LAHORE - Tens of thousands of police will be deployed across Punjab to tackle anti-government protests called by major opposition parties by the end of this month amid growing political uncertainty in the country.

Just one week before the planned sit-in, the police department imposed a complete ban on all types of casual leaves for officials in order to ensure availability of maximum strength. The anti-riot force, reserve squads, and other special units are also being mobilized to tackle any urgent situation.

A Punjab government official said large crowds are expected to join the movement since all leading opposition parties have announced “full support” to the protest march scheduled on October 31 in the federal capital.

“Therefore, police and all other law enforcement agencies are put on their toes to keep the situation under control,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media. “The police will fully and strictly implement orders of the government while dealing with the agitators,” he said.

The police have also been warned that during the protest march the terrorists “may get an opportunity” to carry out attack by targeting the protesters. “In coming days, it is expected that political/religious parties will resort to protest and try to stage sit-in at Islamabad that can be detrimental to peaceful atmosphere of the (Punjab) province,” says an official letter issued by the central police office. “Keeping in view the expected upcoming developments in the province, there is a dire need to ensure availability of sufficient strength of Punjab Police to tackle any law and order situation.” 

The police department has been giving final touches to a “comprehensive security plan” to deal with the emerging political situation. “We have finalized a counter-plan to deal with any emergent situation in all possible manners. Special control rooms will be activated in all Punjab districts to closely monitor the security situation,” the official explained. “At present, police are completely focusing on the scheduled protest march. All options are open and political and religious leaders will be engaged to maintain peace in the province.”

Another official claimed that nobody would be allowed to disrupt routine life in major cities. The law enforcement agencies would respond quickly in case anyone tried to create lawlessness like situation, he added.

Thousands of police in addition to Anti-Riot Force will be deployed across Lahore, also known as a hub of political movements, during the protest march. The police have made all the necessary arrangements to detain top political leaders under the maintenance of public order if directed by the government to do so.

Police sources revealed that the possibility of placing senior political and religious leaders under house arrest for a couple of days before the start of protest march could not be ruled out. “If the protesting leaders are put under house arrest, the police will be able to handle protests more comfortably,” a police official commented when asked whether they were planning to detain opposition leaders.

According to insiders, the law enforcement agencies have also identified trouble spots in big cities including Lahore. The Special Branch, an intelligence wing of the Punjab Police, has already prepared district-wise data of the main political activists. Also, many staff of the Special Branch will be deployed among protesters in plainclothes.

Interestingly, these days the provincial police hierarchy are holding detailed meetings at the Central Police Office to discuss implementation of their plan of action under the present political scenario. According to insiders, different strategies have been discussed to handle the protesters and their leaders. The Punjab Police department has also sought additional force from the Punjab Constabulary for deployment in different parts of the province.

On the other hand, the police have been provided modern self-defence equipments including body armours, shields, bulletproof vest, and breastplate besides communication technology to remain in touch with the police high up. Special monitoring cells have also been set up in all district and regional offices, where the top officers will ensure round-the-clock monitoring of all political activities. Heavy police contingents will be deployed across the Punjab, particularly on major inter-city routes to crush public gatherings.

Sources also claimed that the elite force would be deployed around the residences of the leading politicians and senior government officials. Also, the lists of active agitators prepared by police and district intelligence branch are being shared with other government departments. These lists along with details of the political activists are also sent to police in Lahore. In case of possible crackdown, the arrested persons will be shifted immediately to jails for a period of 30 days. Mostly local leaders and councillors are among those named in the fresh lists.