- Govt, Tehreek-e-Labaik agree to form committee to end impasse
- Ahsan Iqbal extends deadline till Nov 23
- Some of the senior party leaders oppose use of force
ISLAMABAD: As the sit-in of the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) at Faizabad Interchange entered 16th day on Monday, talks between the government and protest leaders over the demand for resignation of Federal Minister for Law Zahid Hamid ended up in a stalemate, with Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal seeking extension in the deadline from the Islamabad High Court for evicting the protesters.
Daily life in the capital has been paralysed for over two weeks now due to the protest of an alliance of religious parties, including the Tehreek-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST), calling for the sacking of Law Minister Zahid Hamid and strict action against those behind the amendment to the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat clause ─ which had earlier been deemed a “clerical error” and subsequently rectified.
The protesters have been occupying the Faizabad Interchange which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad through the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road – the busiest roads in the twin cities.
In a bid to resolve the issue, government representatives held two separate meetings on Monday: one with the TLYR representatives and the second with the religious scholars, but there was no positive outcome.
Federal Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Railway Khawaja Saad Rafique, Senator Raja Zafarul Haq and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah took part from the government side in the first meeting with TLYR held at the Punjab House.
Sources said that the Labaik was sticking to its demand for the resignation of Federal Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid in the meeting, adding that they also turned down the government proposal to send the law minister on leave or reshuffle his portfolio. Talking to media after the meeting, Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique said that there was no justification in seeking the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid.
In the evening, the ministers of the interior and religious affairs ministries held a separate meeting with religious leaders of the country, seeking their intervention with the issue.
The meeting in a joint declaration agreed to form a committee led by Pir Hussainuddin to find out a solution to the issue. Furthermore, the declaration asked the government to make the report of Senator Raja Zafarul Haq public, and unmask those involved in making an amendement to the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause.
“We [government] agree that this issue should be resolved as soon as possible in a peaceful manner,” Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told reporters following the meeting, adding that “Pakistan cannot be affected by any kind of bloodletting”.
He said that the government desired to end this issue peacefully in a matter of hours, instead of days, for the sake of the country.
Federal Minister of Religious Affairs Sardar Mohammad Yousaf said a committee would be formed under Pir Hussainuddin to suggest a comprehensive solution to the problem. He further said that the individual responsible for the mistake would be identified.
IHC SUMMONS INTERIOR MINISTER, SECRETARY:
Earlier in the day, following the appearance before the Islamabad High Court, Ahsan Iqbal told the reporters that the deadline for ending the sit-in was extended till November 23. The minister had been summoned along with the interior secretary over non-compliance of the court’s orders of evicting the protestors by November 19.
The interior minister said the government had sought an extension from the court in order to avoid bloodshed and reach a solution in an amicable manner.
“We will implement the court’s order,” Iqbal asserted, referring to the IHC order of evicting the protesters by using “any means necessary”, with the help of the Frontier Constabulary and Rangers, if needed. He further said the government was committed to implementing the court order, but the sit-in reportedly harboured elements who wanted to motivate people to bloodshed.
Commenting on government’s efforts to avert bloodshed, the interior minister said, “The conspirators want to see another incident like the Lal Masjid operation and Model Town tragedy” but, the government did not want to resort to violence to remove the protesters due to sensitivity of the issue.
“We request protestors to end their sit-in as they have got registered their protest. Parliament has already made the finality of Prophethood law foolproof and strong,” he said.
The deputy commissioner had earlier told the court that the number of protesters was around 2,000, and they were in possession of some 10-12 weapons. “The Islamabad administration did not conduct an operation against the protesters on my orders because I do not wish for any unrest. I asked for an extension in the deadline so that we can find a solution,” he added.
“We are in talks with religious leaders and I believe we will convince them to end their sit-in,” he said. “I am sure that in 24 hours or so, we will find a solution; there will be a breakthrough,” he added.
The IHC had observed that there was a designated area for people to register their protests in the capital ─ the Democracy and Speech Corner.
The IHC had in a hearing last week said that any citizen who wishes to exercise their right to freedom of speech must not inconvenience other citizens. “They [the court] have given a judgement on this, and we have decided that in the future, no one will be allowed to hold a sit-in. The administration will be given strict orders not to allow a situation like this to develop in the future,” he added.
Earlier in the day, the court issued show-cause notices to the Inspector General of Police, Islamabad’s chief commissioner and secretary Ministry of Interior over non-compliance of its order.
Expressing his reservations, Justice Shaukat Siddiqui said that the government did not implement his order despite his clear-cut verdict to the administration to end the sit-in protest. “I will issue a ‘contempt of court’ order,” the judge said, questioning why the court’s earlier order to the administration to evict protesters from the Interchange by Saturday had not been acted upon.
The dragging on of the protest “is the result of the administration’s complicity and incompetence”, Justice Siddiqui said. The deputy attorney general asked for a closed hearing as “some things cannot be said in an open court”. The judge, however, rejected the request, asking the lawyer to say whatever must be said openly and “take the nation into confidence”. The deputy attorney general told the court that talks between officials and the protesters were continuing.
PML-N DIVIDED OVER USE OF FORCE:
Some of the senior leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are opposed to use of force by the government on protesters, a report by a local media outfit said. According to the outlet, PML-N leaders, including Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law Captain (r) Safdar, Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yousaf, PML-N Chairman and Leader of the House in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq and Religious Affairs Minister of State Pir Aminul Hasnat, have warned the government against the use of force, saying that it may aggravate the situation.
There are reports suggesting that the PML-N chief, Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and other leaders of the PML-N Punjab are in favour of a decisive action if protesters did not back down from their demands — Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation and publication of the inquiry report into the changes in Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause.
CASE REGISTERED AGAINST KHADIM HUSSAIN RIZVI
Islamabad police lodged another case against TLYR leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi and three other persons. According to details, a case was registered with the Khana Police Station over the charge of assaulting a policeman, as protesters had badly tortured a policeman. Rizvi had already been booked for the death of a child, who passed away after the ambulance taking him to a hospital had been blocked by the protesters.
A NUISANCE FOR CITIZENS:
The religious parties have been protesting against the change in the finality of Prophethood oath in the law when the government passed the Elections Act 2017 last month. The change, dubbed a clerical error by the government, was immediately fixed as an amendment was passed later.
In a bid to bring the protest to a peaceful end, Ahsan Iqbal has called an emergency meeting of religious scholars belonging to all schools of thought over the ongoing protest. Interior Minister Iqbal, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Raja Zafarul Haq and State Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Aminul Hasnaat had previously met a number of protest leaders in view of reaching a breakthrough to end the sit-in.
The interior minister in his press conference on Sunday reiterated the government’s desire to end the deadlock through dialogue rather than by means of force, urging the protesters to end their sit-in, as the sacred issue is being abused for political purposes.
Addressing the media alongside State Minister for Religious Affairs, Iqbal had said, “People want to make this issue a political launchpad. But paving way for violence through such protest is unacceptable.”
Responding to protesters’ demand of removing Law Minister Zahid Hamid, the interior minister had reiterated that he would not be removed from the office.
“How can we remove the law minister? If we start doing this, every other day, people will make similar demands,” he had said, adding that so far, the government has dealt with the matter rather patiently.
Additional input from New Desk
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