Islamabad vows to ‘take ac­tion’ against bel­liger­ent pro­test­ers

‘Time for ne­go­ti­at­ing with anti-blas­phemy pro­test­ers is over’


ISLAMABAD: Pak­istan’s Min­is­ter of State for In­for­ma­tion and Broad­cast­ing Mar­riyum Au­rangzeb has said the time for ne­go­ti­at­ing with an­tiblas­phemy pro­test­ers is over.

Since last week, hard-line ac­tivists, many car­ry­ing makeshift weapons, have dis­rupted life in the fed­eral cap­i­tal, block­ing the main high­way be­tween Islamabad and Rawalpindi and de­mand­ing that Law and Jus­tice Min­is­ter Zahid Hamid resign.

The protests stem from gov­ern­ment amend­ments to the elec­toral law in Oc­to­ber which al­tered the word­ing of an oath for law­mak­ers. The gov­ern­ment has re­peat­edly claimed that the change from “I be­lieve” to “I solemnly swear” was “a cler­i­cal error” and the orig­i­nal word­ing was swiftly re­stored.

But the pro­test­ers ac­cuse Hamid of sym­pa­thiz­ing with a mi­nor­ity Ah­madi sect. The far-right lead­ers or­ga­niz­ing the protests have been call­ing on sup­port­ers from other cities to de­scend on Islamabad and add their voices to their call for Hamid’s re­moval.

Hamid has posted a video on so­cial me­dia dis­cussing his faith in a bid to lay the al­le­ga­tions to rest.

“I solemnly swear that I have no af­fil­i­a­tion with Qa­di­ani Group, La­hori Group and (nor do) I call my­self Ah­madi,” he said. All three of those sects are de­clared as non-Mus­lims in Pak­istan’s con­sti­tu­tion.

What be­gan on Oct. 25 as a few dozen pro­test­ers from hard-line re­li­gious groups, in­clud­ing Sunni Tehreek, grew rapidly last Wed­nes­day as the Tehreek Lab­baik Ya Ra­sool Al­lah (TLYR) party led by cler­ics Dr. Asif Ashraf Jalali and Maulana Khadim Hus­sain Rizvi joined the rally.

Pro­test­ers have blocked the main artery be­tween Islamabad and Rawalpindi, stag­ing a sit-in at Faiz­abad in­ter­sec­tion, pitch­ing tents and threat­en­ing any­one try­ing to cross their lines.

Islamabad’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has placed ship­ping con­tain­ers on sev­eral routes into the city and have de­ployed a large con­tin­gent of law en­force­ment of­fi­cers to main­tain or­der.

Some schools and busi­nesses have closed and mes­sages cir­cu­lat­ing on so­cial me­dia sug­gest peo­ple should avoid leav­ing their homes un­less ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary. Pub­lic trans­port has been dis­rupted and the city’s busi­ness dis­trict has suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant losses as its main road has been shut­down by po­lice to pre­vent pro­test­ers from reach­ing fed­eral gov­ern­ment build­ings, as they have threat­ened to do if Hamid does not resign.

Au­rangzeb sug­gested that the gov­ern­ment’s pa­tience may be run­ning out.

“I think we gave them enough time and ne­go­ti­ated but they wouldn’t lis­ten,” she told Arab News. “They have made ev­ery­one’s life mis­er­able and we will take ac­tion to re­move the pro­test­ers.”

Au­rangzeb said the Min­istry of In­te­rior has or­dered the road to be cleared.

In a state­ment, Min­is­ter of In­te­rior Ah­san Iqbal said: “The gov­ern­ment is avoid­ing ex­treme ac­tion so that ex­trem­ists can­not take ad­van­tage of it.”

He added that the gov­ern­ment is “try­ing to avoid vi­o­lence.” How­ever, he stressed that putting peo­ple’s lives at risk is a crim­i­nal of­fense.

“Tehreek Lab­baik Ya Ra­sool Al­lah lead­ers can protest but should avoid chal­leng­ing the law,” Iqbal said, adding that he hoped the pro­test­ers would not force the gov­ern­ment to take “ex­treme mea­sures.”

Mem­bers of the Tehreek-e-Lab­baik Pak­istan, a po­lit­i­cal party, shout slo­gans dur­ing a sit-in in Rawalpindi on Mon­day. (Reuters)

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