Police in cities across Punjab raided the homes of several leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) late on Monday night in an apparent bid to reduce the impact of the party’s planned long march on Islamabad, with a police constable being shot dead during one raid in Lahore.
The police action was in stark contrast to repeated statements by several leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), who had earlier said they would not arrest any PTI workers ahead of the long march and would allow them to proceed toward Islamabad to exercise their right to protest.
Among the houses raised on Monday night were the homes of former energy minister Hammad Azhar; former parliamentary affairs minister Babar Awan; and former adviser to the P.M. on youth affairs Usman Dar. None of the PTI leadership were present at their homes at the time of the raids. However, the party claims that over 400 of its workers were taken into custody in the overnight raids.
In one raid, targeting a PTI leader’s house in Lahore’s Model Town, police said constable Kamal Ahmed had been shot dead after an unidentified suspect opened fire on them from the rooftop of a house. “We are still investigating, but we will not spare those involved,” DIG Operations (Lahore) Captain (retd.) Muhammad Sohail Chaudhry told media.
According to the PTI, police searched through Azhar’s home and harassed his mother and a guard. A video shared by former Punjab health minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid showed her “protesting” the police action by sitting in front of Azhar’s home while surrounded by cops.
Police in Lahore also raided the residence of PTI leader Farrukh Javed, who said he escaped via the house’s backdoor. Also in Lahore, police raided the homes of MPA Sadia Sohail and Mehr Naeemullah Taj.
In Rawalpindi, police raided the homes of former Punjab minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan and Ijaz Khan Jazi, as well as the Lal Haveli residence of Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. None of them were at their homes at the time of the raids.
Among other PTI leaders whose houses were raided are Malik Ishtiaq, Yasir Gillani, Firdous Ashiq Awan, Chaudhry Ikhlaq, Tahir Hundli; Rana Aftab; Kanwar Imran; Mian Zafar; and Rana Sajid. Most of them were not at home and were not arrested.
“In Punjab, overnight, 1,100 houses were raided,” claimed PTI Senior Vice President Chaudhry Fawad Hussain in a posting on Twitter. “[Police] entered the homes without warrants and insulted women and children; tortured people,” he added. He also claimed that the police constable who was killed had been shot by residents who believed they were being robbed and blamed the death on the actions of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz.
Earlier, addressing a press conference, Fawad had warned the government against using force to stop the PTI’s protest, adding that it could arrest PTI leaders and workers if it wished to, but this would only boost the PTI’s narrative.
“Peaceful protest is the right of all our citizens. The brutal crackdown on PTI leaders and workers in Punjab and Islamabad has once again shown us what we are familiar with—the fascist nature of PMLN when in power,” said PTI Chairman Imran Khan in a posting on Twitter condemning the raids. “The present crackdown also raises serious questions about the Handlers,” he added in seeming reference to the security establishment. “Already economy is in a tailspin. I want to warn the crooks and their handlers that these undemocratic and fascist steps will further exacerbate the economic situation and push the country into a state of anarchy,” he added.
The ousted prime minister also claimed, erroneously, that the PTI had never initiated a similar crackdown on any of its opponents’ workers while in power. This is factually incorrect, as there are numerous reports of the PTI indulging in the same tactics to discourage its opponents’ protest demonstrations.