Islamabad sit-in: Hectic efforts under way to reach ‘middle ground’

Panel recommends govt to stop law minister from working till unveiling of probe report

Sehrish Wasif November 22, 2017
Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik leads members in shouting slogans during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, November 10, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: Hectic efforts are under way to find a 'middle ground' to bring to an end the sit-in at Islamabad’s Faizabad Interchange, even though Tehreek Labbiak Ya Rassullah has refused to budge on its demand for the law minister’s resignation.

Some government officials and members of the clerics committee, tasked with breaking the deadlock, on Wednesday claimed that a draft agreement had already been reached between the two sides and a formal announcement to this effect was expected soon.

The 'breakthrough, according to the officials, was achieved after over two hours of talks between the six-member clerics committee that was notified a day earlier and representatives of the religious group that has been staging a sit-in at the junction of Rawalpindi and Islamabad for the last 16 days.

Govt names six-member clerics committee for talks

Some reports indicated that the committee headed by Pir Hasseenuddin Shah later submitted its recommendations to the government. The recommendations included stopping Law Minister Zahid Hamid from work till Raja Zafarul Haq finalised a report on the controversy related to the changes in the lawmakers’ oath with regard to Khatm-e-Nabuwwat or the Finality of the Prophethood.

There was, however, no official confirmation about the draft agreement.

Ministry of Religious Affairs Director General Noor Salam Shah – who has been appointed as secretary of the six-member committee – told The Express Tribune that he had not been in the loop on the recent round of talks.

However, he said a two-hour-long meeting held between the committee and the protest leaders on Tuesday night had gone well. “Since morning I have been receiving messages on my WhatsApp from different numbers, congratulating the committee head for successfully negotiating with the protesters,” he said.

Shah said if these messages were authentic, it seemed like the issue would be resolved soon and the residents of the twin cities would get to hear good news.

Govt may opt for ‘option b’ to disperse protesters

However, Tehreek Labbaik spokesperson Ejaz Ashrafi denied that the religious group had agreed to a compromise on its main demand. Talking to The Express Tribune, he insisted that their demand for the ouster of Zahid Hamid was still intact.

“Our one and only demand is that the law minister should resign immediately,” he said.

Ashrafi said the government was not serious in resolving the issue. “On the one hand the government has constituted a committee for negotiation but on the other hand policemen are beating our people,” he complained.

These conflicting reports have created further confusion with regard to the situation and there is no official who could share authentic and accurate updates with media-persons.

Considering the gravity of the situation, the Supreme Court on Tuesday took a suo motu notice of the sit-in and issued notices to the IG Islamabad, the IG Punjab, and the Attorney General, seeking detailed reports from interior and defence secretaries by November 23 [today].

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal has also set Thursday, November 23, as deadline to end the Islamabad sit-in which has been causing immense trouble for the commuters and dwellers of the twin cities.

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