Finders keepers: PAT, PTI workers now man police checkpoints

At least 56 police checkpoints have been vacant since chaos and unrest gripped the federal capital. Police and paramilitary forces have been deployed in and around the high-security Red Zone where thousands of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) workers have been protesting for the past 20 days.

The administration, after directions from the interior ministry, removed or reduced the strength of police personnel at checkpoints at all entrances to Islamabad due to fear that they might be assaulted by the protesters. The police have also reduced patrolling in almost all sectors.

Surprisingly, PAT and PTI workers have replaced the police at these checkpoints and have even set up their own posts at various signals. They stop every vehicle as well as pedestrians and frisk everyone.

PAT workers have set up a checkpoint right in front of Kohsar Complex. They don’t even allow Secretariat employees to walk past without a search and most of the officials use alternative routes to avoid being ‘harassed’. Moreover, PAT and PTI workers regularly block main roads and stop vehicles. They ask them for money which they claim would be spent on arranging food for the protesters.

A local resident, Huma Khan, alleged that a group of PTI youth would stop vehicles and ask the drivers or passengers for money. “I was crossing 7th Avenue when a group of people stopped me and only let me go after I gave Rs300 to them,” she claimed.

The police have been notified on the issue but no action was taken against them. A call from the police control room on Monday night directed a police team to reach Blue Area as some people at checkpoints were stopping vehicles. A security update was also issued among the international community to avoid taking certain routes where PAT and PTI workers have blocked the routes.

None of the senior police officers, including Acting IG Tahir Alam Khan, DIG Sultan Azam Taimuri, AIG Sabir Ahmad and SP Rizwan Gondal, could be reached despite repeated phone calls.

The interior ministry had directed the police to not stop or search the arriving protesters which has made the city more vulnerable as it is feared that terrorists may take advantage of the situation.

A senior officer of the Islamabad police, requesting anonymity, said so far the police have arrested 12 terrorists in various operations and foiled several sabotage bids in the last eight months. Since 2007, Islamabad has witnessed around 17 instances of suicide bombings and IED explosions with a collective death toll of 151.

“If the crisis is not resolved as soon as possible and peacefully, God forbid, terrorists may target the city,” he added.

Policemen and security officials have always been the prime target of terrorists, he added. “None of the law enforcement agencies personnel have been given lethal weapons with which they could stop well-armed terrorists,” the officer expressed his fear.

They would not be able to stop attackers with only rubber bullets and clubs, he said, adding that casualties would be countless if terrorists managed to target security personnel deployed together in the hundreds at one place.