Lahore Mall Road declared ‘red zone’ in bid to thwart sit-ins

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  • Home dept terms protests, sit-ins at Mall Road ‘security risk’

  • Business community appreciate govt’s decision

  • Notification is to avoid political protests before elections, says intelligence source

LAHORE: The Punjab government on Saturday declared Lahore’s Mall Road of as ‘red zone’ in an apparent move to avoid the protests, sit-ins, demonstrations, rallies and all sort of public gatherings that had become a routine matter at one of the busiest thoroughfares of the metropolitan.

According to a notification issued by the Punjab Home Department, which is also available with Pakistan Today, the area from Mian Mir Bridge to Istanbul Chowk on Mall Road including its immediate vicinity has been declared as Red Zone (Highly Sensitive Zone) keeping in view the security imperatives.

“A number of sensitive installations/buildings including Punjab Provincial Assembly, Governor House, Lahore High Court, 90-Shahra-e-Qaid-e-Azam, State Bank of Pakistan are located on Mall Road,” the notification issued said, while adding that threat alerts about possibility of terrorist attacks on these vital and sensitive installations are received from different intelligent sources quite frequently keeping in view the overall security situation in the wake of ongoing war against terrorism.

The notification further added that the recent history reveals that it has become an almost daily routine for various groups, organisations and communities to hold assemblies, gatherings, sit-in and protest demonstrations on Mall Road and these gatherings not only serve as soft targets for terrorist but also provide a possible cover for terrorists and miscreants to sneak in for targeting the vital installations.

It is worth mentioning here that 14 people were killed including Lahore’s Traffic Deputy Inspector General (DIG) and Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Operations in February last year when a suicide bomber blew himself at Chairing Cross at a time when hundreds of protesters were holding sit-in just outside the Punjab Assembly against the drug act.

“All kinds of assemblies, gatherings, rallies, processions, sits-in, demonstrations and protests are prohibited in the red zone in the larger interest of public safety and to avoid any untoward incident,” the notification to remain in force for 6 months said.

In the recent past, protesters from both the government and private sectors had made it a routine to stage a demonstration outside the Punjab Assembly at Chairing Cross to press for their demands and the traffic remains at standstill on the Mall Road and adjacent arteries. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, Lady Health Workers, teachers, farmers, real estate dealers, government clerks, councillors and Vice Chairmen of Union Councils and visually impaired persons were seen protesting at Chairing Cross in the recent past while some religious parties also use the point for their rallies and demonstrations.

The MPAs of Punjab Assembly were also perturbed over the permanent traffic logjam at Mall Road because of the protests and demonstrations while judges of the Lahore High Court (LHC) also suffered a lot due to the situation as their offices are just a few minutes’ drives away from Chairing Cross.

Mall Road has over 3000 shops and business points which were affected by these protests and rallies. Talking to Pakistan Today, Lahore Traders’ Wing Chairman Babar Mahmood said that the notification is a sigh of relief for all the traders of the city, specially of Mall Road and Hall Road as their businesses were had to face a loss due to the protest and demonstrations.

“Our community is extremely overjoyed today and they are congratulating everyone over our different social media groups of traders,” said Babar, who is also the president of Hall Road Trader Association-a group of businessmen from Mall Road.

He further added that the administration will have to play an important role for the enforcement of the notification as in the past protesters did not budge despite the fact that section-144 was imposed on the directives of LHC to hold demonstrations on the Mall Road.

It is worth mentioning here that the Lahore City District government had earlier designated Nasir Bagh as the protest site but this suggestion was not accepted by the protesters and they continued to hold demonstrations at Mall Road.

Moreover, A source in an intelligence agency told this scribe that the government took this step to avoid the protests against it as the election season is just around the corner and government employees are also planning to come on the roads demanding increase in their salaries as the announcement of budget is also inching closer and several groups use demonstrations every year whenever the budget is about to be announced.

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