–TLYR chief Khadim Rizvi tells supporters to end countrywide sit-ins after PML-N govt succumbs to demands for Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation, dropping all cases against protesters, releasing detainees
–Other demands include making public Raja Zafarul Haq-led committee’s report in 30 days, govt to compensate all public and private losses suffered during protest
–Rizvi claims govt has also agreed to facilitate registration of blasphemy cases under Section 295-C, show no leniency to those convicted by courts for blasphemy
ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Monday succumbed to the demands of zealots camped out at the Faizabad Interchange in the federal capital and other major cities of the country by asking Federal Minister for Law Zahid Hamid to step down from office, and agreeing to drop all cases registered against the protesters and releasing all those arrested during the botched operation carried out on Saturday.
Following the government’s surrender, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the firebrand leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) called off the sit-ins that have been hampering daily life in cities across Pakistan.
The minister’s resignation comes after ‘successful negotiations’ with leaders of the demonstration late Sunday night, official sources and state broadcaster PTV reported.
At least six people were killed while hundreds were injured during the operation that was eventually suspended after a few hours on Saturday.
Addressing a press conference at the Faizabad sit-in, Rizvi ordered his followers all over the country to end the sit-ins and go home. He also announced an end to the strike announced by his outfit on Monday and called for opening businesses and shops.
Rizvi said he and his followers had set out towards the federal capital solely for the protection of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat. He alleged that propaganda had been done against his group to create the impression that they had been sent by someone to Islamabad.
Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and his representative, Punjab Rangers Director General Faiz Hameed acted as guarantors for the agreement, Rizvi said.
He also lashed out at media representatives for not showing his press conference live.
Hours after the sit-ins were called off, the government began releasing protesters arrested during the operation at Faizabad on Saturday.
Punjab Rangers DG Maj Gen Azhar Naveed oversaw the release of protesters and handed over cheques worth Rs 1,000 to each released protester as fare for their travel home. Twenty-five protesters have been released so far.
“We are with you…We will ensure release of everyone,” the senior army official was seen telling the protesters while distributing the envelopes containing the cheques.
The government agreed to the following demands of TLYR in order to end the sit-in:
- Remove Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid from his position immediately. “Tehreek-i-Labaik will issue no fatwa [religious decree] of any kind against him.”
- The report prepared by Raja Zafarul Haq-led committee will be made public within 30 days and whoever is named in the report for being responsible for the change in the election oath will be acted against under the law.
- All protesters arrested on Nov 6 until the end of the sit-in from across the country will be released within one to three days according to legal requirements. The cases registered against them and the house arrests imposed on them will be ended.
- An enquiry board will be established to probe and decide what action to take against the government and administration officials over the operation conducted by security forces against protesters on Saturday, Nov 25. The enquiry should be completed within 30 days and action will be taken against those found responsible.
- The federal and provincial governments will determine and compensate for the loss of government and private assets incurred from Nov 6 until the end of the sit-in.
- The points already agreed to concerning the Government of Punjab will be fully implemented.
The document ends by crediting Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and his representative team for their “special efforts” that led to the agreement being signed.
“We are thankful to him [Gen Bajwa] for saving the nation from a big catastrophe,” the document concluded.
Besides the interior minister, the document bears the signatures of TLYR leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Interior Secretary Arshad Mirza, two other protest leaders and Maj Gen Faiz Hameed, who facilitated the agreement.
According to Khadim Rizvi, in addition to the above, the following demands of TLYR have also been accepted by the government:
- A board of clerics led by Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri will be set up to probe remarks made by Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah against the persecution of Ahmedis. Sanaullah will have to accept the decision made by the board.
- No difficulty will be faced in registering cases under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (blasphemy laws)
- No leniency will be given to those convicted by courts for blasphemy
- No ban will be imposed on the use of loudspeakers
- The foreign and interior ministries will take steps for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui after taking her mother and sister in confidence
- The holiday of Iqbal Day on Nov 9 will be revived
- Two representatives of Tehreek-i-Labbaik will be included in the panel assigned to decide changes in the textbook board. The officials will push for inclusion of translation of the Holy Quran and chapters about Seeratun Nabi (PBUH) and Muslim leaders.
- The chehlum of martyrs will be held on January 4 at Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh
- Every year, Nov 25 will be observed as “Martyrs of Prophet’s honour day”
PM ACCEPTS LAW MINISTER’S RESIGNATION:
The law minister’s resignation was the chief demand of the agitating parties, who have been staging a protest sit-in for the last 20 days in Islamabad to press the government for his removal.
According to PTV, the minister presented his resignation to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to bring the country “out of a state of crisis”. Abbasi accepted the minister’s resignation.
“I made the decision to resign in a personal capacity,” Hamid was quoted as saying by government sources.
Hamid reiterated that the Elections Act 2017 had been prepared with the consensus of all parliamentary political parties.
The protesters amassed at the Faizabad bridge belong to various ‘religious’ parties, including the Tehreek-i-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) and the Sunni Tehreek (ST), and had been calling for the sacking of the law minister and stern action against those behind the amendment to the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017 ─ which had earlier been deemed a ‘clerical error’.
Police have lodged three cases, including one over the death of a child due to the protest, against Rizvi and other protest leaders and participants.
On Sunday, the federal government tasked the Punjab Rangers to handle the agitated protesters in Faizabad and other parts of the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Around 1,000 Rangers personnel were deployed in Islamabad.
Earlier on Sunday, the civil and military leadership had decided against use of force to disperse protesters, during a meeting at the Prime Minister’s House. Authorities decided to engage protest leaders “with influence” instead, saying the use of force against protesters had been discouraged in favour of a political settlement.
On Saturday, a day-long operation was launched by the Islamabad police, with the help of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel and other law enforcement agencies (LEAs), against religious protesters who had all but paralysed the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi for over a fortnight.
However, the armed operation failed to clear the protesters from Faizabad Interchange. Soon after the operation in the twin cities began, demonstrations broke out in several other cities, while protesters chanted anti-government slogans and blocked major roads. In many areas, protesters attacked LEAs and damaged public property.
After demonstrations spread throughout the country, the civil leadership sought assistance from the armed forces.
Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa flew in from the United Arab Emirates for a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Abbasi, and attended by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Director-General (DG) Inter-Services Intelligence Naveed Mukhtar at Prime Minister House.
According to military sources, the army chief had opposed use of force against its own people since the population’s trust in the institution of the army “can’t be compromised for little gains”.
Law Minister Hamid’s resignation is the latest in a series of blows to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
In July, Nawaz Sharif was deposed as prime minister by the Supreme Court over graft allegations, while Finance Minister Ishaq Dar — also accused of corruption — has taken indefinite medical leave.
Political analysts believe the government decision to give in to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik demands is a “major embarrassment” for the ruling PML-N as it eyes elections in 2018, and underscores the influence of religious groups in the country.
“Politically, this is a major embarrassment for the PML-N,” said political analyst Hasan Askari, warning that it would undermine their credibility and predicting more defections.
He also warned it had strengthened the position of religious groups like TLYR, whose campaigning in the upcoming elections could further weaken the PML-N, which has previously benefited from the right-wing religious vote.