KARACHI (Dunya News) – Firebrand politician Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Fazlur Rehman, after spending a night in Larkana citing security threats, has resumed the opposition’s long march being called as ‘Azadi March’ and moved towards Multan on Monday afternoon.
Thousands of people, including seminary students, are participating in the march. In addition, convoys of political parties, including the PPP, the PML-N, the Awami National Party (ANP) and others, have joined the march.
As of latest reports, the marchers without paying any toll tax via Rohri Toll Plaza reached near Pano Aqil. Meanwhile, motorway police have dedicated one lane of the National Highway for the caravan of Fazl to proceed. Hundreds of buses, cars and vehicles have joined the march today.
Containers placed on the borderline between Punjab and Sindh have been removed for the marchers to proceed. The demonstrators have been holding party flags and chanting full-throat slogans against the government.
The march en route to Islamabad took public attention all the way through Hyderabad, Hala Mutyari, Nawabshah and Khairpur reached Sukkur yesterday. Following Fazl’s instructions, it will move towards Pano Aqil and Ghotki to enter Punjab.
After spending a night in Sukkur, marchers on Monday morning were served with chickpea curry and chapattis before moving on towards Islamabad while passing through different cities of Sindh and Punjab.
Following the nearly inflexible negotiations with the government on Saturday night, the Azadi March began from Karachi where the JUI-F finalised arrangements to kick off massive demonstrations against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Yesterday, PPP representatives Saeed Ghani, Raza Rabbani, ANP leaders including Shahi Syed, PML-N senior leader Muhammad Zubair and many other politicians belonging to different political parties were present in the caravan of Fazl to express their support for Azadi March.
The PPP has expressed full support for the massive demonstration being launched from Sindh – the province the party has been ruling since 2008.
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif held a telephonic conversation with Fazlur Rehman to discuss the next course of action. Shehbaz congratulated Fazl over successful conduct of March.
The march under the leadership of JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman will enter Islamabad on Oct. 31 where he will hold a massive demonstration in H-9.
Yesterday, the march proceeded to the Superhighway (M9) after smaller demonstrations emerged from the city’s six districts and gathered at Sohrab Goth where the JUI-F flexed its political muscles.
Fazl addressed massive gathering of the protesters at Sohrab Goth, and lashed out at the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for what he claimed “compromise” on the Kashmir dispute.
“We don’t accept the [general] elections held on July 25 and its results […] Imran Khan must resign,” he said.
“The people of Karachi have responded to our call, I thank them for it […] I appreciate workers of all [opposition] political parties,” he added.
“The government has resorted to uncivilised tactics […] after Hafiz Hamdullah’s matter of citizenship, they have arrested Mufti Kifayatullah.”
The protesters are expected to spend the night in Sukkur where arrangements have been made with facilitations by the provincial government.
All buses and other vehicles have been transported to the specified spots to kick off the massive demonstration. Strict security measures have been taken by the administration.
Fazl’s address followed beginning of rallies in many cities of the country, which are expected to join the JUI-F chief’s march towards Islamabad.
The firebrand politician has been given every facility in his container so he could address the rallies at different points during the march. Sources told Dunya News that several workers of the JUI-F were being arrested from different cities.
According to a no objection certificate (NOC) issued by the office of the deputy commissioner of Karachi’s East zone, permission has been granted to JUI-F leader Maulana Fatehullah, for the party to hold a rally adjacent to Super Highway, near Total petrol pump in Sohrab Goth.
On late Saturday, the government and the opposition’s Rehbar Committee struck a deal after entering into tough talks and breaking the earlier deadlock.
According to the terms and conditions of the Azadi March, the protesters will not enter into Islamabad’s Red Zone and instead will culminate their demonstration in H-9 area in Sunday bazaar grounds.
During a press conference after talks, government’s negotiation committee head and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak recalled Prime Minister Imran Khan’s promise that the participants will see no obstacles from the government as long as the protest is peaceful.
According to the agreement, the government will not stand in the protesters’ way and neither will the participants face any difficulty in getting food delivered.
Importantly, the participants will not be allowed to venture far from the designated venue, whereas the responsibility of the internal security will lie with the organisers.
The leaders further pointed out that in case of a violation of the terms and conditions, and damage to lives or property, the relevant action as per the law will be taken.
The local administration in Islamabad has yesterday placed containers and barricades ahead of the march.
Thousands of policemen have been tasked to prepare for any untoward situation and maintain law and order situation in the capital city. Police had held a drill to perform anti-riot exercises and learnt how to use water cannons to disperse protesters.
Effective security measures have been formulated for the safeguarding Faizabad Interchange and other entry points, including Rawat and Tarnol.
A two-layer security ring has been created around the Red Zone for security of government buildings. Hundreds of containers had been placed at the roadsides and greenbelts to use them in case need arise.
Mufti Kifayatullah arrested
The law enforcement agencies and Mansehra Police conducted a joint operation in Islamabad’s Sector E-11/3, and arrested JUI-F’s Mufti Kifayatullah for allegedly issuing derogatory remarks against the national institutions.
Later, he was shifted to the Central Jail Haripur.
Last Monday, police arrested Maulana Shafiq-ur-Rehman and Maulana Muhammad Irshad from Shams Colony and seized banners for the JUI-F sit-in from their possession.
Police alleged that the duo had been urging people to participate in the Azadi March.
Rehbar Committee observes consensus
Earlier, JUI-F leader and head of the opposition Rehbar Committee Akram Khan Durrani had said: "All 11 members of the committee have achieved consensus that the protesters will not enter the Red Zone."
Durrani had said the protest march will "not be prolonged". "We will make further decisions as and when appropriate."
He had reiterated the party’s demands, namely, the prime minister’s resignation, fresh elections, no interference from the military, and the protection of clauses pertaining to Islam within the Constitution.
He had also urged the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to release all political prisoners. He had rejected the government’s imposition of ban on ‘Ansar-ul-Islam’, the "militant" wing of the JUI-F.
In Punjab, the provincial government has recently empowered deputy commissioners (DCs) under Section 196 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to counter Azadi March on the pretext of maintaining law and order in the province.
Earlier, these powers under the above section of the CrPC rested with the provincial government and only it could take action or lodge a complaint against anyone.
In June, Fazl had announced that his party had decided to hold an anti-government long march to Islamabad in the month of October in a bid to topple the government, which he sad had come to power through "fake" elections.