Lahore becomes battleground once again, with three policemen martyred and several others injured
Three policemen were martyred on Friday night, and several others injured, after security forces clashed with Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) protesters in Lahore after the banned group commenced its long march toward Islamabad.
Lahore DIG (Operations) spokesperson Mazhar Hussain identified two of the slain officials as Ayub and Khalid of the Gawalmandi and Mayo Gardens police stations, respectively. The third official has not yet been identified, but a statement issued by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar confirmed that three officials had been martyred in the unrest that unfolded overnight. “The policemen were accorded the highest degree of martyrdom in the line of duty,” he said, and warned that the rule of law must be ensured “at all costs.”
According to the police spokesperson, Ayub and Khalid were injured after a vehicle collision near Lahore’s District Court. He said that they had been rushed to hospital, but had succumbed to their wounds. Several other officials were injured in the same incident, he said, adding that they were being treated at hospital.
Alleging that the TLP protesters had hurled petrol bombs on officials, he said authorities had been forced to take action to prevent them from damaging public property. “The angry mob also used sticks and pelted stones,” he said. Another spokesperson told the Reuters news agency that officials had resorted to firing teargas at the protesters after they attacked a police checkpoint, stressing that they had not fulfilled their commitment to proceed peacefully.
By contrast, the TLP has alleged that police instigated the violence by targeting its workers while they were trying to leave Lahore for Islamabad. A spokesperson, in a statement, claimed that TLP workers had experienced the “worst shelling in history,” adding that hundreds had been injured and several killed. Videos of the clashes show heavy shelling from the police against stick-wielding TLP workers. In a statement issued on Saturday morning, they said that they would travel to Islamabad with the bodies of their deceased to “expose” the government.
Earlier on Friday, the Punjab government had formed a committee consisting of Law Minister Raja Basharat and Prosecution Minister Chaudhry Zaheeruddin to negotiate an end to the TLP’s sit-in outside its headquarters at the Jamia Masjid Rehmatul Lil Aalamin in Lahore. In a statement, the chief minister said that “we all need to work together for peace and harmony” in Pakistan in accordance with the teachings of Islam’s Prophet.
The talks appeared to fail before they had even properly started, as the banned group issued a statement maintaining that negotiations would not happen until its chief, Saad Hussain Rizvi, were released from prison. While initially a demand to end its sit-in, the group had appeared to backtrack from it on Thursday by announcing that it was marching to demand “respect” for Islam’s Prophet and the expulsion of the French ambassador over Islamophobic statements by the European nation’s president.
“They called us for talks, but attacked our workers from the back,” read the statement, alleging that “thousands” of its workers had been injured by police shelling and several others killed. “Now, only the TLP chief will lead the negotiations,” it added.
On Saturday morning, the TLP announced that its long march had resumed from Data Darbar—where it had reached late on Friday night—after morning prayers and had crossed the Ravi River heading toward Islamabad. The group’s exit has seen the situation in Lahore returning to normal, with police saying that normal traffic flow had resumed and all entry and exit points of the city have been reopened. Authorities also said that internet and mobile phone services were being restored in areas that they had been suspended.
At its current pace, the TLP is unlikely to reach the federal capital for another day or two. However, authorities in Islamabad have already blocked traffic with shipping containers near the Faizabad Interchange, which has been the site of previous sit-ins by the banned group. Authorities have also suspended the metro bus service in Rawalpindi and all officers who were on leave have been ordered to return to their posts.
Senior police officers have stressed that they would not allow the protesters to enter Islamabad. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who had left the country a day earlier, returned on Saturday morning on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s directions in view of the “restive situation” in the country. The prime minister and several members of his cabinet, meanwhile, are slated to leave Pakistan for Saudi Arabia for a three-day tour.
The TLP’s latest protests commenced in Lahore on Tuesday, with them staging a sit-in outside their headquarters on Multan Road to demand the release of the banned group’s chief.
Rizvi has been detained by the Punjab government since April 12 under “maintenance of public order” laws. Initially detained for three months, his imprisonment was extended under the Anti-Terrorist Act. A single bench of the Lahore High Court had ordered his release, but this was suspended by the Supreme Court, which directed the formation of a division bench to revisit the case.
In addition to Rizvi’s release, the TLP has demanded the government fulfill its agreement with the group to expel the French ambassador. That agreement was inked to convince the group to abandon its protest from earlier this year.