Pakistan News

Islamabad protesters defiant as showdown looms

Islamabad protesters defiant as showdown looms

ISLAMABAD: A showdown between the government and protesters holding a sit-in at the Faizabad interchange for the past several days appears likely as the last appeal made by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal at a press conference on Friday before the 10pm deadline set for the protest leaders to vacate the place for the sake of Islam and Pakistan fell on deaf ears.

Rumours of a post-midnight crackdown swirled in the city, even as Mr Iqbal continued his hectic efforts to convince the protest’s leaders to agree to a peaceful solution late into the night.

“We have information that there are some armed persons as well as a few miscreants among the protesters and that is why their leadership should act responsibly,” Mr Iqbal told a press conference at the Press Information Department earlier in the night, adding: “We have Islamabad police, FC and Rangers all ready… but I believe that an operation will not be required, as they [protesters] will vacate the place peacefully.”

Mr Iqbal rejected the perception that there was a ‘hidden hand’ supporting the protesters and it restricted the government to launch an operation against them.

Police, FC and Rangers on alert; Ahsan Iqbal denies ‘hidden hand’ supporting protesters

“There is no hidden hand, but there are a few ‘hands’, which are at Faizabad, nothing else,” he said.

Faizabad — the key interchange between Rawalpindi and Islamabad — has been occupied by Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasulallah and Sunni Tehreek for 10 days, causing serious commuting problems for the residents of the twin cities.

The Islamabad High Court had asked the protesters to call off their sit-in and directed the government to clear the place with the help of police, FC and Rangers, and a compliance report to this effect is due by 10am today (Saturday).

By midnight, around 5,000 personnel had been posted around the protesters’ position, but until the filing of this report, no action was initiated. “We are ready and waiting for orders from the top,” said a senior official posted on the cordon near the Survey of Pakistan.

The interior minister said there was no reason to continue the sit-in after the matter relating to the wording of an oath for lawmakers had been settled in parliament and the declaration for voters regarding Khatm-i-Nubuwat restored to its original form. He appealed to Khadim Hussain Rizvi and Afzal Qadri to accept the court verdict and call off the sit-in.

Mr Iqbal said taking out processions to protest against government policies was the right of every citizen, but leaders of the Faizabad sit-in had violated their agreement with the Punjab government.

“As they started their march from Lahore just a few days before the Chehlum of Imam Hussain, the Punjab government decided not to engage them as it could hinder religious activities related to Chehlum. But this does not mean they can backtrack on their commitments,” he said.

The minister also criticised the protest leadership for their “own version of faithfulness”, saying that Pakistan had suffered due to sectarianism, religious extremism and terrorism in the name of Islam. “Religious people should not mislead ordinary citizens,” he said.

However, he ended the press briefing with an appeal to the leaders of the sit-in to clear the Faizabad interchange peacefully.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2017

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