–Army chief ‘advises’ PM to resolve issue ‘peacefully’ as govt seeks help from army and Rangers in Islamabad and Punjab, respectively, to quell violent protests
–Hundreds of protesters put up fierce resistance against Islamabad admin’s operation to clear Faizabad Interchange, supporters occupy main highways and roads in all four provinces
–At least eight to 10 protesters reportedly killed, hundreds of policemen and protesters injured during clashes in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore
–Protesters attack houses of PML-N’s former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar, Law Minister Zahid Hamid, injure MNA Javed Latif in Sheikhupura
ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Pakistan remains on the tenterhooks as religious zealots armed with iron rods, wooden batons and stones captured main highways and roads in major cities of the country, including the federal capital Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Quetta, after the government launched an ‘ill-planned’ operation on Saturday to clear the Faizabad Interchange in Islamabad on orders of the high court, only to suspend it a few hours later due to fierce resistance put up by the impassioned protesters.
Later in the night, the government summoned help from Pakistan Army’s 111 Brigade and Pakistan Rangers in Islamabad and Punjab, respectively, to bring the law and order situation under control. According to reports, the military troops have been deployed in Islamabad to protect sensitive buildings and offices and to restore security under Article 245 of the Constitution.
The development came after at least eight to 10 protesters belonging to Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) and Sunni Tehreek were reportedly killed while hundreds of security personnel and protesters were seriously injured in Islamabad and Karachi as violent clashes took place throughout the day in several cities in all four provinces. Over 300 protesters have been taken in custody in various cities as skirmishes continued with police during the night.
The protesters also attacked the houses of former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in Rawalpindi and of Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid in Pasrur, district Sialkot. A PML-N Member of the National Assembly from Sheikhupura, Mian Javed Latif was injured when protesters attacked him with batons.
There were conflicting reports of a police official being killed in the clashes in Islamabad but the department clarified that no such incident had taken place.
The religiously-motivated mobs belonging to TLYR, Sunni Tehreek, Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat and other Barelvi outfits went on a rampage in Islamabad on Saturday morning after Islamabad police aided by the Frontier Constabulary (FC) launched an operation in Faizabad to rid the main highway connecting Rawalpindi to Islamabad from religious activists gathered there for more than 20 days.
They ransacked public and private property, burnt over 50 vehicles, including police vehicles, and forced the law enforcement personnel to retreat by pelting stones even as hundreds of tear gas shells were fired to disperse the mobs from the Faizabad Interchange.
TV footage showed hundreds of people armed with batons and iron rods marching towards Faizabad as announcements were made on mosques’ loudspeakers and through a live Facebook video appeal from the official account of the TLYR firebrand leader, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, urging “all Muslims to come out on the roads against the government for the protection of Namoos-e-Risalat (finality of prophethood)”.
Soon after the protesters started regrouping at Faizabad, the government through a PEMRA notification first ordered all private news channels to cut off live transmission of the operation and then ordered all cable operators to take the channels off air in several cities, leading to an information blackout.
The government also placed a temporary ban on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, causing more anxiety in people about the events unfolding in the country.
Roads in all major cities were deserted as people sought refuge in their homes, fearing an increase in violence by religious activists.
ARMY CHIEF INTERVENES:
As the protests flared in several cities, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa advised Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to “handle the Islamabad dharna peacefully”.
Director General (DG) Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor tweeted that the army chief telephoned the prime minister and suggested the clearance operation in Islamabad be handled peacefully, “avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest and cohesion.”
“COAS telephoned PM. Suggested to handle Isb dharna peacefully avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest & cohesion,” Gen Ghafoor said in the tweet.
Earlier this week, the military’s spokesperson had said the army would abide by whatever decision the government took regarding the clearance of the Faizabad Interchange, although it would be preferable to address the situation through peaceful means.
The ISPR chief said that the civil and military leaderships were on the same page when it came to the country’s security, and that the army was duty-bound to carry out the government’s instructions.
‘ADMIN BOUND TO ENFORCE DECISION’:
Shortly after the DG ISPR tweeted, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb tweeted that the administration of Islamabad is “responsible to ensure enforcement of [the] IHC order to restore public convenience in the Faizabad area”.
“Islamabad Administration is responsible to ensure enforcement of Islamabad High Court Order to restore public convenience in Faizabad area,” she tweeted.
The IHC, which had initially advised protesters to end their protest, then ordered the capital administration to use “whatever means necessary” to evict protesters from the Faizabad Interchange by Saturday last week.
Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal had, however, requested the court for several extensions in the deadline as the government attempted to negotiate with the protesters, but failed each time.
The IHC then warned the interior minister of contempt of court for not taking action against the protesters. A final deadline for dispersal for Saturday 7am was handed to the protesters, but passed unheeded after which security forces launched an operation to clear the area.
The capital administration had, on Nov 5, warned the TLYR and ST against holding any sit-in in Islamabad, saying that a ban on public gatherings had already been imposed in the city.
The parties were also informed that Islamabad’s Parade Ground had been reserved for such gatherings and holding a rally somewhere else in the capital would be unlawful.
The organisers had not sought any permission for the rally or the sit-in. On Nov 8, the protesters blocked the expressway that connects Islamabad with Rawalpindi.
Since then, the metro service has also been halted. According to the Metro Bus Authority (MBA), more than 100,000 people used the service between the twin cities daily.
IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui on Friday asked “why contempt of court proceedings may not be initiated against him [Ahsan Iqbal]. He is directed to appear in person on the next date”.
The IHC order noted that: “Patients dying for want of access to hospitals, traders crying for lack of business activity, students are being deprived from their right to education and right of free movement of almost six million people of twin cities usurped by dictatorial act of one person and passive approach of law enforcing agencies [is] adding to the miseries of citizens”.
The court order, however, advised the district administration not to use “firearms” during the clearance operation, if one was required.
UNREST SPILLS OVER:
The unrest in Islamabad spilled over to other parts of the country soon after the operation began.
In Sialkot, scores of men attacked the residence of Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid, whose resignation is the number one demand of the religious protesters. Fortunately, no one from his family was present when the attackers started pelting stones at the building. Following the attack, the security forces arrested at least 12 suspects from the area and summoned reinforcements.
In Rawalpindi, several men attempted to break into the house of former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
The irate men broke the main gate and tried to enter the premises but were confronted by police and security guards. They also set fire to the house’s garden.
According to reports, one man was also killed during the attack at the former interior minister’s house; however, it was not confirmed till the time story went into print.
The assailants chanted slogans against the government and leaders of the PML-N, and demanded an end to the crackdown on Tehreek-e-Labbaik activists across the country and immediate sacking of Zahid Hamid.
Separately in Sheikhupura, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz lawmaker Javed Latif was attacked and injured by angry protesters when he tried to negotiate with them.
Demonstrations in the port city started in the morning after protesters gathered at Numaish Chowrangi, one of the city’s busiest traffic interchanges. Other areas which were affected include Teen Talwar, Boat Basin, Nipa, Sohrab Goth, Shahrah-i-Faisal near Stargate and Nursery, Hub River Road and Hassan Square, where both tracks of the road remained closed for traffic for hours.
At least 23 people, including two policemen, were reportedly injured, some with gunshot wounds, in skirmishes with police at Stargate and Nursery, where police fired tear gas shells to break up the protests.
Protesters were turned away from Natha Khan Chowk by Sindh Rangers and police after a vehicle belonging to a private company was set on fire. The occupants of the vehicle had escaped safely and the area has reportedly been cleared.
Malir SSP Rao Anwar Ahmed said that the “miscreants of one organisation” came from Shah Faisal Colony and they allegedly “hijacked” the protest.
“One of the men among the protesters was armed with SMG rifle, who resorted to firing on the policemen, resultantly Memon Goth SHO Gulzar Tunio and constable Sabir sustained bullet wounds,” said the officer.
Reports were also received of enraged protesters burning tyres and forcibly closing businesses in various areas of the metropolis.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has taken notice of the unrest and directed the commissioner and inspector general of police to clear the traffic.
Protesters blocked the busy Haider Chowk area in Hyderabad, while a large number of religious activists staged demonstrations in Sukkur, Umerkot, Mithi, Sujawal and other cities to register their protests.
Various religious organisations also staged a protest demonstration outside the Badin Press Club, demanding a halt in the use of violence against protesters camped out in the capital.
The National Highway near Khairpur also remained blocked for over three hours.
A large number of demonstrators converged earlier in the day at Shahdara in Lahore. There were reports of similar protests at Imamia Colony and other settlements along the GT Road. Roads from Lahore to Gujranwala and Faisalabad also remained closed.
The other affected areas include Mall Road, Bhatta Chowk, Ferozepur Road, Shah Alami Chowk, Thokar Niaz Baig, Walton Road, Mughalpura, Garhi Shahu and Johar Town where several hundred protesters have staged sit-ins.
Meanwhile, protests were also reported from other cities of the province, including Gujranwala, Multan, Nankana Sahib. Mianwali, Gujrat, Sahiwal, Vehari, Toba Tek Singh and Murree.
Massive traffic congestion has also been reported on the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway, with suffering travelers reporting being stranded for hours.
Protesters in Peshawar blocked the provincial capital’s main Ring Road, which is also used for Afghan transit trade.
The protest caused a massive traffic jam in the area, and the protesters appeared determined to continue until their demands were met. They had begun setting up camps and are collecting donations to arrange food for the night when last reports were received.
Protests had also erupted in other cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including Haripur, Mansehra and Dera Ismail Khan.
After violent clashes in the federal capital, workers of religious organisations turned out on the roads of Quetta to vent their anger. The angry protesters blocked the main Hockey Chowk, causing a serious traffic jam in the city.
The protesters, led by Maulana Abdul Qudoos Sasoli, raised slogans against the federal government and security personnel. However, they reportedly dispersed later after negotiations with law enforcement personnel.