ISLAMABAD: Despite the Islamabad High Court (IHC) order and the ‘final warning’ of authorities to call off their protests, hundreds of protesters belonging to the newly formed religious party, Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, have refused to end their sit-in in Islamabad amid fear of a crackdown.
The IHC on Friday ordered the capital administration to clear the Faizabad Interchange – where the protesters are staging a sit-in for the last 10 days – by 10 am on Saturday [today] and take ‘all necessary steps’ required.
The IHC judge Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui noted that district magistrate has the authority under the law to seek assistance of Frontier Corps and Rangers to enforce the writ of the state, if circumstances so demand. “This task must be completed by tomorrow,” he ordered.
However, despite the high court’s order which was passed in the afternoon and the Islamabad administration’s subsequent warning to clear the area by 10pm Friday night, the protest leaders did not budge from their demand of holding accountable the people who made controversial change in the oath avowing finality of the prophethood of Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh).
The authorities have warned that the protest leaders would be responsible in case of use of force; however, the sit-in oraganisers claim the PML-N leaders would be responsible for any loss if police force is used against them.
“If there are casualties, government will be responsible for it, and we will lodge FIR against Nawaz Sharif, Ahsan Iqbal and PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi,” said Ijaz Ashrafi, spokesperson of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a Lahore-based cleric who leads the protest.
“We will not back off from our demand that the government identify whoever was responsible for the amendment in the Khatm-e-Nabuwat clause,” he told The Express Tribune.
On Friday night, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal also addressed a press conference in which he repeatedly appealed to the protesters to call off their sit-in.
He said the controversial clause had already been immediately restored in its original shape, adding that the government had further strengthened the law about Khatm-e-Nabuwat by restoring Musharraf-era 7b and 7c clauses in the elections act.
“We all are Muslims. Belief in finality of prophethood is part of our faith and belief. The issue has been settled in the Constitution once and for all. There is no conspiracy and no threat to this law,” said the minister, and requested the organisers to end their protest.
Iqbal stressed that a person’s faith or religion was a matter between him and his God and it was for no one else to decide. “Nobody has the stamp to award certificates in this regard to others. We are as much Muslims as you are,” he told the protest leaders.
The minister said the Faizabad blockade was presenting a poor image of the country to the world, saying a high-level Chinese delegation was due to visit Islamabad from Monday for 7th JCC meeting of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
He also appealed to religious leaders to play their positive role, adding that religious tensions were not in the interest of the country, as we have suffered enough due to this in the past.
“I hope that the issue is resolved through talks and we are not forced to use force against the protesters,” he said. To a question, the interior minister said there were reports that some protesters had weapons and wanted bloodshed to create another Model Town-like incident.
Meanwhile, Islamabad administration announced red alert in the capital’s government hospital and cancelled leaves of all doctors and paramedic staff to tackle any crisis-like situation.
There were reports that a citizen succumbed to her injuries as she could not reach hospital on time due to the sit-in that has paralysed life in the twin cities.
Debate in Senate
Senate Committee on Interior also discussed the blockade of the twin cities by protesters and expressed concern over the situation. The committee’s chairman Rehman Malik said no one should be allowed in future to hold protests in the roads of the federal capital.
“The people staging protests or sit-ins should be confined to some defined area as paralysing life of the capital is like paralysing the entire country,” Malik said, adding that protests should be held in the area identified by the IHC.
He said people could have been spared of these difficulties if the Islamabad administration had taken some drastic arrangements on time. “Islamabad administration had been aware of the dharna plan and should have taken some measures before the sit-in.”
However, he urged that dialogue rather than force be used to end the sit-in.
Minister for State Talal Chuadhry said the Punjab government had held talks with the protesters before their departure from Lahore and the party had promised not to enter Islamabad. “However, the protesters broke their promise and started blocking roads on reaching Islamabad,’ he said.
He said the government has formed two committees to hold negotiations with the protesters but they are not budging on their demands.
The Islamabad Commission said there were estimated to be around three to six thousand people in the protest and that some of the protesters also had weapons. He said Punjab government should stop the protesters from entering Islamabad.
He said the government had contacted the local religious and spiritual figures and asked them to convince the protesters. “There is a meeting among different leaders, administration and the ministry and it is hoped that Faizabad will be vacated soon,” he added.