- Protesters, govt reach an ‘understanding’ on seven points to end sit-in protest at D-Chowk
- Chaudhry Nisar says govt will not allow any religious or political protests in Red Zone of federal capital
- Says govt has not signed any ‘agreement’ with protest leaders, will release only those protesters who were not involved in violence
By Mian Abrar and Shah Nawaz Mohal
The four-day sit-in of religious parties at Islamabad’s D-Chowk came to an amicable end on Wednesday evening, following successful talks between the government and protest leaders which left the government holding all the cards.
In a deal reminiscent of the one that was struck between Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) Tahirul Qadri and the then-PPP government of Raja Pervez Ashraf in January 2013, the government gave away practically nothing to the protestors and the conflict was resolved without resorting to violence and bloodshed.
To wrap an already good day at the office, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced that from now on D-Chowk is strictly off-limits for any political or religious party which wants to hold a protest there.
“No political or religious gatherings and demonstrations will be allowed at D-Chowk. This is a highly sensitive area; we can’t allow groups of people to hold the government hostage,” he said while talking to reporters.
The administration confirmed the dialogue was successful about an hour before the protesters started leaving the venue dancing in groups and looking overjoyed at the outcome of the four-day protest.
Only two of the 11 demands put forward by the protestors were agreed to without modification by the government during negotiations which were held at the house of Khawaja Saad Rafique.
Earlier in the morning, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a meeting with Nisar and directed him to clear the Red Zone of the federal capital.
The seven points agreed to between the government and protesters included two of protesters’ demands – no amendment in Section 295-C of the PPC (blasphemy law) and no concession to anyone convicted of blasphemy law – though there was never an indication that the government planned to amend the blasphemy law or was going to pardon anyone convicted of blasphemy.
The rest of the demands were either rejected by the government or accepted after modifications to make them toothless and keep the advantage strictly with the government.
The government agreed that ‘peaceful’ protesters will be released, fourth schedule list will be reviewed, charges against Ulema will be re-assessed, recommendations regarding Nizam-e-Mustafa can be sent to Religious Affairs Ministry and that the Ulema can contact Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), along with proofs of obscene programmes on TV channels.
The name of executed murderer Mumtaz Qadri, who had inspired this protest as well as hundreds of others held throughout the country during the last few months, did not feature in the final agreement.
The original demands of the protesters included the following: (1) The imposition of “Nizam-e-Mustafa” (2) Execution of Christian blasphemy convict Aasia Bibi (3) No amendment to Section 295-C of the blasphemy laws (4) Immediate release of Namoos-e-Risalat activists (5) Immediate execution of those accused of blaspheming against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) (6) Declare Mumtaz Qadri officially a “Shaheed” (7) Announce the declaration regarding ‘martyrdom for Qadri’ on media (8) Accused of Namoos-e-Risalat should be excluded from Diyat and Qisas (9) Members of the Ahmedia community should be expelled from the country and (10) All Ahmedis working in government departments should be terminated from service. The protestors had also demanded that Mumtaz Qadri’s jail cell in Adiala be declared a national heritage site.
While the negotiations took place behind the scenes, Rangers, police and FC personnel kept encircling the over 1,000 strong crowd. However, no instance of conflict or violence was reported on Wednesday.
THE TENSE STANDOFF:
Rumours of an imminent operation kept flying throughout the day.
The 1,000 strong baton-wielding protesters roamed around the venue, which had been encircled by more than 7,000 personnel from Islamabad Police, Rangers and FC, many of them in riot gear, armed with batons, tear-gas guns and shells. They were backed by trucks mounted with water cannons. The police, however, were not given any firearms on the direction of the interior minister.
Senate Secretariat, National Assembly Secretariat, FBR, Supreme Court, PM’s Office and all the surrounding buildings were vacated in the afternoon. The government officers left offices before time in anticipation of the operation.
PIMS and Polyclinic announced emergency to deal with any eventuality in case the government started the operation. The non-critical patients were discharged and more beds were made available.
Inside the circle, firebrand speakers kept giving rousing speeches to boost the morale of the participants.
But the law enforcement agencies kept their distance and violence was avoided.
PROTESTERS TERMINATE SIT-IN:
As evening approached, and probably with hopes of a breakthrough in talks, the mobile service was resumed in the area.
Negotiations were held at Railways Minister Saad Rafique’s residence. Minister for Finance Ishaq Dar, Minister of State for Religious Affairs Peer Ameen ul Hasnaat and Khwaja Saad Rafque represented the government. JUP leader Shah Owais Noorani, Tehreek-e–Labaik-Ya-Rasool Allah Chairman Dr Asif Ashraf Jalali, Sunni Tehreek Chairman Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, Allama Haji Rafeeq Pardesi, Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) Chairman Hamid Raza and Afzal Qadri represented the protestors in the negotiations.
After the negotiations ended, district administration announced that talks had been successful. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar also announced that protestors had agreed to vacate D-Chowk after negotiations with the government.
At around 7 in the evening, Shah Owais Noorani and Haji Rafeeq Pardesi addressed the protesters and called off the sit-in. They thanked the government for accepting their demands. After offering a collective prayer, the leadership ordered the participants of the sit-in to go back to their homes. The protesters celebrated by raising slogans and hugging each other.
AN UNDERSTANDING, NOT AN AGREEMENT:
Interior Minister Nisar, while talking to media said that no written agreement with the Barelvi leaders been signed. Ishaq Dar also confirmed that the document was never actually signed. But, the PML-N stalwart said an ‘understanding’ was reached between the protesters and the government.
Out of 1,070 arrested protesters, Nisar said those who did not commit any act of vandalism will be freed. Those who committed crimes will be punished as per law. He said the hooligans who damaged metro bus stations, fire brigade vehicles and Safe City Project cameras and equipment will be punished severely. He also acknowledged the role of Ulema for a consensus on the issue.
Nisar, who was not part of the negotiation team, conducted the press briefing alone.
He said that changes will be brought by passing legislation in the parliament. He said the changes will also benefit the police force in establishing their writ in a more effective manner.
The interior minister elaborated that the operation to remove the pro-Qadri demonstrators was not conducted earlier, as reinforcements were needed to shore up the federal capital’s police force. He also said, “We wanted to conduct the law enforcement action during daylight hours.”
“We had decided to vacate Red Zone last night, but some respected figures from Karachi intervened and held talks,” the interior minister said.
“With the Parliament’s approval, we will make changes in Islamabad police to prevent such invasions in future and establish the state’s writ,” he added.
GOVT IS HAPPY WITH OUTCOME, PROTESTERS SAY THEY’RE HAPPY TOO:
But while the government quarters said they had not given anything in writing, Sunni Tehreek chief Sarwat Ijaz Qadri said the government had conceded to major demands of the protestors including the imposition of Nizam-e-Mustafa.
“The government has agreed to contact the Ministry of Religious Affairs for exclusion of all clauses against Shariah from the law,” he said.
He said that both sides would increase engagement to ensure implementation of the agreement in letter and spirit.
Shah Owais Noorani, the chief of Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) and one of the negotiators for the protesters, said they had reached an unwritten pact with the government and while all the seven assurances given by the government were verbal “the people part of the dialogue would act as guarantor”.
Lauding the role of Ishaq Dar and Saad Rafique, Noorani said efforts for a peaceful resolution of the matter had yielded results as both sides had shown flexibility.
“There was disconnect between the government and protesters which resulted in misunderstandings.
“We tried to plug the gaps and this sincere effort yielded results,” he added.
“When the government gave us assurances, things were sorted out peacefully,” he added. Asked why there was no written pact, Noorani said that during the past two sit-ins, there was no written agreement between the government and the protesters.
Asked what the point of the protest was if Mumtaz Qadri’s name was not even mentioned in the final agreement, Noorani said that the indecent haste adopted in hanging Mumtaz Qadri had prompted concerns among the faithful that efforts were underway to repeal blasphemy law.
“No black warrants were issued for Mumtaz Qadri, and no due process of law was adopted. This discrimination prompted massive protests. Had the government followed due process, things would have been peaceful,” he added.
Khwaja Saad Rafique also confirmed a deal between the government and protesters, saying it was an understanding and not a written agreement.
“There is no written agreement as Chaudhry Nisar said.”
Rafique said that Owais Noorani had contacted him two days ago to help avoid a confrontation.
“Haji Rafique Pardesi also contacted me. The leaders of the sit-in came to my residence. We had to reciprocate the gesture. The religious leaders of the sit-in showed flexibility and we responded with the same currency,” he added.
Rafique, however, said the government had made sure that protesters who were involved in ransacking and vandalising state and private property would not be spared.
“We assured them that those who did not take part in violence will be released,” he added.
He said the protestors were told the government had no power to make concessions in the case of Mumtaz Qadri, or pardon those convicted by courts.
“We have resolved the misunderstanding and given them assurances. But this is not a pact. It’s an understanding,” he said.
The four-day protest left three people dead, almost 50 injured, two metro bus stations in shambles, numerous shops destroyed and a number of government and private vehicles set on fire.