Crackdown, blockade fail to dampen spirits
ISLAMABAD: As the ongoing sit-in of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in the federal capital entered its sixth day, a specific trend can be observed based on the attendance of the participants.
Despite coming from all corners of the country, the PTI supporters vacate ground zero during the afternoon, only to return with rejuvenated enthusiasm in the evening – a resolve that could not even be dampened by the heavy showers late on Thursday night.
As per the pattern, this is the time when the party chairman, Imran Khan, addresses the crowds and musical performances reverberate throughout the north-eastern part of the city.
However, as the news reports of a change in command of the Islamabad police made waves, the rumour mills started churning out information about a possible crackdown on protesters in the Red Zone.
Taking pre-emptive measures, the PTI leadership brought Imran Khan on stage to warn the government of the consequences of any such action, saying that it was against the spirit of negotiations and that any use of force will be met with a stronger counter-reaction from the PTI workers.
A senior PTI leader told Dawn that the party leadership was worried about the crackdown while Imran Khan was alone in his container, as the rest of the leaders were at MNA Asad Umer’s residence to discuss the answers that were to be given to the government delegation.
He said that the attendance was comparatively low in the afternoon and the people were scattered, as most protesters took refuge under the shade of trees during the scorching afternoons. However, after 5pm the Red Zone started bustling again with commotion of the PTI workers, who had arrived from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and inner Punjab.
Cordoning off Red Zone
Thursday saw the installation of more containers around the Red Zone, all the entrances to Red Zone – except for the one at Margalla Road – were blocked.
A new container wall was erected at the end of Blue Area on Nazimuddin Road and another at the service road facing the Parliament Lodges.
Meanwhile, the containers set by the administration at Nadra Chowk, which were dismantled by PTI and PAT protesters on Tuesday night, were put back.
The road leading to Prime Minister House and Presidency was also blocked using containers.
Although most of the roads between the twin cities had been closed, the protesters used slip-roads and streets to enter the federal capital and many locals joined the sit-in late in the evening.
PTI MPA Arif Abbasi told Dawn that the government wanted to reduce the number of sit-in participants by closing the roads. Thus, he said, the party had asked its workers to not come in groups to avoid hindrances from the law enforcement agencies.
Despite the installation of containers, the policemen deployed at the entrance of the Red Zone were half-heartedly checking the vehicles and generally allowed everyone to enter the area. Interestingly, the Red Zone is one of the hardest areas to enter during the normal days. One of the policemen deployed at the check post told Dawn that he had never seen buses and trucks enter the Red Zone before.
Hundreds of policemen were seen relaxing on the greenbelts adjacent to the Cabinet Block, next to the Parliament House, Presidency and Pakistan Secretariat.
A policeman said that he and his colleagues had not gone home since August 13; therefore they took some rest after sunset.
He added that, contrary to the PTI and PAT protesters who were being properly looked after by their respective parties, the government paid very little attention to the police force.
“We do not get proper food and drinking water, whereas the protesters get quality food and mineral water,” the disgruntled policeman said.
“I think the financial condition of these parties is much better than our government,” said another policeman, jesting about how good food, scenic beauty and music kept the protesters amused and high spirited.
Despite the claims of the policemen, the PTI workers complained about the lack of facilities available to them at their new protest venue.
On Kashmir Highway, the Aabpara market was at a stone’s throw away, thus it was easier for them to acquire food and use toilets at the commercial centre.
However, the nearest markets to the Red Zone – the Super Market in Sector F-6 and Melody Market in Sector G-6 – are quite far and out of reach. The participants claim that they have a hard time getting food supplies from these markets, especially in the afternoon.
“There are some problems of going to the toilet and buying food items. I have to contact my friend in Sector G-9 Karachi Company to bring some things for us, as we can not get them from here,” said Fareed Khan, a participant from Battagram.
Muhammad Sajid, a PTI protester, said that he had been bearing the heat and bad weather since six days but he had not intentions of going back without hearing Imran Khan’s “victory speech”. According to him, Imran Khan worried about the citizens of the country
Muhammad Safeer, a resident of Vehari, said that he joined the march from Lahore. “For the last eight days, we have been spending sleepless nights, but we will not go back without getting the resignation from the present rulers,” he said.
“People are facing numerous problems, but after the reports of the crackdown, we will not leave our leader alone,” he said.
The heavy downpour that was witnessed in Islamabad on Thursday night seemed like it would hamper the spirits of the party workers. But surprisingly, thousands of PTI protesters danced in the rain amid the loud echoes of party anthems in the middle of the Constitution Avenue chanting slogans against the government, something that happened for the first time in the history of this country.
The unwavering spirits of the PTI workers show that the protesters are here to stay and at the beck and call of their leader.