IHC tells capital admin to clear Faizabad sit-in by any means necessary, as Islamist protesters threaten interior minister of ‘Salmaan Taseer-like’ fate
Orders police to seek support from Rangers, FC for clearance operation
Religious activists refuse to abandon protest until SC takes notice of issue
ISLAMABAD: Following the final warning by Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration, a massive number of devotees have gathered at Faizabad interchange that seemingly put the government’s plan of crackdown into question, as they now started hurling threats to Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal not to opt use of force or else he could face fate similar to that of late Salmaan Taseer.
Whereas the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday ordered the administration to take all necessary steps to clear the blocked interchange by 10pm (Saturday), as religious zealots refused to abandon their sit-in until the Supreme Court takes notice of the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath issue.
Last warning issued to the protesters to end sit-in at #Faizabad. Protesters must end the sit-in by 10:00 pm otherwise strict action will be taken.Protesters will be responsible for the consequences: Order pic.twitter.com/X8KcRzc2wf
— Govt of Pakistan (@pid_gov) November 17, 2017
Different groups of devotees wielded batons, iron rods and masks, and police personnel, with limited number and resources, seemed helpless to take action against the charged and furious protestors.
The situation is so serious that a minor incident could lead to a Model Town-like incident, because the protestors are adamant and not ready to budge an inch from their key demands come what may.
Throughout the day, three Pakistan Army helicopters were hovering over the area where Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) have staged their sit-in.
Around 20,000 devotees of Golra Sharif, Bari Imam, Eid Gah Sharif, Mora Sharif and other famous shrines—armed with batons and iron rods— joined Tehreek-e-Labbaik rally after Friday prayers. Their objective is the same as ever: to de-seat Law Minister Zahid Hamid and punish others who were involved in the recent change in the elections bill.
Their large numbers have landed the capital’s administration in trouble as they seemed perplexed as to how to conduct an operation against them. However, there are only around 4,000 law enforcers—including Rangers, Frontier Constabulary (FC) and police—deputed to tackle the situation.
Following the IHC’s strict order to remove the protest at all costs, different renowned shrines and their leaders joined the TLYR rally together with their thousands of followers, putting the government’s plan of a crackdown in a quandary.
Tanveer Ahmed, a protester who came from Changa Manga, told Pakistan Today that he joined the rally since the very first day on the directions of cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi. “We’re not here to request a vote or for any other political objectives, but to take an action against those involved in the ‘blasphemous act’.”
Daily life in the capital over the past 13 days has been badly disrupted due to the protest. The rally participants belong to various ‘religious’ parties, including the Tehreek Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) and Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST), and are calling for the sacking of Zahid Hamid, as well as an action against those behind the amendment to the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017.
The religious activists had occupied the Faizabad Bridge which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad through the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road, both of which are the busiest thoroughfares in the twin cities.
On Friday, Justice Siddiqui ordered Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Captain (retd) Mushtaq Ahmed and the deputy inspector general of police (operations) to ensure the dispersal of protesters at all costs. The court also allowed the district administration to exercise their authority to request the deployment of the Punjab Rangers or the FC, if needed.
The judge observed that Islam does not permit any harm coming to women, children or the elderly, even in times of war.
“As the protesters’ demands had already been accepted by the parliament and executives, they had no more reason to continue protesting,” he added.
“For the last 10 days, the Islamabad administration has been playing the role of a spectator of a cricket match,” said the court order.
It also added that “the capital administration has failed” to clear roads in Islamabad.
The DC told the court that the number of protesters—currently around 1,800-2,000—may increase after Friday prayers.
The protesters had gathered rocks to defend themselves, he said, adding that they also possessed 10 to 12 weapons.
He noted that at least three to four hours would be necessary to clear the area, and that it would get dark quickly after Friday prayers. He said conducting an operation in the dark may not be wise.
Justice Siddiqui lamented that the district administration had been unsuccessful in exercising its authority to end the protest. He pointed out that there was already a designated area for people to register their protests in the capital—the Democracy and Speech Corner.
Any citizen who wishes to exercise their right to freedom of speech must not inconvenience other citizens, the court said.
‘DON’T TEST PATIENCE’
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal asked the protesters to end their sit-in or the government would be compelled to implement the court’s orders.
The minister, while addressing a press conference at PIT in the evening, said the protesters should peacefully end the blockade of Faizabad Interchange as their demands had already been met.
Ahsan Iqbal said that the protesters should not be part of any conspiracy against prosperity and development of the country, remarking that “what message are we sending to the Chinese delegates scheduled to visit Islamabad for the 7th JCC meeting of CPEC on November 21”.
He said ending the protest was essential in view of the fast approaching Rabi-ul-Awwal as conspirators might use religious gatherings for propaganda against the government. He said the authorities did not want a law and order situation to develop, adding that the blockade of any commuting point was against the basic teachings of Islam. “I value your sentiments but you have registered your protest and should now peacefully disperse. If you want talks, you should do so but don’t test patience of the residents of twin cities and end the sit-in before a clash becomes inevitable,” he added.
Speaking about the sit-in, Minister of State for Interior Talal Chaudhry said the government would not accept any illegal demand of protestors.
Talking to a private news channel, the state minister said that according to reports, some anti-state elements were present in the sit-in who wanted to create unrest in the country.
Referring to the protesters, the minister said it was a group of religious extremists who had tasted defeat in the by-elections and were now playing with religious sentiments of the masses.
Talal also apologised to the people who were facing lots of difficulties for the past two weeks due to the sit-in. He also wondered how the protesters could use abusive and derogatory language and claim to be the followers of Islam at the same time.
Meanwhile, the DIG Operations, senior superintendent police and other officers attended a meeting of high-level administration officials chaired by DC Mushtaq Ahmed, where Additional Inspector General Special Branch Captain (retd) Muhammad Ilyas gave a briefing.
The officials decided that a final warning must be issued to the protesters to vacate the interchange before a clearance operation takes place, officials said.
Later, the district administration said a written warning has been issued following the court orders to call-off unlawful assembly until 10pm on Friday to end their sit-in. If they do not do so, only then will an operation take place.
Earlier, the DC said an operation will take place in the morning, as it cannot take place at night.
The police, FC and Rangers will be deployed to assist in the operation, he added.
Emergency imposed in all the city hospitals and ICT administration directed the residents of adjacent areas to avoid any unnecessary movements and close their tuck shops and edible stalls. Moreover, main entry points have also been blocked by the authorities.
Water vans have also been mobilised in the industrial police station. On the directions of high-ups, the lockup of CIA station and 22 other police stations have been vacated in order to facilitate the possible detention of protesters.
Lastly, police officials requesting anonymity confirmed to Pakistan Today that an operation would not be conducted tonight.
The protesting clerics had moved the IHC for “execution” of their demands after the federal government and the residents of twin cities gave them a cold shoulder. Their earlier demands, most of which have been taken back now, included the removal of Zahid Hamid and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, blasphemy accused Asiya Bibi’s execution, dismissal of cases against religious leaders, and the removal of various extremist clerics’ names from the Fourth Schedule.
On Thursday, IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui had heard the petition submitted by TLYR; subsequently, asked for a report compiled by a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz committee probing the controversial amendment to the oath to be made public, so that “the culprits so determined therein, may very kindly be proceeded against under the relevant laws.”
Earlier this week, Justice Siddiqui, while hearing a petition submitted by Tehreek Khatm-e-Nabuwwat supporter Allah Wasaya against the same issue, had ordered the repeal of all amendments in sections pertaining to the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017.