ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Sunday warned that the law enforcement agencies would “retaliate” if the supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan, who plans to stage a protest near Islamabad this week, resorted to violence in the capital.
Khan, who has been staging anti-government rallies since his ouster in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April, announced on Saturday that caravans of his supporters from up and down the country would reach Rawalpindi on November 26.
His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has submitted an application to the Rawalpindi administration to designate a place for the public gathering on the Faizabad-Murree road between the twin cities. The party has not yet decided whether the protesters would disperse after the rally or stage a sit-in to mount pressure on PM Shehbaz Sharif-led coalition government to announce snap polls.
But Sanaullah said the government was “fully prepared” in case the protesters attempted to “seize” the capital.
“It they took a step forward with an intent to advance on Islamabad... we won’t let them move toward Islamabad, seize Islamabad or advance on Islamabad, or enter the Red Zone,” the minister told Pakistan’s Geo News channel Sunday night.
“If there brought armed people in their caravan and they used weapons on the force, then the force will retaliate. Otherwise, we do not have any such plan and there are clear directives from the prime minister that there should be no loss of life and ‘you have to deal with tear gas and baton charge’.”
To a question, Sanaullah replied the Islamabad authorities had acquired drones so that “[tear gas] shells could be transported” to the protesters with minimum physical contact.
He ruled out the possibility of any threat to Islamabad from the protesters and said it was Khan whose life had actually been under threat.
“If there is a threat... it is to Imran Khan,” the minister said.
Khan survived a gun attack in Wazirabad city on November 3 as he led his motorized caravan to the capital. The attack killed one protester and injured Khan among 10 others.
Khan’s party later nominated PM Sharif, Sanaullah and an Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) official, Maj. Gen. Faisal Naseer, in the first information report (FIR) of the shooting.
“If something happens to him, it would be a very embarrassing situation for Pakistan. Every enemy of Pakistan and every hostile agency is now after his life,” Sanaullah said.
“Because he has had an FIR registered and if this happens, we pray it doesn’t, then the allegation would be levelled against the armed forces, ISI, me and the prime minister.”
Since his ouster, Khan has been increasingly critical of the army, and its chief, for not blocking the no-trust vote against him, which he says was part of a United States-backed “foreign conspiracy.” Washington and Khan’s opponents deny the allegation.