ISLAMABAD - After successfully tackling the anti-government protest of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and sowing ‘terror’ in the hearts of the opposition, Rana Sanaullah Khan has emerged as the effective security czar of the country as compared with his predecessors.

Though factors of backdoor talks and low participation of public in the May 25 protest of opposition PTI cannot be ignored, the way the police in Punjab and Islamabad dealt with the march under the command of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah is being seen as a success story within the rank and file of the coalition government.

Former prime minister and PTI chairman Imran Khan, who is known for holding 126-day long sit-in in Islamabad during 2014, now apparently looks reluctant to give a fresh date of another protest to press the government to announce early elections.

On the other hand, Rana Sanaullah – a seasoned politician from Faisalabad – has not only been continuously giving tough messages to the opposition but also challenging the PTI to dare hold the long march in future.

On May 26, Khan had suddenly called off his protest march after giving a six-day deadline to the government to dissolve assemblies and announce early elections, saying otherwise he would again give call of the protest.

PTI chief Imran now looks ‘reluctant’ to give fresh date of another protest to press govt for announcing early elections

If we look at the recent history of protest sit-ins and long marches, it was PTI chief Khan who had held a protest sit-in in Islamabad in 2014, after a long march from Lahore when Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was in power and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was the country’s interior minister. Mismanagement and a half-hearted approach of the ministry of interior was seen at that time that helped protestors of PTI and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) to break into the capital’s Red Zone and camp outside the Parliament House.

In 2017, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) paralysed Islamabad and Rawalpindi for more than 20 days by holding a sit-in at the Faizabad Interchange during the PML-N regime. Then interior minister Ahsan Iqbal could not talk with the religio-political party from the position of strength which forced the government to give in to its demands.

In 2019, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) held a 13-day long sit-in at the main Kashmir Highway of Islamabad and called off the sit-in as a result of some backdoor efforts. At that time, then interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, following the past practice, had only limited himself to making big political statements to make headlines. In October 2021, TLP also started a long march from Lahore to Islamabad that resulted in the loss of lives of at least seven police officials and many were injured. Nearly after two weeks, the party ended the march after the government met some of its demands.

All these long marches and sit-ins had severely shaken the confidence of the law enforcement, especially of the police in Punjab and Islamabad. But the successful wrapping up of the May 25 long march has restored the confidence of the police.

Rana Sanaullah is a very different interior minister than his predecessors who knows how to use the police by fully empowering it to deal with any protest sit-in, a senior police officer, who has also served under at least three other interior ministers including Chaudhry Nisar, told The Nation wishing anonymity.

The police officer said that much before the long march, the modus operandi of the police to deal with the protestors had been decided with a final go-ahead from the interior minister. We were told about our limits and final objective, the police officer said. This quick and absolute decision making was absent during the days of 2014 long march.

According to the police officer, over 60 cameras were installed around the Red Zone and Jinnah Avenue, the main entry of the Red Zone, within 24 hours on an emergency basis before the long march to record each and every movement of the protestors and the police. “We have complete recordings of the May 25 protest and can produce these before the court on demand,” the officer said.  “We dealt with the long march confidently due to the strong backing of the interior minister and we believe that our successful strategy forced the opposition party to wind up its protest abruptly.”