- Interior Ministry decides to uproot campsite Saturday morning after midnight deadline by Islamabad admin expires
- Pir Nizammuddin Jami’s last-ditch effort for extension in deadline turned down by senior government official
- Teargas shells, water cannons to be used on protesters as use of arms has been prohibited; Rangers and FC made part of operation team
- SC questions state’s writ, orders govt to take notice of filthy language being used by protest leaders
ISLAMABAD: After repeated attempts for talks with the protesting Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah leadership over the past 19 days drew a blank, the Interior Ministry late Friday night decided to uproot the campsite of the religious activists, who have brought the twin cities to a halt by blockading Faizabad Interchange, on Saturday morning.
The ministry’s decision came after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued a show-cause notice for contempt of court to Federal Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal over his failure to take steps ordered by the court to end the protest.
Late night reports said Pir Nizammuddin Jami, who was mediating between the government and protesters, in his last-ditch effort contacted a senior government official for extension in the deadline, but it was turned down in view of the belligerence of the protesters.
Per directives of the Interior Ministry to the local administration and police, the protest site will be vacated by firing teargas shells and using water cannons from all sides. All the contingents will conduct the operation without arms and the paramilitary Rangers and Frontier Constabulary have also been made part of the operation.
According to sources, the roads and streets leading to Faizabad Interchange have been closed by the administration. Emergency has been imposed in the hospitals within the capital, while special teams have been formed to arrest the leaders of the protestors.
Also, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal ordered the Islamabad chief commissioner to investigate the disconnecting of surveillance cameras monitoring the sit-in. The CCTV cameras were all disconnected in the evening mysteriously.
Earlier in the evening, Islamabad’s district administration issued a final warning to protesters to disperse by midnight, threatening to take action if the order was not heeded.
In a new notification, issued by the Islamabad district magistrate, the religious hardliners demanding the resignation of Federal Minister for Law Zahid Hamid have been ordered to disperse by midnight.
In the notification, the district magistrate noted that for two weeks the protesters have illegally occupied the Faizabad Bridge, which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The notification recalls that the participants have been asked to disperse thrice before but to no avail.
“The Parade Ground located near the Faizabad Interchange has been allocated for protests,” the notification states.
If the participants do not vacate the area by midnight, an operation will be launched against them, the district magistrate warned.
“If an operation is launched, the onus will be on the participants and leaders of the protest,” the notification further warned.
IHC QUESTIONS GOVT’S INACTION:
Earlier in the day, the IHC enquired under which authority the interior minister did not take action against the protesters despite clear orders issued by the court.
The court issued the notice while hearing two applications filed by residents about the disturbances caused by the protracted sit-in.
The interior secretary had represented the Interior Ministry before the court on Friday. The IHC judge instead ordered the interior minister to appear in person on Nov 27.
When the district attorney general requested Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui to withdraw the show-cause notice, the judge responded: “Are you a servant of the [interior] minister or the federation?”
During the hearing, the judge remarked that the impression should end that agencies are backing the sit-in at Faizabad.
He said the court was not suggesting that the authorities should spray bullets on the protesters; instead, the participants of the sit-in could be dispersed using other options, such as tear gas.
The judge also ordered the government to submit the report of a committee led by Senator Raja Zafarul Haq on the amendment made in election laws by Nov 27, instead of the previously given date of November 29.
Justice Siddiqui further directed that if a person has been named in the committee’s report as being responsible for the change in the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat declaration, their name should be put on the Exit Control List.
Justice Siddiqui also ordered the director general of the Intelligence Bureau and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) sector commander to appear in person before the court on Nov 27.
The high court had given a deadline of Nov 23 to the government to end the sit-in; however, the protest has continued, entering its 18th day on Friday.
Declaring that the state would never surrender to the organisers of the Faizabad sit-in, Iqbal on Thursday had said that the basic objective behind this long-drawn episode was to gain voters’ confidence ahead of the next elections.
He had said that the government had two options: to disperse the protesters by using force or to address the issue through dialogue, which is still continuing on different levels.
‘BULLETS NOT NECESSARY’
Justice Siddiqui’s remark that the Faizabad protesters can be dispersed without the use of bullets is reflected in an order passed by the Supreme Court a day earlier.
“Whilst avoiding the loss of life is indeed commendable, but it does not follow that protesters can only be removed by firing upon them,” the apex court observed in a copy of its six-page order on the matter.
The order suggested that “baton-wielding or even unarmed law enforcement personnel, if they are sufficient in numbers, can undertake such an exercise.”
The apex court noted in the order that the protesters appear to be “well-rested, well-fed, bathed and clothed in clean clothes.” It also observed that the participants have access to broadcast paraphernalia.
“It, therefore, appears that they are going about freely under the noses of the police and the other law enforcement agencies,” the order stated.
In its order, the apex court directed the government to take measures against the use of “filthy-abusive language” by the protesters. The government was asked to report the matter to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).
Furthermore, the court, which expressed its displeasure over reports on the protest shared by the capital police, Inter-Services Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau, asked the institutions to file additional reports on the matter.
The SC bench also expressed grief over the death of a child.
The order stated that the Islamabad advocate general had informed the court that an eight-year-old child died as he could not be taken to hospital for medical treatment on time owing to blockage of roads due to the sit-in. He added that 18 FIRs have been registered and 159 protesters arrested so far.
Justice Qazi Faez Isa asked the advocate general where the writ of the state was.
“Has the protest area been cordoned off well? He said people from sit-in site can come out, but can they be allowed to enter. If the area is seriously cordoned off, how can they join the protesters?” he said.
The judge asked the advocate general from where electricity is supplied to the site. “Why is it not disconnected and how are the leaders of Tehreek Labbaak Ya Rasool Allah allowed to use loudspeaker or megaphone and from where is food supplied to them and who is bearing their expenses?” the court questioned.
Justice Faez said whether the agencies have tried to find out the source of livelihood of the Tehreek Labbaak Ya Rasool Allah leaders as to what business or job they are doing. He asked Col Falak of the ISI to submit a comprehensive report in this connection.
Justice Faez further asked whether someone is behind them or not, what their motives are, who the beneficiaries of the protest are and what details the authorities have about their bank accounts.
Justice Mushir Alam directed the authorities to take some positive actions. Justice Qazi said they needed a report not based on media accounts.
The court noted that sensitive offices like GHQ are close to the sit-in site. Justice Faez asked who will be responsible if the worst scenario takes place.
He said: “Although the protesters are using derogatory language against the apex court, we would like to win them over through a divine message. Almighty Allah guides them and me as He says: We greet them and give them a message of peace. However, I am grieved over the soul of the eight-year-old child. Our hearts are beating for the citizens of Pakistan.” Justice Faez asked the authorities to become true servants of people. “I am pointing finger at myself as well,” he added.
Justice Faez said, “Fitna Fasaad fil Arz is the biggest crime as it disturbs the social order and life. He questioned why the protesters messages are not being blocked. The attorney general said the PTA is doing it. Justice Qazi said the language being used by the leaders of the sit-in is not reflective of Islam.
Furthermore, the court, which expressed its displeasure yesterday over reports on the protest shared by the capital police, Inter-Services Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau, asked the institutions to file additional reports on the matter.
Daily life in the capital has been disrupted by protesters belonging to religious parties — including the Tehreek-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek (ST) — who are calling for the sacking of Law Minister Zahid Hamid and stern action against those behind the amendment to the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017.
The amendment had earlier been deemed a ‘clerical error’ and has already been rectified.
The protesters have occupied the Faizabad Bridge which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad through the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road, both of which are the busiest roads in the twin cities.
The government on Monday had scrambled to secure the support of religious leaders and ulema from across the political spectrum in a bid to negotiate a peaceful end to the sit-in.
However, a meeting between representatives of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah and government ministers held at Punjab House was unable to make any breakthrough, as the protesters