Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal on Monday announced an extension in the deadline granted by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to the protesters for ending the sit-in from Islamabad’s Faizabad Interchange.
Daily life in the capital has been paralysed for nearly two weeks by protesters belonging to religious parties, including the Tehreek-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST), calling for the sacking of Law Minister Zahid Hamid and strict action against those behind the amendment to the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath ─ which had earlier been deemed a “clerical error” and subsequently rectified.
The protesters had 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.
Ahsan Iqbal, while addressing a press conference following an appearance before the IHC after he and the interior secretary were summoned for not complying with the court orders of evicting the protestors by November 19, said that the deadline for ending the sit-in is now November 23.
“We will implement the court’s order,” Iqbal asserted, referring to an IHC order of evicting the protesters by using “any means necessary”, with the help of the Frontier Constabulary and Rangers, if needed.
The deputy commissioner had earlier told the court the number of protesters is around 2,000, and they are in possession of some 10-12 weapons.
“The Islamabad administration did not conduct an operation against the protesters on my orders, because I do not wish for any unrest. I asked for an extension in the deadline so that we can find a solution,” he added.
“We are in talks with religious leaders and I believe we will convince the protesters to end their sit-in,” he said. “I am sure that in 24 hours or so, we will find a solution; there will be a breakthrough.”
The IHC had observed that there is a designated area for people to register their protests in the capital ─ the Democracy and Speech Corner. The IHC in a hearing last week had said that any citizen who wishes to exercise their right to freedom of speech must not inconvenience other citizens.
“They [the court] have given a judgement on this, and we have decided that in the future, no one will be allowed to hold a sit-in. The administration will be given strict orders not to allow a situation like this to develop in the future,” he added.
Earlier in the day, the court had issued show-cause notices to the Inspector General of Police, Islamabad’s chief commissioner and secretary ministry of interior over non-compliance of court’s order. The order was issued during the hearing of petitions filed in connection with the on-going sit-in of the religious groups at Faizabad Interchange.
Expressing his reservations, Justice Shaukat Siddiqui had said that the government did not implement his order despite his clear-cut verdict to administration to end the sit-in protest.
“I will issue a ‘contempt of court’ order,” the judge said, questioning why the court’s earlier order to the administration to evict protesters from the Interchange by Saturday had not been acted upon.
The dragging on of the protest “is the result of the administration’s complicity and incompetence”, Justice Siddiqui said.
The deputy attorney general asked for a closed hearing as “some things cannot be said in an open court”. The judge, however, rejected the request, asking the lawyer to say whatever must be said openly and “take the nation into confidence”.
The deputy attorney general told the court that talks between officials and the protesters are ongoing.
RABBANI DECRIES WITHERING WRIT OF STATE:
Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani on Monday lashed out at the federal government for its inability to clear the protesters and said that the capital has locked down since the past 14 days but no one in the government seems to care.
Addressing a ceremony in Islamabad, Rabbani expressed displeasure at the state’s helplessness in tackling the sit-in led by the religious groups.
“There can only be politics if there is a state. Politics will go in the right direction if society takes a right path. But if warlords will control society, neither the state nor any institution will exist,” he said.
Earlier, Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Khursheed Shah also criticised the ruling party and said the that prolonged Faizabad sit-in indicates that the government has lost its writ in the country.
The religious parties have been protesting against the change in the finality of Prophethood oath in the law when the government passed the Elections Act 2017 last month. The change, dubbed a clerical error by the government, was immediately fixed as an amendment was passed later.
In a bid to bring the protest to a peaceful end, Ahsan Iqbal has called an emergency meeting of religious scholars belonging to all schools of thought over the ongoing protest.
Iqbal, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Raja Zafarul Haq and State Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Aminul Hasnaat had previously met a number of protest leaders in view of reaching a breakthrough to end the sit-in.
The interior minister in his press conference on Sunday reiterated the government’s desire to end the deadlock through dialogue rather than by means of force, urging the protesters to end their sit-in, as the sacred issue is being abused for political purposes.
Addressing the media alongside State Minister for Religious Affairs, Iqbal had said, “People want to make this issue a political launchpad. But paving way for violence through such protest is unacceptable.”
Responding to protesters’ demand of removing Law Minister Zahid Hamid, the interior minister had reiterated that he would not be removed from the office.
“How can we remove the law minister? If we start doing this, every other day, people will make similar demands,” he had said, adding that so far, the government has dealt with the matter rather patiently.