Interior minister issued veiled threat to opposition ahead of its planned long march on Islamabad
The government ‘tested’ its stock of tear gas against protesting government employees last week, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Sunday, as he promised the opposition’s Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) of a similar response if its long march on Islamabad was not within the bounds of law.
Addressing an inauguration ceremony for a park on Grand Trunk Road in Islamabad, he said the government was ready to “handle” the opposition’s protest if it violated the law, adding that Islamabad police had sufficient stock of teargas. “We have already tested the teargas during the protest of government employees last week in Islamabad. The test was necessary as these teargas shells had not been used for a long time,” he said of the canisters that contained expired teargas.
Last week, Islamabad took on the appearance of a warzone as police resorted to teargas shelling against government employees protesting for higher salaries amid rampant nationwide inflation. Contrary to the interior minister’s portrayal of it as a “test,” most lawmakers have maintained that it was a “mistake” and the response could have been handled far better and without violence. One police officer was killed due to inhaling the toxic fumes, while dozens of protesters were injured.
In his speech, Ahmed claimed that the opposition would not face any pushback so long as its protest remained with law. “I want to inform the PDM leadership, if they come to Islamabad 10 times and remain within the limits, there will be no problem, no obstacles in their way. But if they will take law into their hand, they will see obstacles everywhere and I will be on the frontline,” he said.
Referring to the PTI’s 126-day-long Islamabad sit-in of 2014, Ahmed said it was the most difficult thing he had done in his life. “It is very difficult to spend every day on a container … it is very expensive,” he said.
To a question, the minister admitted that whether the Senate elections were held through secret or open ballot, individuals who wanted to sell their votes would not be impacted. “But there will be less space in the country for those who sell their votes,” he claimed.
On the opposition’s decision to contest Senate polls, he said that it was curious for someone to curse Parliament and declare it “fake” but still be willing to participate in the elections. He also slammed the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) for criticizing the security establishment in speeches, claiming any PMLN worker who spoke against the Army was not a “real” member of it.
The interior minister also hailed the country’s coronavirus response, claiming the disease had been almost wiped out because the government had “waged jihad” against it. He credited Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Army for helping bring the pandemic under control.
Opposition leaders and the general public reacted to Ahmed’s claims of “testing” teargas with disdain, branding it a “gross” response to an incident that resulted in dozens of injuries and the death of a police official. Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) Vice President Maryam Nawaz on Monday said the statement had raised fears that the government might feel the need to “test” nuclear weapons that had never been used in a bid to distract from its poor governance. Similarly, PPP’s Rubina Khalid declared it a “gross statement,” while journalists lamented that a similar statement in any other country would require an unqualified apology and the dismissal of the offending minister.