- Govt may forcibly vacate D-Chowk as protest leaders vow not to vacate sensitive area until govt declares Mumtaz Qadri ‘innocent’ and reopens his case ‘like Bhutto’s’
- Other demands of protesting religious zealots include declaring Qadri’s death cell a national heritage site and naming him a ‘Shaheed’
By Hamid Khan Wazir and Shahnawaz Mohal
The violent protests in the federal capital may end in a bloodbath as the government has directed law enforcement personnel to remove the protesters from the Red Zone using whatever force is necessary, while the protesters remain adamant about not leaving until their demands are met.
After remaining inactive for almost 24 hours, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan chaired a high-level meeting in the capital and ordered the forces to clear the Red Zone.
The supporters of Qadri, hailing mostly from the Barelvi school of thought, settled in after entering the Red Zone Sunday night. The protesters led by Sunni Tehreek (ST) and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool (SAW) leadership had arrived in the capital on Sunday to attend the Chehlum of Mumtaz Qadri, the executed murderer of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. After the event, the zealots went on a rampage, storming police barricades and setting several vehicles on fire before staging a sit-in protest in front of Parliament House. They have presented a Charter of Demands before the government and announced to stay in the Red Zone until the government accepted their demands.
The demands include implementation of Shariah in the country and declaring Mumtaz Qadri a martyr.
The set of demands issued under the banner of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool (SAW) also include the unconditional release of all Sunni clerics and leaders booked on various charges, including terrorism and murder; the recognition of Mumtaz Qadri as a martyr and the conversion of his Adiala Jail cell into a national heritage site; assurances that the blasphemy laws will not be amended; execution of Christian blasphemy convict Aasia Bibi, removal of Ahmadis from key posts as well as exile of all Ahmadis from the country.
Metro bus service as well as cellular service in part of the city, including the Red Zone and adjoining area were shut due to the protests. The protesters had set a metro bus station on fire on Sunday. Several major arteries leading to Islamabad were closed by authorities to block the crowd’s route.
CHARACTER OF THE ‘DHARNA’:
The site was the location of another famous sit-in two years ago.
This time, however, there is no music, no lights, no kids, no dances, no group selfies and no families calling for a revolution. The majority of the protesters are male, aged between 15 and 50, many sport a beard and are ‘deeply religious’. Many are attending the sit-in to avenge the execution of Mumtaz Qadri as per the commands of their respective pirs.
Their leaders sit center stage; the speeches from the pulpit try to keep the morale of the protestors high and remind them of the divine duties they’ve been assigned. Some of the slogans favoured by the protesters include “Yazeediyoon paey lanat”; “Ragray paey Ragraa” and “Qadri teray Jaan Nisar. Bay Shumar. Bay Shumar”.
A source in Islamabad Police confided in Pakistan Today that IG Islamabad had not given any written orders for stopping the protesters at Rawalpindi or intervened anywhere else. “If we had stopped them before reaching Red Zone, that wouldn’t allow them to infiltrate the highly-sensitive zone,” he said.
The protesters also snatched a police car and the negotiations were underway for its recovery. The protesters were checking the cards of those entering the venue. The police, Rangers and army were deployed around the venue to guard the Supreme Court, parliament, PM Office and other highly sensitive buildings.
The speakers repeatedly remind their followers of their resemblance with Karbala as scorching heat bears down on the road.
Addressing around 25,000 to 30,000 protesters – the number dwindled to 10,000 later – the religious leaders kept on telling them that ‘reinforcements’ are en route and will arrive soon. A speaker told the audience that all the madrassas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) are closed and students will arrive as protestors soon. Another promised that all the madrassas in Pakistan will close and the whole country will be brought to a standstill.
“Mureeds must call their peers and ask them to come here as soon as possible. Now is the time to make our dream of Nizam-e-Mustafa a reality,’ said a firebrand orator from the stage. The overall mood of the sit-in was one of gloom as the already small number of crowd was thinning out with every passing hour. Many left the venue and went back home while others who had come from afar travelled to their cities. The majority of the participants hailed from Punjab; they included students of seminaries, workers of Sunni Tehreek, the mureeds and their pirs, and the loyalists of Tehreek-e-Nifaaz-e-Khatam-e-Naboowat.
There were barely any smartphones making videos, as the majority of the participants didn’t have any. Most of them hailed from the poorest segment of the society, which is traditionally under strong influence of pirs and Hakeems.
The apolitcal Barelvis have shed their indifference in the wake of Qadri’s execution. They could not prevent his execution, so they want him beatified as a martyr.
Muhammad Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, while talking to Pakistan Today, said that the way Mumtaz Qadri was executed is a cause of concern for all the Muslims in the world – no black warrant was issued, nor was he moved to a death cell.
“When Raymond Davis and Mustafa Kanju and many others can be shown leniency, why was Mumtaz Qadri dealt with in such an inhuman way? There are thousands of people around because of their love for Mumtaz Qadri. We are on no one’s payroll and no one is sponsoring us, it is agencies that create unrest, not us. We are here to record our peaceful protest and to have Nizam-e-Mustafa in Pakistan.”
When asked about his non-negotiable demands, he replied, “We’ll show no compromise on Section 295-C and won’t allow anyone to alter or amend it. Secondly, Mumtaz Qadri’s case must be reopened like Bhutto’s and he must be pronounced innocent. Furthermore, our members, relatives and friends who have been arrested and named in various FIRs and booked under clauses of Anti-terrorism Act must be set free.”
The speakers on the occasion exhorted General Raheel Sharif to intervene and impose Nizam-e-Mustafa in the country.
“We had nothing to eat; we came here all the way from Liaquat Bagh on foot. Our Pir Muhammad Hassan told us to go back as the buses rented to bring us here are charging continuously. He ordered us to go back while he will stay back and lead the cause,” told Ajmal from Layyah, a diehard fan of Mumtaz Qadri.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan ruled out any sort of dialogue with the protesters until they leave D-Chowk. The Barelvi leaders are demanding Ishaq Dar or Ayaz Sadiq to come and negotiate with them. The government wants the talks to be held at the Deputy Commissioner or Magistrate level. The high-ups have so far been hoping that the protesters will leave the site on their own out of frustration. However, this ploy can also backfire if the protesters decide to attack the institutions and buildings inside Red Zone instead of leaving D-Chowk.
The sources said that orders may come anytime to pull the protesters out of the highly sensitive Red-Zone.