–SAPM says Azadi March protesters should not endanger security of expatriates and residents living in Islamabad
ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Thursday reminded the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) protesters that Islamabad, besides being the seat of the government, was also home to a large community of expatriates and residents whose security was the responsibility of the state.
Holding a list of 7,000 names of people who she claimed “connect Pakistan to the world”, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Communication Firdous Ashiq Awan said that after the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing, the United Nations had declared Islamabad to be a ‘non-family station’.
“From 2008, after a continuous struggle, the incumbent government was finally able to reverse that decision thanks to the Prime Minister’s international image building efforts,” she noted, sitting next to Interior Minister Brigadier (r) Ijaz Shah.
“We are very familiar with political muscle flexing, protest — we ourselves are political players. We have no worries about answering political challenges. But when there is unrest in the capital […] the Pakistani diaspora — which is fighting for Pakistan — is hindered in doing its job,” she said.
“I am therefore hopeful that Mullah Fazlur Rehman’s […] political adventure — his peaceful protest, to which his full right is acknowledged by the government and given him space — will proceed [as agreed] and the commitments they [the JUI-F] have made will be upheld and they will not endanger the stability of the country.
“Their political grievances — which have no weight, which are baseless, emotional and are detached from reality — [should not make them forget that] they have a relationship with Pakistan which they should not try to weaken. [They should not] do anything that endangers national security or our national standing in the world,” she warned.
Interior Minister Ijaz Shah then took the mic to detail the preparations done by the government to facilitate the protesters.
“Maulana sahab first decided that we will agitate against the government two months ago, in the [opposition’s] first ‘All Party Conference’. If I remember correctly, this happened on July 19, 2019. There were two more APCs after that. They [JUI-F] weren’t sure when and if they would march or not. They weren’t sure of what they would march for, or what their demands would be — this is all on the record.”
“However, on October 3, it was decided by Maulana sahab that [he would march on Islamabad]. They had only one demand at the time, but they kept increasing over the days. You must remember what those demands were.
“The decision had been taken by Maulana sahab and apparently only he knew about what he would do — even his allied parties had no idea about what he wanted. This is what you all [the media] reported and we heard it from you,” Shah said.
“When all of this was happening, political statements from both sides […] raised the political temperature. Nonetheless, for the first time the prime minister of Pakistan took the decision […] that he would allow the march to proceed. He said ‘I am a politician, I have marched myself, I will not stop Maulana sahab’. This is the first time in history a prime minister took this position,” Shah said.
“The prime minister also said that [whoever follows] the courts’ decisions in this regard — the Supreme Court decision penned by Justice Qazi Faez Isa and the decision of the Islamabad High Court — is most welcome to Islamabad.”
“Those people or segments of society which wanted unrest in Pakistan were caught off-guard by [the prime minister’s] decision. These groups included those who wanted to settle scores and fire shots from the Maulana’s shoulders.”
“Then, again for the first time in Pakistan’s political history, the government created a committee under [Defence Minister] Pervaiz Khattak to go ask the opposition what they wanted.
“Around the time the Maulana’s march was being ‘converted’ to an opposition march, they [opposition politicians] created their Rehbar Committee. After that committee was formed, these people were approached by the PTI’s core team multiple times. The Rehbar Committee told them on the third attempt at contact that yes, they would meet the government functionaries.
“After that, there were two meetings in a single day. It was reported that the negotiations had failed. After a day, there was another round of talks, in which both committees sat in one place to discuss. We had meanwhile kept apprising the opposition of all threats, some of which were also reported in the media. They insisted they wanted to march on D-Chowk. Nothing else was discussed. They were told that the judiciary had forbidden a sit-in at D-Chowk and they should go to Parade Ground. They said they would not go there — it is clear why, and I will not say so myself. They later told us that they wanted Peshawar More instead. They were eventually granted that wish and their local leadership was shown the venue and they agreed to it.
“There was a breakthrough as both sides accepted that this was where the protest would be held. They reached an understanding which was based on five points, which have been widely reported. After this, a code of conduct was signed by the parties, which is comprised of 37 points.”
“I will now proceed to brief you from three aspects regarding the government’s response to the ‘Azadi March’.
“The first was that wherever the march would start from, we [the government] would not stop them and facilitate them. The prime minister has been personally monitoring the situation from multiple sources. Whatever illegalities have been committed by the marchers in these past four days is not something I want to dwell on — ask me off the record. In these four days, 20-25,000 have moved from Karachi to Gujar Khan and the government has facilitated them along the way. We have given them water, electricity at their stops and traffic plans to reach here without any untoward incidents.
“Now that they are nearly here, I can also tell you what the agreed plan is so that you can monitor it yourself. The marchers who have arrived from Karachi will enter from Rawat, Islamabad Superway and proceed to Faizabad [Interchange]; from there to I-9. When they reach the 9th Avenue, they will descend to the left side before the Kashmir Highway and reach their venue. The Maulana’s container has been given a separate route so that he can arrive comfortably and go directly to the stage.
“The marchers arriving from other places will be congregated at around 4pm and will be at the Maulana’s beck and call to proceed to the ground. We will give them the necessary security at every stage
“The second aspect is the preparation of the site. Please go and see it for yourself. All shrubs have been removed and the area cleaned. Water, electricity and sanitary lines have been installed. There have been places marked for their hotels. We are going all out in our efforts to make them comfortable […] They will feel as comfortable as they would staying at the Pearl Continental.
“Thirdly, when all of these brothers and gentlemen have reached there — and I hope all of them reach there safely — all of the government’s actions will be not to disturb the marchers — and I say this under oath — but for the safety and security of the masses and the safety and security of the marchers and, most of all, the safety and security of Maulana sahab.”