ISLAMABAD - As protesters refused to budge, the government Monday formed a new committee consisting of religious leaders from different schools of thought to negotiate an end to the two-week sit-in at Faizabad .

The move came hours after the Islamabad High Court said it would hold officials in contempt if they did not launch a crackdown, as commuters called for the roads to be opened and critics accused the government of creating a dangerous precedent by failing to take a stand.

“This is a very serious situation,” said a written statement from the court, blasting a lack of progress as “beyond comprehension”, as sufferings of citizens reached their limit.

The government held a round of parleys with the leadership of demonstrators at Punjab House but to no avail, as protesters stuck to their guns — resignation of Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid.

According to official sources, the law minister participated in talks, explained his position and briefed the leaders of protesters about the process of drafting the Electoral Reforms Bill by a 34–member parliamentary committee.

Talking to The Nation, Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah spokesman Pir Ijaz Ashrafi confirmed participation of law minister in the talks to explain his position but said that their only demand was his resignation. He said the Tehreek was demanding law minister’s resignation for his failure to stop passage of the controversial law.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and the Punjab police chief also participated in the talks.

Declaration

After a high-level huddle with religious leaders, Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Muhammad Yousaf read out a declaration to resolve the issue.

The declaration read: “A committee, headed by Pir Hussainuddin Shah will come into action instantly to find a comprehensive and satisfactory solution to the problem. The meeting urged the government to avoid use of force and operation against the protesters. This meeting of religious scholars announced with sincerity that faith in Khatam-e-Nabuwwat is the basis for our religion and there is no room for leniency, mistake or error.”

It added: “The recent incidents were a matter of concern for the participants. It demanded that recommendations of the probe committee, mandated to fix responsibility for the controversy, headed by Raja Zafarul Haq, should be made public and action should be taken against the responsible.

“Keeping in view the sanctity of month of Rabiul Awwal, the meeting appealed to the government and the Tehreek to resolve the matter amicably through negotiations so that problems being faced by more than 0.8 million people of Islamabad and Rawalpindi can be mitigated. Islam doesn’t create difficulties for human beings. It is the collective responsibility of all to maintain the law and order and create a good, peaceful and favourable atmosphere for celebrations of Eid Miladun Nabi.”

Flanked by the religious affairs minister, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told the media that all participants of the meeting agreed that the issue should be resolved amicably.

Demonstration

Roughly 2,000 protesters from Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan have blocked a main highway used by thousands of commuters since November 6, causing hours long traffic snarls.

The government insisted on negotiating with the demonstrators, even after the court issued an order for the roads to be cleared by last Saturday. The protesters are demanding resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid over a hastily-abandoned amendment to the oath election candidates must swear.

“We want to resolve this issue immediately and peacefully. Pakistan cannot afford any unrest,” he told reporters.

Protesters at the demonstration, where young men armed with clubs are refusing to let vehicles pass and at times pelting those who come near with stones, were defiant.

“We are here until he resigns; we will not go,” said Pir Ijaz Ashrafi, a spokesman for the party, warning that if the government acts against them it would “not survive”.

Others warned that if the government does move to disperse the protesters, rallies could spread throughout the country.

 

Contempt

The IHC issued show-cause notices to interior secretary, capital chief commissioner and Islamabad IGP over their failure to clear Faizabad despite court orders.

The court of Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui wrote in the judgement, “Let a show-cause notice be issued to the respondents that why contempt of court proceedings may not be initiated against them, as they failed to comply with the order dated November 17, 2017.”

Hearing two petitions against the sit-in, the court added that earlier directives were issued for appearance of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and interior secretary who were in attendance.

INP news agency reported Justice Siddiqui said the religious party leading the protest also participated in the elections; therefore, it should be treated as a political party.

The court gave more time to the government to clear the area, on the request of federal minister.

According to the judgement, Ahsan made a categorical statement that it was government’s responsibility to maintain law and order and protect people’s rights.

“He submitted that the order passed by the court was with reference to applicability and enforcement of law, therefore, all endeavours had been made to implement the same, but for the fact that the issue was very sensitive and there were genuine apprehensions of the district administration that protesters of sit-in might resist against the lawful efforts of the administration with some hostility and arms, therefore, number of efforts had been made to settle and sort out the issue, but unfortunately no effort of settlement had proved successful. He being interior minister undertakes that writ of the state shall be enforced and rights of the citizens of twin cities shall be fully protected and restored. He was confident that the matter would be resolved in a couple of days; therefore, the matter might be postponed for Thursday.”

Justice Siddiqui observed it was a very serious situation that despite request to the leadership of the sit-in and directives given to the district administration, no material progress had been shown except negotiations, negotiations and negotiations.

“Obviously, the district administration, finds itself in the arena of uncertainty due to [the] involvement of high-ups, therefore, no material effort [has been] made, which is not appreciable. [The] Islamabad High Court being custodian of the rights of more than 800,000 citizens dwelling within [the] Islamabad Capital Territory, cannot leave them at the mercy of those who besiege the city at a place which is most strategic in nature,” maintained the IHC bench.

The single bench observed that this situation required a proactive approach by the ICT Administration. It is beyond comprehension that how a person or group, whosoever, can be allowed to frustrate an order passed by a constitutional court and extend the date of implementation on their own.

“This really is an effort to undermine the authority of [the] court, which cannot be taken lightly. Let show cause notice[s] be issued to the respondents that why contempt of court proceedings may not be initiated against them, as they failed to comply with the order dated November 17, 2017. File of contempt proceedings be prepared and numbered separately.”

Later, the IHC bench deferred the hearing till November 23 for further proceedings.

Ahsan told the media outside after court proceedings that conspiracies were being hatched against Pakistan at the international level to create instability in the country. He said he had requested the court to give more time so that the government could convey to protesters that it had no problem with the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat declaration.

 

 

Govt buys more time to clear Faizabad

 

IMRAN MUKHTAR/SHAHID RAO