Déjà vu as Imran Khan plans another Red Zone rally

Source:  Dawn.com Published in Politics on Wednesday, September 23, 2015

ISLAMABAD: With just two weeks to go until the PTI’s planned rally against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), there is a sense of déjà vu in the air as the government mulls whether to allow Imran Khan to stage another show inside the capital’s high-security zone.

The PTI chairman had announced plans to hold “a massive protest rally” against the ECP’s provincial members – who Mr Khan had accused of being involved in electoral rigging in 2013 and planning to rig the upcoming by-elections in Lahore and Lodhran – on October 4 in front of Parliament House.

However, sources say the government has yet to decide whether to accept the party’s application for the mandatory No-Objection Certificate (NOC), which is needed to stage the show.

The official response, so far, has been that “due to precarious security situation, CrPC Section 144 has been imposed within Islamabad; therefore, no gathering can be held in the city”.

In background discussions, PTI leaders sounded optimistic about their chances of staging the rally. However, government quarters were far more sceptical, saying that just last year, when Mr Khan and Tahirul Qadri had converged on the capital, they had agreed not to enter the Red-Zone and restrict their rallies to Kashmir Highway and Aabpara Market, respectively.

But later, both men reneged on their commitment and the demonstrators collectively forced their way into D-Chowk.

Still smarting from last year’s sit-in, interior ministry apprehensive of PTI’s track record with commitments

The party’s plans to hold another rally at D-Chowk caught the attention of Islamabad Capital Administration magistrate, who wrote to PTI Additional Secretary Saifullah Niazi outlining the government’s concerns. Mr Niazi is also the organiser of the upcoming rally.

“All public gathering and rallies are banned... no political gathering of any kind is allowed in Red Zone,” read the letter.

The capital administration also reminded the PTI leadership that “staging a rally anywhere in Islamabad requires an NoC from the ICT administration after the submission of an affidavit. Therefore, any public event necessitates prior coordination and permission for necessary security arrangements and relaxation of CrPC Section 144, if granted by the district magistrate, ICT”.

While the PTI’s media wing claimed it had already written to the chief commissioner for permission on Sept 17, the magistrate – in his correspondence dated Sept 21, had said, “So far, the ICT administration has neither received any request from PTI to hold any public event in Islamabad, nor has such permission been given under the law.”

However, following the receipt of the magistrate’s letter, the party resent its application on Tuesday, which was received by the commissioner’s office the same day.

PTI chief spokesperson Naeemul Haq told Dawn that unlike last year’s prolonged sit-in outside parliament, this was a different story altogether.

“This time, we’re only organising a rally, which starts in the evening and ends by 10-11pm."

When asked about government concerns in the context of the agreement-violation claims from last year’s sit-in, Mr Haq insisted that a one-night rally was different from an extended dharna.

“Whatever guarantees the city administration needs the PTI will provide and I am [optimistic] that the rally will go ahead as planned,” he said.

However, it is up to the interior ministry – led by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan – that will eventually decide PTI can stage its anti-ECP rally inside the high-security zone.

Already, official circles are talking about the “unpredictable PTI”, a senior officer told Dawn on condition of anonymity.

“If Imran Khan can renege from his call for civil disobedience, resign from the National Assembly only to return and violate his own written agreements to respect the boundaries of the Red-Zone during last year’s dharna, we at the interior ministry have the right to question their integrity and wonder whether this rally would really be just a one-day affair,” he said.

The politicians, too, are worried. A senior PML-N leader admitted that the aggressive tone that the PTI chairman had adopted as of late was “a matter of concern” for the government.

“What happens if Imran Khan decides to turn this rally into a sit-in, what then,” he asked, rhetorically.

Given the existing tensions between the government, the PPP and the MQM, an Imran Khan rally could create “unforeseen problems for us”, he said.

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Written by Khawar Ghumman

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