Top civil-mil officials agree on ‘political negotiations’ with Islamabad protesters, no use of force

Police Shelling during Faizabad Operation

(Dawn News)

Top civil and military officials on Sunday decided against the use of force to disperse protesters in Islamabad, opting instead to engage in political negotiations with agitators in the capital, a highly-placed source told DawnNews.

There has been no official confirmation of the development.

Chief of Army Staff Qamar Jawed Bajwa, who flew in from the United Arab Emirates, attended the over two-hour-long meeting headed by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, along with Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Director-General (DG) Inter-Services Intelligence Naveed Mukhtar.

The officials decided to engage in protest leaders “with influence”, the source said, adding that the use of force against protesters has been discouraged in favour of a political settlement.

The meeting was held at Prime Minister House to discuss the unstable law and order situation in the capital in the aftermath of a botched operation to disperse protesters at the Faizabad Interchange on Saturday.

Rangers were given charge of the Faizabad operation today in a bid to control the chaos in the capital. Around 1,000 Rangers personnel, who were deployed in Islamabad yesterday, have been re-positioned to the front lines of the security operation.

Islamabad police and FC personnel, who were yesterday on the frontlines, have been relegated to back positions, as decided in a meeting of police, capital administration and Rangers officials on Saturday night.

News channels to be restored: Pemra

It was decided in the top-level meeting that private TV news channels ─ which had been taken off-air for about 28 hours ─ would be permitted to go on air again, DawnNews reported.

Pemra issued a notification to this effect after the meeting, saying that all news and current affairs satellite TV channels have “immediately been restored”.

“All distribution networks have been directed to restore these channels on their original positions immediately,” the Pemra press release said.

The federal government also issued a policy directive asking Pemra to take channels off air if they violate the agreed-upon guidelines regarding coverage of the Faizabad sit-in in Islamabad, as well as protests elsewhere in the country.

The guidelines have been sent to the Pakistan Association of Broadcasters, the Pemra statement added.

Schools, universities closed

The All-Pakistan Private Schools Federation (APPSF) announced that all private schools would remain closed on Monday and Tuesday, Nov 27 and 28, in light of the “prevailing situation”. They are expected to reopen on Wednesday, Nov 29, according to APPSF President Kashif Mirza.

The Punjab government on Sunday said all public and private schools, colleges and universities in the province would remain closed on Nov 27 and 28 as per a Higher Education Department notification.

The Islamabad administration also issued directives that all educational institutions would be closed on Monday and Tuesday, DawnNewsreported.

Military assistance

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, against religious protesters who have all but paralysed the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi for over a fortnight.

Saturday’s operation culminated with the Interior Ministry sending out a formal requisition for the deployment of military troops in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

The Pakistan Army on Sunday morning said that it is “fully ready” to assist the federal government in an operation against protesters who remain camped out at the Faizabad Interchange even after the operation.

Recent developments

  • Rangers take lead of Islamabad operation
  • No sign of armoured vehicles or Army in Islamabad and Rawalpindi
  • Social media sites, private television broadcasts still blocked
  • Protests and demonstrations resume in cities across country
  • Education institutions in Punjab to remain closed on Monday and Tuesday

In response to the government’s request for assistance with the operation, the Army — in an official letter to the Interior Ministry — said that it was prepared to cooperate with security personnel in keeping with Article 245 of the Constitution to protect the life and property of the residents of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

However, the letter states that before troops are deployed, there are a “few aspects meriting deliberation”, such as how the “police has not been utilized to its full capacity” in dealing with the religious protesters.

It points out that “the Pakistan Rangers have not been given written instructions.”

The letter also highlights that the Army is not a force traditionally used to disperse crowds or protesters, adding that the terms of the military’s deployment in the twin cities need to be clarified in keeping with orders passed by the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court earlier this week.

On Friday, the IHC, displeased with government inaction against the Faizabad protesters, had pointed out that the participants of the sit-in could be dispersed using options other than bullets.

Similarly, the SC on Thursday had said that the efforts of the government to avoid loss of life by refraining from launching its operation against protesters were commendable. However, the apex court had added that “it does not follow that protesters can only be removed by firing upon them.”

Protests continue on Sunday

The protesters amassed at the Faizabad bridge belong to various ‘religious’ parties, including the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST), and had been calling for the sacking of Law Minister Zahid Hamid and strict action against those behind the amendment to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017 ─ which had earlier been deemed a ‘clerical error’.

Demonstrations were held in support of the religious parties on Saturday as the operation in Islamabad went underway. Protests and roadblocks, which had paralysed life in various cities across the country, have resumed for a second day on Sunday, with demonstrators condemning Saturday’s operation.

In Karachi, Shahrah-i-Pakistan remained blocked on Sunday with oil tankers lined up along the highway since 2am.

A large number of protesters gathered at Karachi’s Numaish Chowrangi told DawnNews that they would continue their demonstrations until either their leaders in Faizabad told them to stop or their demands for Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation were fulfilled.

The protesters continued to chant anti-government slogans.

In Lahore, enraged protesters set fire to a police checkpoint at Expressway near Rawat. The Grand-Trunk Road and Motorway, connecting Islamabad to Lahore, was closed.

In Peshawar, protesters gathered at Ring Road where traffic was blocked. Supporters of religious parties camped out at the Faizabad Interchange condemned Saturday’s operation in Islamabad.

Earlier, protesters gathered near Kachnar Park in Islamabad set police vehicles alight early Sunday morning, police said.

Five motorcycles and one car belonging to the police personnel were set alight by the protesters, police said, adding that the vehicles were personal property.

The protest participants also pelted police personnel deployed in the area with stones.

However, as the police have not been issued instructions to take action against the protesters so far today, the latter’s actions were not met with any retaliation by the forces.

Between 50 and 60 protesters have gathered at the Taramri Chowk on Islamabad’s Lehtarar Road, which has been blocked.

Protest participants also picked up two police officials from Islamabad’s Sohan area, police said.

According to officials, negotiations are underway with the protesters for the return of the two officials.

Towns across Sindh ─ including Badin, Chhachro, Sanghar and Tando Allahyar ─ remained closed on Sunday on the call of religious parties condemning the Islamabad operation.

A day earlier

A day earlier, at least six were killed and hundreds were wounded as violent clashes broke out between law enforcement personnel and protesters camped out at the Faizabad Interchange.

Finally acting upon court orders, security personnel launched an operation against protesters, who had amassed at the Faizabad Interchange ─ which connects Islamabad to Rawalpindi ─ on November 8. Around 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear took part in the clearance operation.

The operation was launched after several attempts by the government to hold talks with the protesters failed, with the latter remaining adamant on the matter of the law minister’s resignation.

The use of tear gas, rubber bullets and batons by security personnel met with fierce resistance by protesters, who increased in number as the operation continued through the day.

At least 150 protesters were arrested before security forces withdrew.

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