Tahirul Qadri launches march on Islamabad
LAHORE: The Lahore-Islamabad long march by Dr Tahirul Qadri kicked off on Sunday afternoon amidst tight security and over five hours behind schedule due to security reasons.
Dr Qadri himself was not leading the march at the start since he was travelling in a separate caravan of bullet-proof jeep and bullet-proof container, equipped with all the basic facilities, surrounded by six vehicles of the Elite Police guards along with a vehicle of mobile device jammers.
Dr Qadri’s caravan was also accompanying his personal guards and joined the march much later after crossing the Minar-e-Pakistan in the evening. The marchers comprised thousands of Tehrik-e-Minhajul Quran (TMQ) workers, including women and children, who were riding hundreds of vehicles and raising slogans and displaying large banners, placards, Qadri’s portraits and national flags.
Talking to reporters before the start, Dr Qadri said the march was aimed at sending the corrupt and cruel rulers packing once and for all, who had been plundering the public wealth and sucking the blood of the masses and living a life of luxury. He particularly lashed out at the Punjab government, terming it a Yazidi gang whose atrocities had surpassed those committed by Yazid himself, and alleged that the government had impounded buses, arrested drivers and taken away their licences and route permits to hamper the protest.
Dr Qadri said his march was similar to that of Hazrat Imam Hussain’s followers and the holy warriors of Badr and Ohad, who were travelling without the necessary resources. He said thousands of women in his caravan were marching on foot, just like Hazrat Zainab and Hazrat Sakina in the caravan of Imam Hussain (AS).
He demanded immediate removal of the Balochistan government over its failure to protect the people’s lives, and imposition of governor’s rule in the province. He called upon the institutions responsible for the country’s security that they must respond to his call of removing the corrupt and cruel rulers.
He alleged that all cities had been blocked to stop the people from joining the democracy march. He alleged that the government had placed tankers filled with acid and petrol and had dug trenches filled with explosives on the routes of his march in the federal capital so that if the march was not attacked during the way then those containers would explode when the marchers would reach their destination.
He also claimed that the government had seized their vehicles and arrested workers. He said the police in Multan, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan and other cities were not letting the people come to the march, but “the long march will take place even if they have to travel on foot”. He said the police also snatched 10 vehicles assigned for his personal security and 20 vehicles for the media.
The delay in the start was partly because the participants of the march gathered outside the TMQ secretariat were in much less numbers than expectations and claims of Dr Qadri that four million people would be marching towards Islamabad. Besides, shortly before the start, the district police officials also tried to convince him to change the route of the march from the GT Road to Motorway to avert security threats and the traffic mess due to the day-long sit-in of Shia organisations outside the governor’s house to protest against the bloodshed in Quetta.
But Dr Qadri refused to change the route and the march finally began after 2pm instead of the scheduled 9am with a modest number of participants. Contrary to the accusations of TMQ leaders about blocking of the march, the district administration and police fully facilitated the marchers as no accusations of road blocks or impounding of vehicles in the city were confirmed. The city roads were almost empty due to the weekly holiday and the police were only deployed along the route of the march and around the TMQ secretariat and his residence close by, to maintain security of the participants and leaders. But the organisers making announcements from the stage kept accusing the district administration of blocking the roads and impounding buses, which infuriated the workers several times who raised anti-government slogans.
The TMQ began the march almost single-handedly as his supporters including Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan Muslim League-Q and, later on, Pir of Golra Sharif announced dissociation from the march. Whereas, the fourth major ally, the Majlis-e-Wahdat Muslameen (MWM) did not participate because it was busy staging the sit-in outside the Governor’s House in Lahore.
The motorcade at the start of the march comprised about 140 large vehicles including buses, coasters, trucks and wagons, besides 125 small vehicles including cars, jeeps and Suzuki vans. One crane for lifting expected blockades, two tankers of petrol and one of diesel, and two containers of toilets for ladies and elderly people were also accompanying the crowd besides, trucks and pick-ups containing food, water, gas cylinders and other necessities including beddings and quilts, etc.
Soon after the start, the marchers stopped at the Canal Road close to Zahoor Elahi Road for about one hour waiting for Dr Qadri’s caravan and other participants to join in. But due to change in Dr Qadri’s plan, they moved on slowly reaching Shahdara in two hours after the Maghrib prayers, where the activists of MWM staging a sit-in at GT Road welcomed them and gave way to them to proceed towards Islamabad.
The district administration changed the route at the last moment, delaying the start and disallowing Dr Tahirul Qadri to visit Data Darbar before heading towards Islamabad since roads to the shrine were blocked due to security concerns. Mobile service was also suspended in parts of Lahore, including Ravi Town, Model Town, The Mall, Minar-e-Pakistan and Imamia Colony.
According to government officials, the decision was taken to avoid any untoward incident. The march was scheduled to spend the night in Gujrat and then leave for Islamabad on Monday morning.
Earlier, talking to reporters outside his house, Dr Qadri dubbed the march as ‘democracy march’, and vowed to continue struggle for the supremacy of the Constitution and rule of law. “It is a march for democracy, against looters and plunderers sitting in Islamabad and Lahore and against those exploiting the poor,” he said, adding, “It is a march against oppressors, corrupt and the persecutors of the weak and the poor.
“It is a march for the people mourning in Quetta for 150 dead bodies of their near and dear ones,” he added. He demanded of the federal government to dissolve the Balochistan Assembly and the government over its failure to protect the people’s lives. He said the Yazidi forces would be wiped out forever with the help of Allah Almighty.
The Minhaj Park outside the TMQ secretariat wore a depressing look in the morning as a very thin crowd gathered there contrary to the expectations of organisers. The number rose slowly with the passage of time, while the place was filled with the police and security personnel, and vendors selling food items, portraits of Qadri, stickers and flags of TMQ.
Some painters were also busy painting party flags on faces and hands of children participating in the march. The ambulances of Rescue 1122, security vehicles and police vans were also parked in large numbers to accompany the march.
The organisers kept playing the party songs in loud volume and, from time to time, making announcements that the government had impounded their buses, arrested drivers and barred the people coming from far off areas to Lahore to participate in the march.
Later in the evening, the march gained momentum and energy as it progressed, with the youth, women, children and elderly lining up along roads to welcome the marchers, while thousands joined the caravan at different points.
It was all festive mood, despite the looming threat of terrorist activity. The vehicles in the convoy marching towards Islamabad were playing the tunes overlapped by speeches of Dr Qadri. Among other highlights of the journey of the march till Ferozwala, a jawan of the Elite Force lost a couple of his teeth after he fell off the truck.
When the convoy reached Shahdara, around 3,000 people gave reception to the marchers and joined them. The people lined up on both sides of the road showered flower petals on the participants of the march and chanted slogans in favour of a change to break the forces of status quo. They were holding banners and flags with Dr Qadri’s pictures on them.
The convoy slowly proceeded and its next reception was staged at the Imamia Colony where a protest was being staged against the killings in Quetta. A delegation of the protesters received Dr Qadri and he addressed the protestors saying that his march was against all such atrocious and apathetic forces in and out of the government and his march also stood for those who lost their loved ones in the terrible incident in Quetta.
The Shia leaders told Dr Qadri that if their demands were not met by early 14th January, they would join the long march. The reception at Ferozewala was given by people relatively less in number compared with that at Shahdara and Muridke where around 600-700 people joined the march.
Amidst tight security, the next reception for the marchers was given at Muridke where around 4,000 people joined the caravan. Female supporters of the march were sitting atop trucks, holding megaphones, chanting slogans and spurring up the energy of the marchers all throughout the journey.
Food and water were in abundant supply as at around 8pm the participants of the march were provided delicious Biryani with mineral-water bottles which they enjoyed thoroughly. Till the filing of the report, the march had not reached Gujrat. However, there was a big reception waiting for them by around 5,000 people at Gujrat and Gujranwala to join the march.
According to a report, received late on Sunday night, TMQ Information Secretary Qazi Faizul Islam accompanying the caravan was injured in a road accident. As the march was approaching Gujranwala, Qazi Faiz tried to move fast to reach the front of the caravan by driving his car against the one-way traffic on the GT Road. To save an incoming motorcyclist his car hit the median and was badly damaged. He, however, escaped with minor injuries and bruises.
The march with 17 vehicles of security and 313 Mustafawai Janbaz and thousands of marchers reached Gujranwala at around 11:15pm where around 3,000 people received the march.
The federal capital has been virtually cut off from the rest of the country. The federal government is all set to thwart the march with full force while deciding not to let it move forward from the Saudi-Pak Tower, short of the Parliament House.
Interior minister Rehman Malik issued a warning to Dr Qadri here on Sunday that if any terrorist activity occurs, the first information report (FIR) would be registered in his (Qadri’s) name. The minister urged the local businessmen here to do their routine business, assuring them security on the day marchers would reach Islamabad.
The PML-Q leadership, including its president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Ch Pervaiz Elahi, is expected to resume talks with Dr Qadri in Islamabad on his charter of demands, which he spelt out in Lahore on the eve of his march.
On its part, the government has blocked all the entry and exit points with long containers in an apparent bid to stop the marchers from entering Islamabad in huge numbers. It is widely being debated how the law-enforcement agencies would react if Dr Qadri’s supporters tried to force their way into the federal capital on foot.
Two major political parties — PPP and PML (N) — have termed the start of Dr Qadri’s march as a failure, saying the people have rejected it, and called his charter of demands undemocratic and an effort to sabotage the general elections, which are only a few weeks way.
Former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, while talking to the newsmen in Karachi, said that no political party or people will support Dr Qadri’s long march, as it had no agenda. “For what the people and the political parties should lend support to long march as it has no agenda nor will it yield any result,” he said while talking to the media men at the airport here on Saturday.
Information Secretary of the PML-N Mushahidullah claimed the people had dissociated themselves from the long march, an expression of no confidence in Dr Qadri’s agenda. “Dr Tahirul Qadri desired arrest to become a political martyr but the Punjab government did not fulfil his desire so that he could be exposed,” he added.
About his party’s stance on the march, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, when approached, said that Dr Tahirul Qadri had taken the decision to launch the march in haste and without consulting him.
“Had Dr Qadri consulted the PTI, we would have advised him to wait till the formation of the caretaker government. The appropriate time to launch the long march would have been when impartial caretakers were not brought in,” said Imran.
Meanwhile, the police have started locking down the federal capital in anticipation of the long march, putting containers on the city’s entrances and around the Red Zone area. The Diplomatic Enclave has been blocked with a wall of containers around it.