ISLAMABAD: Requesting the court to extend its deadline to clear Islamabad’s Faizabad Interchange where hundreds of protestors are staging a sit-in for the last 11 days, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal has hoped that the crisis will be resolved peacefully within another one or two days.
“We hope that the crisis will be resolved amicably. Several religious leaders have been involved in the process. We will try to finalise things by tomorrow,” the interior minister said on Saturday night after holding the second round of talks with the protest leaders.
On Friday, the district authorities told the protesters to call off their sit-in before midnight or face a crackdown. The ‘last warning’ had been issued on the directives of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) which earlier in the day ordered the district administration to clear Faizabad of protesters by 10am Saturday.
PHOTO: EXPRESS/Arsalan Altaf
However, the government on Saturday directed the authorities to postpone their operation for 24 hours as it made the last-gasp efforts to resolve the issue for the first time through direct talks with the protestors whose sit-in at the junction of Islamabad and Rawalpindi entered its 11th day on Saturday.
The government engaged some religious leaders particularly the Pir of Islamabad’s Golra Sharif Shrine for mediation and as a result the two sides came to the negotiating table in the evening.
The talks were held at the residence of the Leader of the House in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for CADD Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, State Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Ameenul Hasnaat and Islamabad Mayor Sheikh Ansar Aziz represented the government.
A five-member delegation from the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah participated in the talks. Pir of Golra Nizam Ghulamuddin Jami also reportedly attended the talks as mediator.
Speaking to the media after the second round of the negotiations which continued till midnight, the interior minister said the IHC had ordered clearing the area and now pressure was mounting on the government to take some actions. “However, we should avoid violence,” he added.
Answering a question, he said there was no discussion on withdrawing FIRs against protesters in the Saturday’s talks.
Iqbal said it was not proved that Law Minister Zahid Hamid was involved in changing the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat declaration on the election form. “The Election Act was prepared in several months and it is not yet clear who was behind the changes,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Iqbal had again appealed to the protest leaders to call off their sit-in, adding that parliament had already addressed the issue by restoring the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat declaration to its original shape and strengthened it further by also restoring 7b and 7c clauses in the elections law.
A statement issued by him said the issue of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat should not be used for doing politics and making division. He said the country could not afford division, tensions and lawlessness at this time. “Creating hurdles in the movements of the general public is against the teaching of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),” he further stated.
However, a spokesperson for the protest leaders told The Express Tribune that they had not budged on their demand for removal of Law Minister Zahid Hamid. “The government has shown some flexibility, but we will not end our sit-in unless the law minister is removed from his post,” said Ijaz Ashrafi, who is the party’s media adviser.
‘One last try’
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has also been monitoring the situation. On Friday and Saturday, the PM received briefings from the interior minister, Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yousaf and Raja Zafarul Haq over standoff between the government and the religious group after the latter refused to accept the order of the IHC to end sit-in, sources told The Express Tribune.
Official sources said the PM is of the view to give ‘one last try’ before adopting a decisive course of action. That is the reason, the government functionaries reached out to clerics from different schools of thought to persuade the protestors to mend their ways and wind up the sit-in.
Haq has been tasked by the premier to hold negotiations to end the stalemate.
Official sources said the leaders of the religious group holding sit-in had reservations that the government functionaries were using ‘indirect’ channels to hold dialogue with them — by involving religious figures to mediate — instead of directly contacting the protesting leadership.
A senior government functionary said following the recent consultations between the PM and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, the government had decided that Law Minister Zahid Hamid would not step down and the inquiry report into the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause issue would not be made public.
Last month, Sharif had set up a three-member committee headed by Haq to probe the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause change issue. Interior Minister Iqbal and Climate Change Minister Mushahidullah Khan were part of the committee that was headed by Raja Zafarul Haq.
The inquiry panel held one of the senior cabinet members responsible for change in the clause from Election Bill 2017 and sent the related report to the PML-N chief.
Sources in the PML-N said the party chief was in no mood to yield to the religious group’s demands at any level amidst deep-rooted feeling in the ruling camp that budging on the issue would brew problems for the government which it cannot afford at the moment.
“We are already facing too many challenges. Dealing with a small group from the position of weakness would simply add to our woes. The public opinion has already turned against the protestors… we don’t see any reason to bow down,” a PML-N leader said.
Sources said former premier Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif were earlier in favour of taking action against anyone responsible for landing the government in embarrassment with the unwarranted change in Khatm-e-Nabuwwat avowal.
However, senior PML-N functionaries advised Sharif to exercise caution as the matter was already settled and any further action would reignite the issue. This is the main reason Sharif has not approved the inquiry report and it has not been made public, added the sources.