Government set to block 'Azadi Marchers'

  • Interior Minister Ijaz Shah says govt will call in military if needed
  • PM says Fazl afraid of govt’s madrassa reforms, frustrated by growing irrelavance

By Uzma Zafar
LAHORE: A day after the Jamiat Uelma-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) announced its ‘Azadi march’ on Islamabad, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has hinted at mass arrests of the JUI-F central and provincials leaders to scuttle the anti-government sit-in.
The JUI-F chief, it seems, has decided to take a solo flight when he announced Oct 27, as the date for his long march despite requests by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to postpone the march.
Speaking to reporters, Interior Minister Ijaz Shah said the government would not let go anti-government protesters run amok and it would resort to calling in the Pakistan Army.
He said to call in the military would be the last option, “but I hope situation won’t deteriorate to that level”.
“The government is fully prepared to control any kind of situation and no one will be allowed to take the law into his hand,” the interior minister said, adding that Section 144 will be imposed in Islamabad’s Red Zone and police would be deployed to block its entry points.
However, the primary duty to stop these protesters lies with the provincial governments, the minister said, adding that the provinces must make sure that people do not join the protest rallies.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, meanwhile, also summoned a meeting of the government spokespersons. “Fazl is trying to save his sinking political career [by initiating a march on the federal capital]. The government is introducing reforms in madrassas which has gotten the Maulana worried. After these reforms, madrassa students will not be used for such acts,” said the prime minister, commenting on the motives of the march.
The government’s decision to thwart the JUI-F’s ‘Azadi march’ contradicts the promise made by Imran Khan during his first speech in parliament as the prime minister that his government would facilitate anti-government protests and even provide protesters with containers to stage sit-ins in Islamabad’s D-Chowk.
On the other hand, JUI-F Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri said it was the democratic right of the opposition to hold a protest and that the government could not usurp their rights. He said the protest by the JUI-F would largely remain peaceful. “We will not end our protest till the ouster of the PTI government,” he vowed. The KP chief minister also threatened the JUI-F, saying the KP government has prepared lists of the JUI-F leaders and office-bearers for their arrests and house arrests prior to their Islamabad march.
“We will not allow the marchers to proceed to Islamabad,” he said, adding that the government has several options and strategy in this regard would be finalised in the light of directions from the federal government. He said that the government had devised a strategy and strict action would be taken against protesters in case of violation.
Despite a request by his allies to defer the ‘Azadi March’ till November, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman on Thursday said his party will begin its anti-government movement on October 27. The JUI-F is not taking a solo flight, said Fazl, clarifying the party was “in touch with all the other parties and making decisions in consultation with them”.
He said he will consult his party’s central executive committee to review the decision to hold the march in October instead after a visiting PML-N delegation urged him for postponement of the event on Wednesday. After a “fruitful” meeting with the PML-N on Wednesday, he said he met PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari earlier in the day and that some very “positive developments took place during our meeting”.