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Pakistan: More religious parties’ affiliates join in the open confrontation against government.

Saturday 25 November 2017, by siawi3


A timeline of the crisis that has gripped Islamabad for the past 18 days

Updated November 25, 2017

Daily life in the capital has been disrupted for 18 days by protesters belonging to religious parties, including the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST).

The protesters 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 agitators believe that the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath was deliberately modified as part of a larger conspiracy during the passage of the Elections Act, 2017. The amendment was deemed a ’clerical error’ by the government and has already been rectified through an Act of Parliament.

Nonetheless, the protesters had been insistent on the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for his alleged role in the controversy. There is no proof yet that indicates Hamid was responsible for the amendment. A committee headed by Raja Zafarul Haq has been probing the issue.

The Islamabad High Court, the Supreme Court and the heads of various religious parties had repeatedly called for the protesters to disband, calling the protest unlawful. The IHC had said the protest’s leaders had, prima facie, committed an ’act of terror’ by continuing their process.

The interior minister was warned of contempt of court by the IHC for not evicting the protesters.

The government initiated several rounds of negotiations with the protesters, but failed each time. The final deadline given to protesters by the government, 7am on Saturday (today), lapsed without any let-up in the sit-in.

On November 5, the capital administration had warned TLY and ST against taking any rally to Islamabad, saying a ban on public gatherings had already been imposed in the city.

The parties were also informed that Parade Ground had been reserved for such gatherings and holding a rally somewhere else in the capital would be unlawful. The organisers had not sought any permission for the rally or the sit-in.

On November 8, the protesters blocked the expressway that connects Islamabad with Rawalpindi. Since then, the metro service has also been halted. According to the Metro Bus Authority (MBA), more than 100,000 people used the service between the twin cities daily.

On November 9, Islamabad police registered a First Investigation Report (FIR) against TLY leader Khadim Rizvi in a case pertaining to the death of an infant. The infant’s family had not been able to reach the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) because of roadblocks put in place due to the joint rally of the TLY and ST. Police had registered an FIR against Rizvi and other participants of the protest under Section 322 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with qatl-bis-sabab (unintentional murder).

On November 10, Islamabad police lodged two more cases against Khadim Hussain Rizvi. Pir Aijaz Afzal and other leaders and participants of the Islamabad protest sit-in were nominated in the two FIRs.

A private TV channel had nominated the protesting leaders in a case pertaining to violence against its crew. According to the FIR, the media team was attacked, tortured, threatened and their vehicles were also smashed. The protesters had also snatched their cameras, the complaint stated. The second case was lodged on the complaint of Magistrate Ghulam Murtaza Chandio for the violation of Section 144 by the protesters, along with other charges. Both the cases were registered at the I9 Police Station.

On November 12, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal had said the government would use all possible means to persuade the religious groups holding a sit-in at Faizabad to shift to Parade Avenue or any other place.

“Otherwise we will have no option but to go for the administrative solution as the government cannot allow any group to restrict the fundamental rights of the citizens. However, the protesters want a dead body or ‘shaheed’ [martyr] to achieve their goal,†he had said while talking to Dawn.

On November 15, the protesting clerics had approached the judiciary and petitioned in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) for the “execution†of their demands. In its petition submitted in the IHC, TLY demanded: “It is humbly prayed that this Hon’ble Court while allowing the writ petition, direct the federal government, represented by the respondents to publish and publicize the inquiry report submitted by Raja Zafarul Haq, and the culprits so determined therein, may very kindly be proceed against under the relevant laws.â€

On November 16, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had directed TLY to call off its sit-in. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui issued the direction while hearing the petition filed by the religious group. Justice Siddiqui directed the protesting clerics to immediately vacate the interchange and show respect for the law while he heard the case.

On November 17, the government had issued “a last warning” to the protest’s organisers, asking them to vacate the venue. However, the government failed to launch an operation or to get the venue vacated. The government then ordered the district administration to take all necessary steps to clear the area latest by the next morning. All hospitals in the city were ordered to cancel doctors and paramedical staff’s leaves and ask them to be present on duty till further instructions.

One thousand personnel were requested from the Punjab Rangers “to perform duty along with police”. Nothing happened.

On November 18, religious scholar and Chairman of the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee Mufti Muneebur Rehman urged both the government and protesters to find a solution to the issue, “as a prolonged protest could turn into a major crisis for both sides.” However, the appeals of Rehman and several other leaders were not heeded.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal also expressed hope that the face-off between religious activists and security personnel at Faizabad Interchange would end within a day. It did not.

On November 20, the government 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 protesters and government ministers held at Punjab House was unable to make any breakthrough.

On November 21, the Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the sit-in.

On November 22, the Pakistan Army’s spokesperson addressed the issue and said the military would abide by the government’s decision on the matter.

In remarks released to the media, Inter-Services Public Relations chief Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said that while it would be preferable to address the situation through peaceful means, the military would abide by whatever decision the government took.

Saying that the civil and military leaderships were on the same page when it came to the country’s security, he said that the army was duty-bound to carry out the government’s instructions.

On November 23, the head of a committee tasked by the government to come up with an amicable solution to the lingering sit-in submitted his recommendations to the concerned authorities. However, a representative of the committee complained that the government was delaying its implementation.

Sources said that the committee had offered the government the same suggestions that had already been presented by the government to leaders of TLY. The government had offered to change the portfolio of the law minister, or send him on leave. However, both suggestions were turned down by the sit-in’s leaders.

According to sources, the committee had stated that the law minster should be considered innocent until proven guilty. All sides would accept the report of a Raja Zafarul Haq-led committee probing the matter and that further action would be taken once the report’s findings and recommendations are finalised, it suggested.

On November 24, the IHC issued a show-cause notice for contempt of court to Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal over his failure to take steps ordered by the court to end the sit-in. Islamabad’s district administration subsequently issued another “final warning” to protesters. Acting on its orders, and after sharp criticism from the Supreme Court, law enforcers deployed around the sit-in confiscated food meant for the participants of the sit-in. Lights around the venue had already been turned off before the crackdown.



Islamabad operation ’suspended’ as thousands of violent protesters take over streets | Imtiaz Ali | Shakeel Qarar | Fahad Chaudhry | Naveed Siddiqui | Tahir Naseer

Updated November 25, 2017

A crackdown against religious protesters camped out at Islamabad’s Faizabad Interchange was ’suspended’ on Saturday evening as thousands of protesters took over the streets in the capital.

The Islamabad police, with the help of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel and other law enforcement agencies, launched the operation against protesters earlier today after the last of a long series of deadlines lapsed this morning without response from the agitating parties.

Roughly 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear took part in the clearance operation, which was launched soon after the final deadline of 7am given to protesters expired. The protesters have been camped out at the Faizabad Interchange since Nov 8.

What we know so far:

8,500 security personnel are involved
Police had dispersed nearly 50pc of protesters before more entered the city
At least 150 protesters were arrested
Over 200 people were injured in Islamabad
Security personnel have uprooted tents, destroyed protesters’ belongings as they advance

The operation was suspended in the evening when roughly 1,000 protesters unexpectedly entered Islamabad through the Express Highway to join the agitators, according to a DawnNews reporter present on-site.

Due to the unfavourable wind direction, law enforcement personnel found themselves unable to shell the incoming protesters effectively and retreated, leaving the field wide open for a few thousand more to enter in through the Murree Road, Rawal Dam and Express Highway areas.

Shortly thereafter, the operation was suspended.
Over 200 injured in operation, 150 arrests made

According to initial reports, at least 150 protesters were arrested as the operation kicked off.

At least 206 injured people were transported to various hospitals in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Of this number, at least 175 injured were admitted to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims), according to administrator Dr Altaf Hussain. Those with minor injuries were discharged after receiving first aid.

At least 60 police officers, 45 FC men, and 50 civilians are among those injured

Station house officer (SHO) Banigala Zulfiqar and Abdul Hadi, a magistrate of Islamabad administration are among the injured.

An Islamabad police spokesman told AFP that an officer was killed in the clash with protesters after he was struck in the head by a rock. His death has not been independently verified by DawnNews.

These numbers are fluid and are expected to rise as more reports stream in.
Protests spread to other cities

The unrest in the capital has spilled over to Karachi, as protesters loyal to the same religious parties have begun agitating against the Faizabad operation at various spots in the city.

Protesters blocked roads and demonstrated at the Numaish traffic intersection in the city’s busy Saddar area in the morning.

However, the protests later spread to other parts of the city, including Teen Talwar, Boat Basin, NIPA, Shahrah-i-Faisal near Stargate and Nursery, Hub River Road and Hassan Square, where both tracks of the road have closed for traffic.

At least 12 people were reportedly injured in skirmishes with police at Stargate and Nursery, where police have begun tear gas shelling protesters. In response, the protesters stone-pelted police officials.

Reports have been received of enraged protesters burning tyres and forcibly closing businesses in various areas. Police is standing alert in Karachi, and important government buildings have been secured.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah took notice of the sit-ins in Karachi. He has directed the commissioner and inspector general of police to to clear the traffic in the city.

A large number of religious parties also took out rallies and staged demonstrations in Umerkot, Mithi, Sujawal and other towns of lower Sindh to register their protest against the ongoing operation against the protesters in Islamabad. They vowed to continue their peaceful protests.

Various religious organisations also staged a protest demonstration outside the Badin Press Club, demanding a halt in use of violence against protesters in the capital.

Meanwhile, demonstrators have also converged at Shahdara in Lahore.

There are reports of similar protests at Imamia Colony and other settlements along the GT Road. Roads from Lahore to Gujranwala and Faisalabad have also been closed.

News channels, social media ’blocked’

In the afternoon, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) prohibited all satellite TV channels from covering the operation at Faizabad live. The authority had advised media houses to ensure the safety and security of their field staff.

After the Pemra notification was issued, news channels went off air in various parts of the country.

Additionally, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram have been blocked in some parts of the country.

Read: News channels go off air after Pemra bans live coverage

How it happened

Law enforcement personnel this morning encircled the Faizabad Interchange area and used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse agitators. In response, the protesters used stones and rocks to attack the advancing security forces, as well as tear gas shells.

“We will clear the Faizabad area today in line with the court’s orders,†a senior police officer told APP, earlier today adding: “We will try our best to make sure there is no fatality.â€

However, Ejaz Ashrafi, a spokesman of Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY), the main agitating party, told Reuters that: “We are in the thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until the end.â€

A security official prepares to fire tear gas shell.— DawnNews

The protesters allegedly looted two police vehicles and two police vans and a Samaa DSNG were set on fire in the twin cities. The Metro bus station on Sixth Road has been damaged. Loudspeakers were also used to rally the protesters.

Trees have been cut down to block roads, and protesters are burning tyres, AFP reported.

As of 11am, nearly all protesters camped out on the I.J. Principal Road near the Faizabad Interchange were dispersed; however, sporadic shelling took place against protesters on Rawalpindi’s Murree Road.
Plainclothes policemen arrest an injured activist in Islamabad.— AFP

According to DawnNews, the protesters appeared to have prepared for the crackdown. Some had armed themselves with catapults and sticks. Some were wearing crude masks to prevent identification.

Thick smoke could be seen in the area soon after the crackdown was launched, mostly due to heavy tear gas shelling.
Security officials not wearing masks can be seen affected by the tear gas.— DawnNews

The tactic did not seem to be having the intended effect: initially, security forces themselves could be seen retreating after struggling with the fumes.

Within two hours of the operation starting, however, protesters at Faizabad retreated in the face of police action, and security forces had successfully dispersed nearly half of those gathered.

AFP reporters at the site said more protesters were arriving, though it was difficult to tell how many.

Authorities have been conducting aerial surveillance of the operation from helicopters. Islamabad’s Red Zone and Diplomatic Enclave were sealed off with containers to prevent protesters from entering the area.
Protesters belongings are set on fire by security forces.— DawnNews

The semi-finals of the National T20 Cup have been postponed because of the security situation in the twin cities, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said.

Two matches — Lahore Whites vs Faisalabad and Lahore Blues v Federally Administered Tribal Areas — were scheduled to be held today at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium.

Police close in on protest leaders

The Islamabad administration asked TLY leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi to surrender, but he has refused so far.

A live video streamed on Facebook by one of his supporters at 9am showed him leading the sloganeering from a raised platform, surrounded by men armed with sticks.

Police arrest a participant of the sit-in.— DawnNews

Activists of Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah throw rocks toward riot police.— AFP

A policeman uses a slingshot during clashes with protesters in Islamabad.— AFP

Protesters chant slogans on Saturday morning.— DawnNews

Recapping the crisis

The agitators believe that a sworn oath affirming a politician’s belief in the finality of prophethood (Khatm-i-Nabuwwat) was deliberately modified as part of a larger conspiracy during the passage of the Elections Act, 2017.

The amendment was deemed a ’clerical error’ by the government and has already been rectified through an Act of Parliament.

Nonetheless, the protesters had been insistent on the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for his alleged role in the controversy.

There is no proof yet that indicates Hamid was responsible for the amendment. A committee headed by Raja Zafarul Haq has been probing the issue.

The Islamabad High Court, the Supreme Court and the heads of various religious parties had repeatedly called for the protesters to disband, calling the protest unlawful.

The Islamabad High Court had said the protest’s leaders had, prima facie, committed an ’act of terror’ by continuing their process.

The interior minister was warned of contempt of court by the IHC for not evicting the protesters.

The government initiated several rounds of negotiations with the protesters, but failed each time.

The religious hardliners camped out at Faizabad had been unrelenting on their demand for the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid over his alleged role in the amendment of the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017, which is apparently what led to the breakdown in the negotiation process.

The Elections Act 2017 — which paved the way for Nawaz Sharif to return as PML-N president — had become a cause of controversy when it was revealed that an oath regarding the finality of prophethood had been modified to a ’declaration’ somewhere during the process of its passage. The government had claimed that the modification was the result of a clerical mistake.

The amendment in the oath which caused the controversy has already been reversed by parliament.

The Islamabad protesters belong to various religious parties, including the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek (ST).

Deployment of LEAs

Security deployment in the capital had been beefed up since October 24, when the Ashraf Jalali faction of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah descended on the city and staged a sit-in in the Blue Area, which had ended on Nov 3.

According to media reports, the number of personnel deployed around the sit-in varies as per the situation. On average, a shift consists of 3,000-7,000 personnel.

Police also impounded over 200 containers to control access to the city as part of security measures. Five cranes and 10 trailers were also hired to move the containers around, while 19 water tankers – 15 of which were meant to refill water cannons and four to supply drinking water to on-duty personnel, had also been requisitioned.

Another 40 vehicles, including buses and wagons, had been engaged to transport personnel from their accommodations to the duty spot around the Faizabad.

Over the more than two-week-long sit-in, several cases had been filed against the protesters and the organisers of the sit-in. One of these included a murder case.

The protesters were also accused of beating up two photojournalists and several others during their sit-in.

Police had arrested around 150 participants over the course of the protests. The arrests had been made during clashes between law enforcement agencies and protesters, which broke out sporadically over the 17-day showdown between the state and religious hardliners.

With additional reporting by Hanif Samoon in Badin and Iftikhar Sherazi in Islamabad.

This is a developing story that is being updated as the situation evolves. Initial reports in the media can sometimes be inaccurate. We will strive to ensure timeliness and accuracy by relying on credible sources such as concerned, qualified authorities and our staff reporters.