Monday, November 27, 2017
The past few days, with the Faizabad protests and the conflicting government and army’s responses to it, have seen our country, and its institutions at its most divided.
With the breakdown of law and order for the last few days, and the government failing to contain the protests, everybody was waiting for the army to clear up its stance and give a definitive statement. We now know that the army will not be taking a strong stance for either side, as in a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), it was decided that the Army will not participate in the crackdown on the Faizabad protesters but it will safeguard the government installations in the federal capital. It was urged that the police and civilian administration were responsible for handling the protesters and they should do so peacefully through talks. General Qamar told the premier that the state should not use force against its own people.
There have been polarised reactions to the crackdown; with some supporting the government for its action, whereby others commending the army for the middle-ground it took and its position of advocating peaceful methods of reconciliation. The media’s position has largely tended to favour the army’s approach.
However, sadly, there is no need to congratulate either the army or the government, in what has resulted in badly-handled circumstances for both institutions. The army was called in because of an ineffective and badly handled government strategy. What was needed from the army was to demonstrate a united front to the protesters, and in the face of weakening local authorities, provide moral support to them to show that law and order was supreme. By taking a half-hearted stance and advising the government to take the moral high ground, the army is undermining the authorities, at a time when the need for unity on all fronts was most needed.
Even if the initial mischief was by the government, it must be remembered that it is right now stuck in a very messy situation, and moral superiority from the army, and vague statements of “peace” do nothing for anyone.
It has been two sad days for the country; reflecting the polarised state of our politics, the breakdown of law and the divide between institutions. The government’s strategy towards the Faizabad protests has been ineffective, and the army’s vague and half-hearted response reflects the weakened unity of our country. A sad state of affairs , indeed.
Former president Asif Ali Zardari does not favour Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation over Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah protesters’ demand, close aides said.
A senior Pakistan People’s Party leader who met Zardari on Sunday told The Nation that the PPP co-chairman believed the government had “mishandled” the Islamabad sit-in but Hamid’s resignation would still set a wrong precedent.
“If Zahid Hamid resigns, anyone could stage a demonstration and seek the prime minister’s resignation or sacking of any official. This will jolt the system,” the PPP leader added, quoting Zardari .
Zahid Hamid told Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi that he was ready to resign if it could end the prolonged sit-in by the TLYR.
However, the PM has so far asked the minister to continue his job.
Earlier, dozens of protesters attacked Hamid’s residence.
They threw stones at the house and broke windowpanes.
The protesters, who have braved a security forces’ operation during their three weeks’ sit-in, are demanding Hamid resignation for his alleged role in amending the clause in the constitution relating to the finality of the Prophethood.
The parliament has since passed The Elections (Amendment) Bill 2017 and restored the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (finality of the Prophethood) clause in its original form.
Another PPP leader said Zardari and party chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari agree that any resignation should come after the responsibility had been fixed.
“If the law minister is responsible, he must resign but not on the demand of the protesters,” he said, quoting the PPP leadership.
Last night, an important meeting of the PPP leadership was held in Karachi.
The meeting was attended by Zardari , Bilawal, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Khurshid Shah, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, and Senator Sherry Rehman.
“The meeting took stock of the situation in threadbare and pledged to support and stand by democracy and democratic institutions asking the government to fulfil its constitutional obligations,” said a PPP statement.
Zardari’s spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar said the government’s operation against the protesters and its mishandling of the situation would be discussed in the parliament.
“The opposition parties will definitely raise this issue in the parliament. The government failed in handling the situation,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, PPP Senator Rehman Malik condemned the government’s decision of taking all news channels off air. In a statement, he said the decision had seriously dented the freedom of media and would certainly provide a space to the propagandists to spread false information among the masses to make the situation further uncertain.
Malik said as chairman Senate Standing Committee on Interior, he had taken serious notice of Faizabad sit-in and had summoned the interior ministry and Islamabad administration during a session of the committee on November 17 with directions to defuse the current impasse amicably before it spreads across the country.
The former interior minister said the siege of Islamabad had symbolised the siege of whole country as Islamabad being the capital of Pakistan had been held hostage and the government looked helpless. He said Islamabad had been turned into a remote village and the government itself was held hostage and looked paralysed.
The failure of operation to break up sit-in at Islamabad’s Faizabad Interchange, Malik said, had disturbed the nation regarding the safety of the whole country as Pakistan was already the prime target of the terrorists, India and other anti-Pak forces. Malik said the government should have taken the parliament into confidence and had announced an empowered committee of parliamentarians from all parties to help the government in resolving the situation with collective national efforts and response. The PPP leader said all the organs of the government did not seem to be on one page to handle the issue with requisite professional approach and response. “Why the report of Raja Zafarul Haq is not being made public, which can clear the ambiguity and helps in settling this issue,” he questioned. The PPP leader said the protesters had taken a very sensitive issue hence the government should announce immediately a panel of Islamic scholars from all sects, parliamentarians from all political parties and presidents of all bars to approach the protesters for a meaningful dialogue to convince the leadership of protesters to end the sit-in peacefully.
“The government should improve its poor handling and also take additional law enforcement from the Punjab and Azad Kashmir. Frontier constabulary is not a trained force for anti-riots but it is a border management force hence the federal government should move with properly trained anti-riots force to act with minimum damage and to get maximum output in terms of effective law enforcement,” he maintained. Malik demanded a joint session of the parliament to discuss the current deadlock and to propose a common strategy to resolve the issue without any further delay.
“More effective and well strategised administrative-measures should be taken to implement the orders of the Supreme Court as the court may pass some adverse orders against the government for non-compliance,” he added. The lawmaker said the government had to refrain from violence as it would further deteriorate the situation and use the best option, which was effective use of dialogue through skilful and dedicated negotiators. “The government should ensure to restore at least half of Islamabad roads at any cost with the help of Punjab and Islamabad police. Continuously blocked Islamabad is not in national interest,” he said.
Malik said Prime Minister Abbasi should directly contact the leaders of the Faizabad sit-in and take them into confidence and settle the issue with some assurances to get the matter resolved.
To say that recent developments are disturbing would be a vast understatment. The PML-N government should gather the torn shreds of its dignity and pack up shop. For the mullahs have won. The political set-up is still standing, it is true, but what does that matter when it caved in so unceremoniously; giving the latter everything they wanted?
Aside from presenting the Tehreek-e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) with the Law minister’s head on a stick — the Centre has also agreed to release within 30 days the findings of the probe into the saga that started all this: namely the amendment to the Finality of Prophethood declaration for electoral candidates in the Elections Act 2017. It has also promised to release all protesters while guaranteeing the dropping of all charges. And as if that were not enough, it is also said to be investigating its own (belated) action against those who had held the federal capital hostage for some three weeks. All that is left is for the Centre to bend over. Again.
The right-wing religious zealotry that we see today has remained the bane of this country’s existence from day one. In recent decades, it got a boost when the previous government of Pakistan People’s Party backtracked on its pledge to reform the country’s man-made blasphemy laws. The fanaticism imploded when the then sitting Governor Punjab was gunned down by one of his own bodyguards.The extremists knew that they had won when the ruling party remained unable to take a clear stance on the issue. That was the day that the democratic dispensation should have admitted absolute failure in establishing its writ and retreated. Because to stay on means fighting to the bitter end. And that has never happened.
‘They’ told us, the media, civil society, ordinary citizens, that blasphemy was too sensitive an issue; that the masses would become inflamed. So, we listened, quietly and carefully. Yet they, and we, forgot that the poorest of the poor are Pakistan’s minorities, in every sense of the word. Yet we hung them out to dry. The only thing that mattered for us, for everyone, was that the government survived with the Army safely ensconced in its barracks.
Except that isn’t quite how things play out here in Pakistan. And all of us should have known better. And thus it was while we, all of us, were sleeping that the security establishment slowly began stretching its long, long arms. You see, Pakistan is no ordinary country. Every actor is concerned with its own survival and the latter had to prioritise saving its own skin from its one-time proxies. Thus began the so-called mainstreaming project.
This has accelerated massively in the election run-up. Both the TLP and the Milli Muslim League (MML) — the latter which has as its spiritual leader, the recently released Hafiz Saeed –stood in two by-elections. Therefore, it was hardly surprising that the Army didn’t come to the government’s rescue. Not when the cross-partisan political set-up had already legitimised the mullahs and therefore done the security establishment’s bidding.
Pakistan - Govt asked to satisfy court on 'role of armed forces as an arbitrator' in agreement with protesters
The Islamabad High Court on Monday lashed out at the government as well as the Army for the role assigned to the military "as the mediator" in the agreement to end the sit-in at Islamabad's Faizabad Interchange.
The army chief instead of following the orders of the chief executive became a mediator, pointed out Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui as a hearing into the Faizabad protest was underway at the high court on Monday.
"Who is the Army to adopt a mediator's role?" inquired the judge. "Where does the law assign this role to a major general?"
After the weeks-long protest that virtually paralysed the capital, the government and protesters reached an agreement late Sunday night, in which the former conceded to the latter's demands.
The document of the agreement — submitted before the court — bears the signatures of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Interior Secretary Arshad Mirza, Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, two other protest leaders and Maj Gen Faiz Hameed, who facilitated the agreement.
"We are thankful to him [Gen Bajwa] for saving the nation from a big catastrophe," the agreement document concludes, crediting the army chief and his representative team for their "special efforts".
In its written order, the court notes a "number of serious objections on the terms of agreement".
"Most alarming is that Maj Gen Faiz Hameed put signature as [the] one through whom [the] agreement was arrived at," the order says. "It is also very strange that the efforts of Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff, have been acknowledged in the words: this entire agreement was reached through the efforts of the army chief and his representative team."
The order notes that the role assumed by the army chief is "besides the Constitution and the law of the land".
"Armed Forces being part of executive of the country cannot travel beyond its mandate bestowed upon it by the organic law of the country."
On the matter of the abusive language used by the protesters against the judiciary, the order says that "the Federal government and the arbitrator did not bother to persuade the leadership of TLY to even tender an apology in this regard."
"This court has serious reservations on the terms of the agreement and mannerism in which it arrived; however, the federal government has to satisfy the court about the constitutional role of Armed forces and an acknowledgement by the federal government/Executive of the country regarding role of armed forces as an arbitrator," the order reads, calling for the attorney general to assist the court on this point.
The court has also directed the chief commissioner to submit a report regarding the Islamabad operation and "reasons for its failure".
Further, Joint Director General of the Intelligence Bureau Anwar Ali has also been asked to submit a report detailing how the protesters gained acces to guns, tear gas shells and masks.
"He shall also submit a report showing reasons of failure of operation and aid provided to protesters, when ICT Police almost cleared Faizabad Interchange."
"It is made clear that [the] question raised by this court shall not be used as an excuse to dislodge/disburse the protesters of sit-in as order to clear Faizabad Interchange is still in field."
The order adds that if the protesters continue their sit-in, the government and the administration are "required to persuade them to shift to the sit-in at Parade Ground."
Army's response to operation
Security forces had launched an operation against protesters camped out at the Faizabad Interchange on Saturday after the high court had ordered the clearance of the bridge that connects the federal capital with Rawalpindi. The same day, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had advised Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to "handle the Islamabad dharna peacefully". The day-long operation had culminated with the government seeking the military's assistance to disperse the participants who had put up fierce resistance to the security personnel's action. However, the Army had said in its response to the government's call for assistance that while it was "fully ready" to take action, a "few points need deliberation". Subsequently, no troops were deployed in the city.
'You've embarrassed the police, administration'
During the hearing, Justice Siddiqui said soldiers who are inclined towards politics should turn in their weapons, asking if the protests would have continued as they did if the Army's headquarters had been located near the Faizabad Interchange.
"Where is their Radd-ul-Fasaad now? Did they not see any Fasaad (anarchy) in this protest?" Justice Siddiqui asked, referring to a military operation that was launched in February.
The judge remarked that this was proof of the 'military's involvement'.
He told Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal that the administration has the right to call in the Army to control an emergency situation and that the military is bound to comply.
The minister told the court that during the protests and the operation in Islamabad, the country's internal security was at risk. "Security officials were being attacked everyday. Motorways, railways and cities were being closed."
"There was a conspiracy to show that a nuclear-state was failing. The agreement was reached with the protesters to bring the country out of those circumstances," said Iqbal, referring to the 'successful negotiations' with leaders of the demonstration late Sunday night.
The judge asked why the agreement did not carry the signatures of the chief commissioner and the IG.
"Iqbal sahab, you have embarrassed the police and the administration," Justice Siddiqui said. "You [the institutions] are destroying the state in your bid to make each other look bad."
"What role did the Rangers fulfill?" he asked. "You are supporting the impression that the Army is the cure for all illnesses."
This is not just an issue of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the judge said, referring to the religious leader spearheading the TLY sit-in.
The IHC judge, while declaring his love for the Holy Prophet (PBUH), said that these remarks could cost him his life or add him to the list of missing persons'.
The judge tasked Barrister Zafarullah with filing a report on the incident. "He will tell us in 10 days what happened, where and when," the judge said.
Using Zahid Hamid as a 'scapegoat'
Speaking on Law Minister Zahid Hamid's resignation ─ the main demand put forward by the protesters ─ the judge accused the government of using him as a scapegoat to protect PML-N leader Anusha Rehman, state minister for IT and Telecommunication. Rehman was also named in the Khatme-Naboowat controversy. "In order to protect one person, the minister is being sacrificed."
The IHC is conducting hearings on two applications that were filed by residents about the disturbances caused by the protracted sit-in.
"The petitioner has asked for a lot of things in the application," the judge observed, "This will only be made apparent when the project is over and the [protesters] have left."
"Where did the protesters get tear gas and gas masks from?" the judge asked, ordering the Intelligence Bureau to submit a report in this regard before the court.
The hearing was adjourned until next Monday.
Earlier, the high court had expressed its displeasure when the interior minister had failed to appear for the hearing. The minister had been ordered to appear before the court within 15 minutes before the hearing was adjourned for a break.
Ahsan Iqbal arrived at the court soon after. Inspector General Khalid Khattak, Chief Commissioner Zulfiqar Ahmed Bhutta and Deputy Commissioner Captain (retired) Mushtaq were present in court.
The high court has also summoned Director General Intelligence Bureau Aftab Sultan and secretary commander of the Inter-Services Intelligence.
In a previous hearing of the case, which was held before the Islamabad Police with the help of the Fontier Constabulary personnel launched their operation against the protesters, the high court had issued a show-cause notice for contempt of court to Iqbal over his failure to take steps ordered by the court to end the sit-in
Situation in capital
The Faizabad protests had paralysed life in the twin cities for three weeks before an operation of security forces was finally launched on Saturday in keeping with the court's orders.
The operation had continued all day on Saturday. Tensions had remained high in the federal capital on Sunday when the Rangers were handed over charge of the operation.
After negotiations late Sunday night, the government's gave in to the protesters' demand for the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, among other conditions. Subsequently, the TLY chief on Monday ordered his followers to end sit-ins across the country.
Pakistan’s government struck a deal on Monday with leaders of a fundamentalist Islamist protest movement, saying that the country’s law minister would step down in return for an end to demonstrations that had brought violent clashes and paralyzed the Pakistani capital for weeks.
The embattled law minister, Zahid Hamid, whom protesters had accused of blasphemy, resigned as part of negotiations overseen by Pakistan’s military, officials said.
Public anger over the protest’s disruption of Islamabad, the capital, had been growing by the day, and the agreement was widely seen as another in a string of capitulations by the government to religious extremists who command growing popularity in Pakistan.
Just a few days before, a judicial panel ordered the release of the Islamist militant leader Hafiz Saeed from house arrest. Though Mr. Saeed stands accused in the deadly Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 and is wanted internationally as a terrorist leader and financier, he also enjoys huge popularity in Pakistan, and was seen as very likely to publicly take up leadership of a political party started by his inner circle.
The agreement on Monday was hashed out after violent clashes between the protesters — from a hard-line religious party belonging to the Barelvi sect of Islam — and police officers. The party’s leader, the cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, had rallied thousands of supporters near one of the main entrances to Islamabad, disrupting traffic for more than two weeks.
An attempt by the governing party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, to clear out the protest site earlier on Saturday ended in deadly clashes, with at least six protesters killed and more than 200 people injured.
The government was forced to suspend the operation, but violence quickly spilled over to other parts of the country, especially in Punjab Province, the most important political base for the governing party. The law minister’s house there was attacked, and several other party figures also came under pressure.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi met with Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s army chief, to discuss the crisis. The army chief said his troops would not use force to stop the protests, but agreed to safeguard important buildings around the capital, military officials said.
The Barelvi party’s protest started over proposed changes to the oath taken by incoming lawmakers, including altering the language that declared the Prophet Muhammad as God’s final prophet.
Mr. Rizvi and other hard-line clerics said the changes, under the supervision of Mr. Hamid, the law minister, resulted in blasphemy, which is listed under the country’s laws as a capital offense. Even isolated accusations of blasphemy have led to lynchings or mob violence, and Mr. Rizvi has frequently used the issue to whip up outrage at sermons and party rallies.
The law minister denied the charge, releasing a video in which he stated that he personally believed that Muhammad was God’s final prophet, and the government quickly dropped the proposed changes to the oath. But the efforts to placate Mr. Rizvi and several other religious leaders failed, and demonstrations began three weeks ago.
The agreement signed in the early hours of Monday called for an immediate removal of the law minister. In turn, religious leaders assured that they would not issue an edict against him — apparently to ensure that the minister did not come under further attacks; blasphemy accusations have often led to killings of the accused. The agreement called for the release of all workers and supporters of Mr. Rizvi’s party apart from asking the government to pay for the damages to public property.
One particularly telling part of the agreement was a note of gratitude to General Bajwa, the army chief, who was thanked for “saving the country from a big catastrophe.” In some circles, the military has been criticized as being too tolerant, or even supportive, of extreme Islamist groups.
Maj. Gen. Faiz Hamid, the director general of the counterintelligence wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the country’s powerful spy agency, signed the agreement as representative of the army chief.
Later on Monday, roadblocks and barriers were removed from Islamabad’s highways and connecting roads after Mr. Rizvi addressed a news conference and called off the protest. Sanitary workers began to remove debris from the area where the protesters were camped.
Maj. Gen. Azhar Naveed Hayat Khan, the director general of the Pakistan Rangers (Punjab), a paramilitary force, which had been ordered to clear the protest site, distributed cash to some protesters who needed it to buy tickets for the trip home. When one older protester demurred, the general insisted, put his hand over his heart and said, “It is from our side. Are we not with you?”
By Pamela Constable
A Muslim protest movement that paralyzed the capital and convulsed the country for days disbanded peacefully Monday after the government accepted the demonstrators’ main demands, including the resignation of the embattled federal law minister.
But the role of Pakistan’s powerful military in brokering the agreement raised sharp criticism from Pakistan’s judiciary, which accused army officials of an “alarming” reach into politics. Some analysts suggested the army was the real “winner” in the confrontation because it embarrassed the weak civilian government and enhanced the image of the armed forces.
The protesters were enraged over an apparent attempt to change a federal election law in a way that they believed insulted the prophet Muhammad and paved the way for a religious minority group, the Ahmedis, to fully enter the political arena in a country that is 95 percent Muslim.
The protest movement’s leader, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, said he would call off its three-week occupation of a highway interchange outside the capital. A botched operation to break up the protesters on Saturday ended in violence and triggered nationwide sympathy protests, with hundreds injured and at least six people killed over two days.
Rizvi also asked protesters across the country to disperse and called for businesses to reopen. Most major cities were shut down for the past two days, with demonstrators flooding the streets and religious rallies held around the clock in scores of towns and communities.
The confrontation was ended after late-night negotiations Sunday. Rizvi publicly praised Pakistan’s army chief and his aides for acting as “guarantors” of the agreement, which prevented the situation from possibly spiraling into a national religious uprising.
A long list of demands by Rizvi and his group, the Movement in Service to the Messenger of God, was accepted by the government. The demands included the removal of the law minister, Zahid Hamid, the release of all detained protesters, an official inquiry into Saturday’s police assault, and a public accounting of who was behind the attempted law change that provoked the protests.
The agreement signed by Rizvi and top civilian officials specifically thanked Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army chief of staff, for “saving the nation from a big catastrophe.”
But even as a sense of normalcy began to return and traffic flowed in streets that had been blocked by stones and club-wielding demonstrators, the judiciary’s criticism of the army’s role mostly eclipsed discussion of the religious controversy.
The military is the most powerful institution in Pakistan, and it has often intervened in civilian rule. The current military leadership is believed to dislike the ruling party and its leader, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Some Pakistani observers suggested — without offering evidence — that the army orchestrated the religious protests to weaken the party before elections next year.
In a court hearing Monday in Islamabad on the protests, a senior judge demanded: “Who is the army to adopt a mediator’s role?” The judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, said that went “beyond the constitution.”
In a ruling, the Islamabad High Court called it “alarming” that a senior army official had signed the agreement with the protesters and “very strange” that the document had acknowledged Bajwa’s team as playing the main role in the pact.
Rizvi and his followers objected to new language in the election law that weakened an oath required of all candidates, who must swear they believe that Muhammad was the final prophet in Islam. Officials apologized for the “clerical error” and restored the original oath, but Rizvi’s group seized on the issue to rouse the ire of millions of Pakistani Muslims.
The Messenger of God movement is based on reverence for Muhammad and support for Pakistan’s strict laws against blasphemy. It claims to be peaceful and has recently fielded candidates for Parliament. But the group also idolized Mumtaz Qadri, a man who assassinated a provincial governor for defending a woman accused of blasphemy.
Some government officials and others have accused Rizvi of using religion for political gain. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal further charged that foreign “anti-state” actors who want chaos in Pakistan were behind the protests.
“There was a conspiracy to show that a nuclear state was failing. The agreement was reached to bring the country out of those circumstances,” Iqbal told the court hearing. Judge Siddiqui, indirectly chiding both civilian and military leaders, said, “You are destroying the state in your bid to make each other look bad.”