions from Interior Minister Rehman Malik on whether to allow or block Tahirul Qadri’s long march.

“The decision to allow or stop the long march will be ‘political’ in nature. I will inform you of the decision of the country’s top leaders in due course of time,” the minister was quoted as telling the officials who wanted to know Plan A, B or C of the federal government.

The meeting was told that around 11,000 police and paramilitary personnel would guard the gates of the capital from Sunday morning with a low presence of 111-Brigade of the army for the security of the diplomats, officials said.

“Navy and air force officials have conveyed their serious reservations on the suggestion that the marchers should be allowed to use F-9 Park in the capital to assemble. It will be a serious security threat as the F-9 Park vicinity is close to the two headquarters,” the officials added.

“Some people are even alleging this long march is being sponsored by President Asif Zardari. Others think the PPP government will benefit from the outcome of this march,” Malik went on to tell the surprised officials who wanted some clear-cut instructions.

“That day when I held a meeting with Dr Tahirul Qadri, he keenly wanted me to convey his demands to the top leadership of the country,” Rehman Malik was quoted as telling the officials. “I am sure the long march is under serious threat of terrorism,” he added.

Sources said Islamabad Chief Commissioner Tariq Mahmood Pirzada and Inspector General Police Bani Amin seemed desperate to know the direction of the government if a big crowd actually knocked at the doors of the federal capital.

“The interior minister was, however, keeping all cards close to his chest,” an official said. The same was the position of Inspector General Police Khyber Pakhtukhawa Akbar Hoti who told the meeting that it would be easy to stop the march at this point of time through measures so that the marchers could not assemble in a big number. “We can do it in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Please let us know how to proceed,” he was also quoted as saying, but failed to get any instructions from the interior minister.

Punjab Home Secretary Shahid Khan, while apprising the meeting of the measures taken to weaken the long march, advised the federal government to talk Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for final strategy regarding the long march. “We have effectively blocked transport for the long march.

The police have strictly told the local leaders of Qadri’s organisation that they will be held responsible for any law and order situation if their workers get involved in any unlawful activity,” he was quoted as telling the meeting. The Punjab home secretary, however, did not give any clear-cut indication whether the provincial government wanted to stop the march in Lahore.

Those who participated in the meeting included Punjab Home Secretary Shahid Khan; Secretary Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Alam Khan, Chief Commissioner Islamabad Tariq Mahmood Pirzada, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa IGP Akbar Hoti; Azad Jammu and Kashmir IGP, Acting IG Punjab; IG, Khan Baig, Additional IGP Sindh Wajid Zia, Intelligence Bureau DDG Brig Khalid, DG Rangers Shaukat Hayat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa FC Deputy Commandent Khalid Mahmood, ISI representative M Zubair, Rawalpindi RPO Imdad Bosal, Rawalpindi Commissioner Amir Ali, Islamabad DC Lt-Col Rashid Mahmood and others.

Sources at the meeting said Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s decision to part ways with Qadri’s march was some relief.

The Punjab officials estimated around 30,000 people, Sindh and AJK officials guessed only 3,000 while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa officials thought 7,000 people could join the march from their province. “Some participants thought a few thousand could join the long march on GT Road, especially at Gujjar Khan,” the officials added.