SAFDAR RASHEED & M RAFIQUE GORAYA
LAHORE: Chief of Tehrik-e-Minhajul Quran Tahirul Qadri on Sunday started off the trek to Islamabad, promising his supporters that the long march would usher in a new era of peoples participatory and corruption-free democracy. Qadri, who has been blazing a spectacular trail on the country’s horizon since his return, jolting Pakistan’s fragile political structure, started his long march after a five-hour delay after Zohar prayers.
Talking to media persons just before the launch of the long march, Tahirul Qadri said: “This is a march for democracy…against looters and plunderers ruling in Islamabad and Lahore. This is a march against evil forces. This is a march against elements exploiting poor people…against oppressors…God willing, wiping out everyone who is corrupt and persecutes the weak and poor.”
Lashing out against the PML-N leadership, Qadri said that the Punjab government had impounded a large number of vehicles hired by his party for the march, adding that it had blocked all cities in southern and central Punjab and harassing his party activists, in a bid to stop the long march. He warned occupants of Takht-e-Lahore (the Sharif brothers) that their days were numbered and they would never ever come to power again. He said rulers of Punjab “are worse than Yazeed…they have outdone cruelties perpetrated by Yazeed”.
“This is a march to topple Yazeedi Empire,” it is a march for the mourners in Quetta (who are protesting) with over a hundred bodies,” Qadri said. He demanded of the federal government to dissolve the Balochistan government and the provincial assembly for its failure to protect people’s lives before his arrival in Islamabad today (Monday).
Qadri said that police in Multan, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan and other cities and towns were not allowing people to join the march, but “the long march will take place even if we have to travel on foot or motorcycles”. He said that police had snatched 20 vehicles assigned for his personal security and 20 vehicles for the media.
Tehreek-e-Minhajul Quran leader said the federal government, in an effort to stop the march, had placed tankers “filled with acid and gas” in the federal capital, besides digging up ditches “filled with explosives”. He also claimed that the government had seized their vehicles and arrested a large number of his party’s workers.
A large number of party workers and supporters were seen participating in the 300-kilometre-long march, carrying the national flag at a snail’s pace. The government, on the other hand, dubbed the march an assault on Islamabad by “a Canadian citizen who has taken oath of allegiance to the British Queen”. Dozens of trucks, loaded with food items, camps and gas cylinders, also accompanied the caravan. Two trucks were allocated for the media. A spokesperson for Tehrik-e-Minhajul Quran said that about 2,000 people had reached Lahore to join the march.
Qadri’s supporters said that more people would join the caravan as they proceeded on the way to Islamabad.
The spokesperson also claimed that authorities were stopping buses from leaving their vehicles from joining the marchers. According to him, as many as 25 vehicles had been stopped in Ravi Town and 15 in Wagah Town.
The caravan was also delayed because its route was changed at the last moment. Qadri had planned to visit Data Darbar before heading towards Islamabad, but all road leading to the shrine were blocked because of security concerns.
The caravan travelled from Model Town to Faisal town, University Campus, Canal Road, Garhi Shahu, Railway Station to Minar-e-Pakistan and on to Shahdara Town, The long march was heading towards Gujrat where marchers would briefly rest.
DIG Operations Lahore Rai Tahair said that Qadri had been provided VVIP security during the long march, adding that “foolproof security” had been provided to participants of the long march in Lahore.
Tehrik-e-Minhajul Quran’s own security guards had also deputed along the caravan route.