LAHORE / PESHAWAR: Even though it has been severely criticising the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) since the party announced its plan to lock down Islamabad on Nov 2, the Punjab government itself has started treading the same path as it has blocked all entry points leading to the federal capital.
The Punjab government’s decision not only caused immense inconvenience to commuters, it also drew a bitter reaction from the PTI.
Condemning the blockade of main routes to Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government spokesman Mushtaq Ghani said that the federal and Punjab governments had converted KP into a prison by placing barriers on roads.
He said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could “punish” the PTI workers but he had no right to create hardship for the people of the entire province.
Snap-checking of people heading for Islamabad being carried out; late-night orders for removal of barricades from certain highways
When contacted, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah admitted that the government had closed roads near Attock to check the movement of PTI workers into Punjab because they were planning to head towards Islamabad. However, he clarified, no other roads in the province had been blocked “completely” though snap-checking of all those heading towards the federal capital was being carried out.
In a late-night development, an interior ministry spokesman said the prime minister had issued directives for removal of all barricades on highways linking KP to Punjab.
He said the barricades had been placed on the motorway on Friday night after a mob of about 900 armed people had tried to enter the federal capital. When police tried to stop these people on the Attock Bridge a clash took place during which the station house officer of the area was injured. On arrival of reinforcements, the armed people went away, he said, adding that all barricades on the motorway linking KP to Islamabad were being removed after the situation became normal.
Earlier in the day, as a result of the Punjab government’s decision, traffic on all roads between Punjab and KP came to a halt, apparently to prevent the PTI workers from reaching Islamabad to take part in the lockdown.
Sources said that police had placed shipping containers at Rashkai Interchange and Khairabad Bridge. The Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway was closed at the Swabi Interchange while barricades had also been placed at Mardan and Nowshera roads.
Heavy contingents of police were deployed on various roads leading to Islamabad while transporters had been warned against facilitating the PTI supporters.
Commuters said that the tussle between the PTI and the government had made people’s life hell.
Section 144 in Punjab
Late in the night, the Punjab home department issued a handout which said that the provincial government had imposed Section 144, banning public gatherings for nine days (until Nov 8) across the province.
According to officials in KP, district administrations besides placing containers and barriers dumped sand on the Peshawar-Islamabad section of motorway (M-I) and the Grand Trunk Road. The step on the main arteries linking KP with Punjab was taken on Saturday after receiving instructions from the Punjab government.
A Motorway Police official said that M-I remained open between Swabi and Peshawar and traffic also plied on between Islamabad and Burhan.
However, dozens of containers and concrete blocks were placed on the road at Burhan. The Punjab Police erected dozens of tents on the motorway, completely blocking the route.
Sand and containers were also used on the GT Road at Khairabad Bridge.
The official said that a diversion had been provided on the GT Road at Khairabad Bridge to allow traffic flow.
Public Transport Owners Association general secretary Khan Zaman Afridi said that both the main arteries were closed at 12pm. However, pedestrians were allowed to cross the Khairabad Bridge on GT Road.
He said that travellers, particularly patients and women, were stranded at Khairabad. He announced that transporters would hold a protest against the closure of roads on Sunday.
KP government spokesman Mushtaq Ghani condemned the blockade of main routes to Punjab. “If this situation continues, there will be severe shortage of essential commodities in the province,” he cautioned.
He accused the federal and Punjab governments of violating the Constitution by barricading main highways. However, he added, such tactics could not stop people from proceeding to Islamabad.
Opposition Leader in the Punjab Assembly Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed assailed the government for its way of handling the situation. He said the government had become baffled and started closing roads and in doing so caused immense problems for citizens five days ahead of the PTI’s protest.
He alleged that police had also blocked Jhelum and Chanab Bridges by depositing truckloads of mud there.
“The PTI condemns the Punjab government for sealing cities and doing the same thing it was blaming the PTI for,” he said and added that the PTI workers could not be demoralised by such tactics and they would reach Islamabad on Nov 2 come what may.
Rana Sanaullah of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz responded to the PTI’s criticism. “The PTI’s KP government ministers Shah Farman and Asad Qaiser have set up camps at the KP side and are gathering party workers to enter Punjab and then head towards Islamabad,” he alleged.
“Such elements will be stopped at the Attock boundary,” he asserted. He said police had already been deployed on different roads between Attock and Islamabad to check the entry of PTI workers.
Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2016