ISLAMABAD: The federal capital remains tense after violence broke out on Saturday night when supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri tried to storm PM House using crane’s to remove barricades.
Clashes between police and protesters in which three people were killed and over 560 injured continued on Sunday. 77 of those injured were security officials deployed in the Red Zone.
Protesters several of whom were armed with batons and slingshots started removing containers used as barricades which lead to the police using tear gas to force the crowds back. Authorities said they had no choice but to use force.
Shipping containers were set ablaze, several vehicles stood torched, and hundreds of tear gas canisters lay strewn on the ground on Islamabad’s normally pristine Constitution Avenue. Protesters also attacked the Geo News office in Islamabad and a satellite van of the channel.
Scores of protesters carrying hammers and iron rods also broke down a fence outside of parliament late Saturday, enabling hundreds of people to enter the lawns and parking area. Acting IGP Islamabad Khalid Khattak said the protesters were armed with large hammers, wire cutters, axes and even a crane.
Police also beat local journalists covering the protests with batons, injuring some, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq said. Rafique said he intervened to stop the police assault and he would ask the government to investigate the officers’ conduct.
Protests began with a march from Lahore on August 14 and reached Islamabad the next day. Despite calls by Khan and Qadri for millions to join, crowds never exceeding the tens of thousands. Both Khan and Qadri stayed overnight at the protests, spending most of their time in the containers.
The decision to march to the PM House was taken after talks between the government, PTI and PAT failed to end the deadlock over the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. PTI chairman Imran Khan has said that an independent probe of rigging in the 2013 general elections cannot be held if Nawaz Sharif remains prime minister. Khan has called for Nawaz Sharif to step down until the proposed judicial commission completes its probe. Government and the majority of opposition parties have dismissed Khan’s demand for the prime minister’s removal.
Joint session of Parliament on Tuesday
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a high-level meeting on Sunday during which it was decided that a joint session of Parliament would held on Tuesday. According to sources the meeting also took the decision to re-engage the PTI and PAT in talks.
Differences emerge in PTI
Following clashes in Islamabad, differences have emerged within the PTI. The party’s elected president Javed Hashmi said Imran Khan’s decision to march to the PM House was not that of the party’s. He claimed Imran had been prompted to take this decision after receiving a message from Sheikh Rasheed and Saifullah Niazi. Hashmi said Imran Khan would be to blame if democracy was derailed.
In response to Hashmi, Khan dismissed the elected PTI president announcing that ‘from today he had parted ways with him.’ The PTI chairman also announced that three party MNAs who had not submitted their resignations had also been expelled.
Army stresses political resolution to crisis
The Corps Commanders conference chaired by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif ended with the decision that “further use of force will only aggravate the problem”. The conference was originally planned to take place on Monday but due to the security situation in the Capital and the unrest in the country the meeting was held on Sunday.
According to a press release from the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) wing of the Pakistan Army, the conference “reviewed with serious concern, the existing political crisis and the violent turn it has taken, resulting in large scale injuries and loss of lives.” The meeting once again reiterated that the “situation should be resolved politically without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means.”
The ISPR statement ended on the note that the “army remains committed to playing its part in ensuring security of the state and will never fall short of meeting national aspirations.”