Even though law enforcement agencies were ordered to prepare themselves for an impending operation against supporters of Tahirul Qadri, President Asif Ali Zardari intervened late on Wednesday to avoid the use of force until further notice.
According to sources, the police had been asked to get ready for a “targeted operation” against the Minhajul Quran International (MQI) chief with more than a thousand policemen equipped with batons and guns waiting for a final go-ahead.
“Picking you up from within thousands of people would not be a problem for me, I promise,” said the interior minister on Wednesday while talking to the reporters, adding that the MQI chief and his supporters had till Thursday to disperse.
“I will not launch a Lal Masjid-like operation but I know how to do it effectively,” Malik added.
However, Malik’s “veiled threats” invited strong opposition from different political parties’ leaders including MQM’s Altaf Hussain and PML-Q’s Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.
“Any operation against the sit-in participants would not be tolerated. It would make things worse,” said Shujaat, while the MQM chief also asked the government to abstain from taking any such step.
The strong reaction from coalition partners prompted President Asif Ali Zardari to rule out any operation against the men and women participating in the sit-in. “No force would be used against the people of the sit-in at any time,” Zardari was quoted as saying.
Another source said the president insisted that Chaudhry Shujaat and MQM leaders seek an amicable solution to resolve the issue.
Furthermore, the interior minister also said he would disclose video evidence and documents on Thursday to prove that the MQI chief’s long march and the subsequent sit-in was being funded by foreign powers.
“I have instructed the police to register FIR against Qadri if a child or anyone dies of cold or any other happening here at the venue of the sit-in,” said Malik.
He said the decision to book Qadri for “revolting against the state” would be taken after consultation with all political allies and stakeholders. The interior minister added that Qadri had violated the agreement signed with the city administration and his followers not only carried weapons, but also used them against the police.
Meanwhile, President Asif Ali Zadari has said that no one could derail the elected government, adding that the government would not accept any unconstitutional demands of any party, group or individual.
The president made the comments while talking to PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and ANP Leader Asfandyar Wali on the phone.
President Zardari reiterated that the election would be held on time, according to PPP sources.
“No decision has been made so far, but there is an option to consider Nawaz Sharif’s suggestion to announce the date of election,” a source said, adding that a consultation process has been started with different political parties.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2013.