Bracing for PTI's wrath, govt fortifies capital – The Express Tribune

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Thousands of security personnel swelling in the federal capital to blockade main arteries
 With the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf poised to throw the government out of gear and squeeze out immediate elections from it, the latter is rolling up its sleeves and fortifying the nation’s capital with around 22,000 security personnel.
With police forces swelling in the federal capital, the government on Monday fired a warning shot at former prime minister Imran Khan saying, “law will take its course if law and order situation is created”.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, in a statement, ridiculed Mr Imran as a “gravedigger” of democracy” and said the person “who destroyed the country's economy” was now taking to the streets to hamper the “recovery from the economic woes”.
Sanaullah, who is also a senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), vowed to beat back all such “efforts”, asserting that no mob and hooliganism would be tolerated during the planned political activity.
Govt on vigil
Meanwhile, the government is also keeping an anxious vigil and rapidly encircling itself with a moat against the PTI’s supporters who are likely to spill onto the main arteries of the capital and storm the Red Zone if polls are not announced.
Around 8,000 personnel of Punjab Constabulary and 2,000 personnel of Anti-Riot Force and Sindh Police have been called in, while 500 women personnel will be massed outside the demonstration area.
In addition, around 100 prison vans will be summoned to Islamabad from other provinces. The federal government has sought assistance from contingents of the security personnel along with the complete command system from all provinces.
Similarly, over 4,000 Rangers personnel will be in the federal capital and 15,000 tear gas shells have also been demanded from the provinces.
Read We had little support compared to Imran, says PM
Arrests
The pre-emptive measures are in tandem with the government's continuous arrests and FIRs against the party leaders in Punjab where the police have already launched a crackdown against PTI workers through raids in multiple cities, including Lahore.
On Monday, the police encircled PTI leader Hammad Azhar’s house in Garden Town ahead of PTI’s Azaadi March on May 25. The former energy minister took to Twitter and claimed police had surrounded his house in order to arrest him and other PTI workers.
“Police at my house to arrest me and others,” the tweet read.
 
Coalition government defiant
However, the PML-N government and its allies wore a defiant face amid the headwinds apparently buffeting its core as it decided that the current setup will complete its tenure till August 2023 and the general elections would be held at the stipulated time next year.
Sources privy to the decision told The Express Tribune that following a flurry of meetings, the coalition partners rejected the demand for early elections and decided to take tough measures to stabilise the economy and improve governance.
Amid louder calls to dissolve assemblies and announce snap polls, the allies expressed the resolve that they would not yield to any pressure.
The insiders said the allies were of the view that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had already announced a date for the next elections and therefore, it was not possible to hold polls early.
The sources added that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will chair an important meeting of the coalition parties on Wednesday to decide a future course of action.
The allies have also decided that PTI’s long march will be handled in a democratic way and they will not be allowed to hold a rally on Srinagar Highway in Islamabad.
Instead, the PTI will be provided with a ground to hold a rally or stage sit-in as an alternate to Srinagar Highway, the sources added.
Read more Mazari’s arrest sets off war of words between PML-N, PTI
Nawaz Sharif chairs virtual meeting
Meanwhile, the PML-N supremo attended a virtual huddle of the party and issued directions to leaders and said that the country can ill-afford the return of “miscreants” who ruined its economy while directing the government to formulate its plan for dealing with PTI’s agitation and share the plan with the coalition partners.
“The people cannot be left at the mercy of a group of miscreants who have already brought unimaginable poverty, inflation, and unemployment on them,” the elder Sharif tweeted after the meeting.
The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, was held in Lahore. Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah were also in attendance.
“We have to stop these miscreants as a nation,” the sources quoted him as saying during the meeting.
In the meeting, the PML-N supremo also green-lighted the party's unanimous decision to not leave the government immediately.
The ongoing talks between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Pakistan were also discussed during the meeting.
Nawaz Sharif directed PM Shehbaz to work on the federal budget and provide all kinds of relief to the people.
 
‘Imran sabotaging IMF talks’
Meanwhile, Federal Minister Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb alleged that the PTI’s long march was “a direct effort to sabotage Pakistan’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF)”, adding that Imran can “scream, whine and cry as much as wants, but the next general election would be announced by the government in collaboration and consensus with all allies”.
She said Imran had no authority to dictate the dates of the next general election as it was the sole prerogative of the unity government and its allied parties.
“He cannot bully the government to announce general elections at a time of his choice with his threats,” the minister stressed, adding if Imran was so fond of elections he should have announced them while he was desperately clinging to power.
Echoing the concerns of his fellow party leaders, Federal Minister for Planning Ahsan Iqbal said accused the former prime minister of setting the stage for “unrest and polarisation through hybrid warfare tools”, asserting that the coalition government would not allow anyone to destabilise the country.
The minister said that the PTI social media teams were propagating about the caretaker setup to spread confusion among the masses. “However, the government would decide after taking all stakeholders on board about the election date.”
‘Govt planning to arrest 700 leaders, workers’
On the other hand, alarmed by the roughshod efforts against the planned march, the feisty PTI has warned the government against putting in place hurdles, saying arresting party leaders will result in a complete lockdown in the country and the government will be responsible for its consequences.
Addressing a press conference, former information minister Fawad Chaudhry claimed that the government was planning to arrest 700 party leaders and workers and warned that the move would not be in the government’s favour.
He said that their people are being picked up by people without uniforms. He added that young people are being picked by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) while senior journalists are being harassed as well.
He revealed that the party’s leadership held three meetings in Peshawar on Monday. He made it clear that the party would proceed with its long march. PTI Chairman Imran Khan will reach Islamabad from Peshawar on the morning of May 25, he added.
He further said that the PTI chief would lead the march himself.
Fawad also explained that the call for a long march was limited to the people of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) whereas those in Karachi would protest there.
He said that they were staying at Srinagar House in Islamabad in order to show solidarity with Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik who was recently convicted by an Indian court in a “terrorism-related case”.
“Institutions in Pakistan have decided that they will stay from politics,” he said. “Institutions have decided that the political situation should be seen only by political parties.”
Fawad said that the government is clinging to power while there is an economic crisis in the country. He said that the economic crisis stemmed from the political crisis.
“The most important thing is that we must regain our freedom,” he added. “The people should be given the right to make their own decision.”
The former minister also told the government that women, children, retired army officers, doctors and bureaucrats would march with them to Islamabad. He added that the authorities could not stop “hundreds of thousands of people”.
Fawad further said that Imran would announce the next course of action on June 3.
Separately, addressing the media in Lahore, PTI Punjab president and former federal minister Shafqat Mahmood said a record number of people will come to Islamabad against the imported regime on May 25.
“We are being told that Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah is planning to use force against our peaceful protestors. The government has made lists of PTI leaders and workers for the arrest. If the government dares to do that, it will be responsible for its consequences,” he said and added he has conveyed the same Punjab Police IG.
IHC moved against hurdles
Meanwhile, the PTI filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against the closure of main arteries and possible arrests in the federal capital.
The PTI asked the high court to stop the city administration from sealing the roads and police from arresting people. The chief commissioner, deputy commissioner and Islamabad inspector general have been made parties in the plea.
‘Jail bharo tehreek on cards’
The PTI has finalised its plan to take out its anti-government agitation and is mulling various pre-emptive strategies to beat back the government’s measures to clamp down on the long march, sources told the Express Tribune.
PTI supporters will converge in the federal capital and turn their demonstrations into a sit-in with an ultimatum issued to the government for the announcement of a date for fresh elections.
The plan also includes the option of holding protests and sit-ins on major highways and public spaces across the country in the event of the arrest of PTI Chairman Imran Khan and the central leadership.
Similarly, the party sources also hinted that in order to up the ante against the government, the protestors might spill outside the Prime Minister House if the demand for an election date was not met.
The party would choke arteries leading up to the federal capital, they added.
“If the government tries to crack down on the march, both legal and political options will be used according to the circumstances,” sources shared and added that in case the arrests continue despite protests, the PTI will turn the situation on its head and launch a “Jail Bharro Tehreek” (fill the jails movement) and give voluntary arrests.
Meanwhile, the PTI leadership has directed the local leaders to put up screens at various public places in all the districts to galvanise the masses and for the live screening of the footage from the federal capital.
However, the PTI sources also did not rule out the possibility of talks with the PMLN-led coalition if the latter decides to give ups its defiance and approaches to decide a date for holding general elections.
Nonetheless, the former ruling party would not concede its original demand for the dissolution of the current National Assembly for a caretaker setup.
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