The Punjab government on Wednesday claimed that weapons were recovered from the vehicles of PTI’s Lahore office bearers – Zubair Niazi and Bajash Niazi – on the day the party launched its “Azadi March”.
Zubair Niazi, however, rubbished the allegations, saying this was “fake news” being peddled by the Punjab government, adding that police had not raided his house or checked his vehicles.
Lahore DIG Operations Sohail Chaudhry said the police had received information some days ago about “illegal weapons” being brought to the city. “During the blockades yesterday, we tried to stop five cars on the motorway. Later, in a raid at the homes of PTI Lahore office bearers Zubair Niazi and Bajash Niazi, the weapons were recovered.
“The leaders have been taken into police custody,” he said, adding that the police would ensure that the march was held peacefully according to the law.
Similar allegations were made by PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz who tweeted that the Punjab Police had recovered weapons from the vehicles of the two leaders, asserting that this was the “ugly face” of the party’s Azadi March.
“Weapons recovered by Punjab Lahore police from vehicles of PTI Lahore office bearers Zubair Niazi and Bajash Niazi. Case registered,” she tweeted today morning.
Continuing, she provided details of the weapons which comprise six “223 bore guns, 13 SMG rifles, three pistols, 10 ‘kopay‘, 96 magazines of SMG rifles and 223 bore guns, 26 magazines of pistols, 50 boxes of bullets and six bigger packs of bullets”.
“This is the ugly face of the so-called Long March,” the PML-N leader said, adding that this showed the “intentions” of PTI leaders.
Later, Punjab government spokesperson Ataullah Tarar in a media briefing also said a “large quantity of weapons” was found from the homes of the two PTI workers. “It is now clear this isn’t a peaceful march. These people want chaos and anarchy to spread in the country.”
He also showed the photographs of the “modern weapons” on display that Maryam posted on Twitter, and listed what was found.
“What was this weaponry gathered for? We have intelligence reports. Look at these weapons. They want to hide there (in Peshawar), and yet they’re asking for others’ children to [risk their lives] and march.”
At the same time, senior journalist Hamid Mir also shared a photo on his Twitter, showing a man, adorning a PTI cap, hiding a rifle behind him. The photo, however, is eight years old and was first shared on Twitter during the 2014 sit-in organised by the party in Islamabad. Several users called out the senior journalist for sharing an old photo, which could be mistaken as the current situation on the ground, in a tense environment.
Zubair rejects allegations
Meanwhile, Zubair, in a video with PTI supporters today, categorically rejected Maryam and Chaudhry’s claims, saying that no weapons were recovered from his house or cars.
“This is the same Maryam who used to say she had no property in London. And DIG sahab, don’t indulge into this fake news on their (PML-N’s) orders,” he said. “Since 8:30am, I am out of my house with my tehreekis… This is baseless news.
“No raid was conducted at my house, neither were my cars checked. I haven’t even met the police yet,” Zubari continued.
“I will soon meet the police at Batti Chowk and then at GT Road. I am recording this statement for the media,” he stated, reiterating that the news was baseless.
“Unlike Rana Sanaullah, I don’t do or keep heroine, which was found from his car,” Zubair said, adding that this was his official statement.
Crackdown and arrests
Meanwhile, police continued with its crackdown on Wednesday with more senior leaders purportedly rounded up as forces shelled PTI supporters at various areas in Lahore – where blockades have been set up to stop them from marching to Islamabad.
An “admin” tweeted from Senator Ejaz Chaudhary’s official Twitter that he was arrested after the place he was staying in was “stormed by over 100 policemen — the gate of the house broken — the family at that place harassed and phones taken”.
PTI Punjab President Shafqat Mahmood’s home was also allegedly raided. He tweeted that the police barged into his house after 11pm last night without a warrant while he was not at home.
“Lahore police continued with its unsuccessful mission last night to arrest me. First they raided my house, then my brothers and in early morning hours, my sisters,” he said.
After deciding not to allow Imran Khan’s ‘Azadi March’ on the capital, the government on Tuesday reportedly rounded up over 1,000 PTI leaders and workers in a crackdown designed to derail the party’s plans for a massive power show in Islamabad.
Homes of Punjab PTI leaders such as Hammad Azhar, Usman Dar, Malik Waqar Ahmed, Engineer Kashif Kharal, Mazhar Iqbal Gujjar and others. According to former information minister Fawad Chaudhry, over 400 people were arrested during the late-night police action.
‘Intel on PTI’s violent plans’
On Tuesday, the coalition government, despite giving permission earlier, decided to stop the PTI march in the capital. At a media briefing, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said the government would not allow the PTI to spread “chaos and disorder” in the guise of the march. “They will be stopped so they cannot propagate their misleading agenda.”
In another press conference yesterday, Maryam had claimed that the government possessed intel about the PTI’s “violent plans”, including amassing of tear gas shells, guns, sticks as well as designs to attack law enforcement officials.
“They’re openly saying there will be blood so how can you expect the government to give them a free hand? It (the government) has the responsibility of the people. How can we allow you to hurt Pakistan?”
The PML-N vice president added that in her discussions with the prime minister and interior minister, it was decided to “let Imran come”, instead of arresting him, to see how long he stays in Islamabad and how much mettle he had.
She further addressed the courts and asked them to not set a tradition where a person abusing the institutions the most gets favourable decisions. “Decide in the people’s future and favour and don’t look at media or social media [when giving verdicts],” she advised the judiciary.
Separately, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said that there would be no compromise on the state’s writ.
She said that the long march would be “bloody”, adding that intelligence reports suggested the participants of the march would be armed. She said that there would be no compromise when a “bloody march” had been announced, adding that “red lines had been drawn”.
Aurangzeb added that the government reserved the right to hold elections. “Do whatever you want, you will not be allowed to spread chaos.”
After the government’s announcement, the PTI chairman said that nothing could stop him from marching to Islamabad. On Tuesday urged the youth of the country — which he also dubbed the “attack force” — to power through all obstacles placed by the government on their way to Islamabad.
“Our attack force, comprising all of you, will be responsible to remove all impediments when we begin our march tomorrow,” Imran told the gathering of the PTI’s youth wing.
State flexes muscles to curb PTI power show
Meanwhile, section 144 has been imposed in Lahore, the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and Karachi, as well as other major cities in the country, while the Punjab government sought the deployment of Rangers to control the law and order situation.
Punjab Home Secretary Syed Ali Murtaza confirmed to Dawn that assistance of Rangers personnel had been requisitioned.
Traffic plying between Lahore and the twin cities was also brought to a standstill after all entry and exit points leading towards Islamabad were closed down.
According to the Lahore district administration, no one would be allowed to cross its district boundary and containers and barricades were installed on all major roads including link roads leading toward motorways and GT Road.
The government has also directed transporters not to provide buses, cars and vans to PTI workers.
The Attock Bridge on GT Road has also been closed, while the M1 motorway has been closed near Swabi. Containers have also been placed on the Ravi Toll Plaza, leading to the M2 motorway from Lahore.
According to police sources, 150 freight shipping containers have been placed on road sides to block the roads in Rawalpindi district while 4,000 police from Multan, Lahore, Farooqabad and Sargodha have been called to assist Rawalpindi and Attock police.