Commuters happy, Pakistan uneasy after deal with extremists


ISLAMABAD: Commuters were jubilant on Tuesday as the main highway into Islamabad reopened three weeks after Faizabad sit-in blocked it, as uneasy soul-searching grew among many locals over the government’s capitulation to the protest demands.

The Islamabad Highway, used daily by thousands travelling from Rawalpindi into the capital, was back to normal on Tuesday, with traffic flowing, shops open, and sanitation workers cleaning up the mess left behind by the protesters.

The previously little-known hardline group Tehreek-e-Labbaik had virtually paralysed Islamabad. Drivers were forced to go hours out of their way on overcrowded, potholed sideroads unsuited for heavy traffic.

“Everything clear and moving. Its (sic) good to be back in route,” commuter Nauman Naseer posted on a Facebook traffic updates group.

But the joy on the roads was dampened for many citizens by the fear that a dangerous precedent has been set.

Tehreek-e-Labbaik had demanded the resignation of law minister Zahid Hamid over a “clerical mistake”. The demonstrators had linked the change in Constitution to blasphemy, a hugely sensitive charge in the country.

The law minister resigned on Monday, with protest leaders saying the government would meet all their demands in a deal the army helped broker.

The Islamabad High Court on Monday demanded a full accounting of the agreement and the part played by the military. Many of the protesters chanted “Long live the Pakistan Army!” as they dispersed, AFP reporters saw.

A viral video showing DG Rangers Punjab officer handing out envelopes of cash to protesters inspired wide media coverage and scathing comments on Facebook and Twitter against the deal and the military’s role in it.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi returned to the country Tuesday, the country’s information minister said, after flying to Saudia Arabia Monday for a long-planned trip as the deal was announced.