The ongoing protest in Pakistan by religious parties including Tehreek-e-Labbaik, Tehreek-e-Sunnat, and Tehreek-e-Khatm-e Nabuwat has created a political stalemate in the country. The religious leaders demand that Law Minister Zahid Hamid be sacked after he allegedly tried to amend clauses pertaining to Khatm-e-Nabuwat oath in the Election Bill 2017. The sit-in began on Nov 9 when protestors, against government warning, blocked the Faizabad Bridge, which connects the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
On Nov 24 after the government cracked down on protestors at Faizabad, protests cropped up in the major cities of Pakistan. Less than 48 hours ago, the civilian government issue notice called upon the rangers to aid the civilian government in ending the sit-in at Faizabad and adjoining areas. As the protest makes headlines all over, it is easy to lose track of the major events so far. Here are a few noteworthy moments from the protest and the consequent government crackdown so far.
FIR was registered against Tehreek-e-Labbaik leader Khadim Rizvi for “unintentional murder” of an infant:
An infant died after not being able to reach Pims Hospital owing to traffic conditions aggravated by the sit-in protest in Faizabad on Nov 9. An FIR against Rizvi and other participants of the protest was registered under Section 322 of the Pakistan Penal Code which deals with unintentional murder.
Law Minister Zahid Hamid has clarified his belief in the finality of Prophet (SAW) twice during the protests:
Speaking to the National Assembly on Nov 16, Hamid clarified that no amendment was being made to the Election Bill with reference to Khatam-e-Nabuwat Oath. As this did not curb protests, the Law Minister took to YouTube to declare his unflinching belief in the finality of Prophethood on November 25. However, this did not deter protesters from their demands.
Protests turned violent across the country on November 25:
Following failed negotiations between protestors and the government, the latter ordered a cracked down on Faizabad protestors. This caused an eruption of protests across the nation against the government’s use of force. Several cities were engulfed, including big cities like Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Lahore, and Sultan; several reports were heard of protestors burning down motor vehicles. Most cities such as Karachi were brought to a halt as protestors blocked traffic at key points across the city.
Social Media was banned and schools across Punjab were closed due to security concerns:
The government banned social media websites including Facebook and Twitter after the Faizabad operation sparked violence across the country. News agencies were also ordered to go off the air but service was restored on Nov 26. However, the ban raised pressing concerns over the government’s attempt to stop developments from reaching the citizens.
Imran Khan blamed Nawaz Sharif for the mess and reiterated his call for early elections:
The PTI Chief has reissued a call for early elections, which is being seen by many as opportunistic. However, he has raised an important point in terms of transparency and accountability. Khan has questioned government’s inability to make public the results of a sensitive inquiry led by Raja Zafarul Haq into possible changes made to Khatm-e-Nabuwat clauses- a point that sparked the protest in the first place.
PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi participated in the protests:
In a Facebook post update, it surfaced that Qureshi participated in the protests at Ghanta Ghar Chowk in Multan on Nov 26. The decision to participate in an activity that was declared anti-state by the government just a day ago raises questions regarding the opposition’s quest for power.
Interior Minister, Ahsan Iqbal claimed involvement of ‘foreign’ forces:
On Nov 20, Ahsan Iqbal alleged that anti-state conspirators actually wanted the government to use force. On Nov 25 he claimed that the protestors are in touch with India. He says that the protestors are more skilled than the average protestor as they have tear gassed security officials. They also cut off optic cables of reporters trying to cover the sit-in. As investigations are underway, it is an interesting question: Is this a feeble attempt to distract attention from government inaction or a legitimate claim by Iqbal?
The government called upon Armed Forces to help maintain law and order:
Article 245 of the Pakistan Constitution provisions the government to call upon armed forces to help maintain law and order. The notice was issued by the government on Nov 25 hours after government apparatus was unable to restore peace. On the same day, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor tweeted that COAS suggested that PM address the protests peacefully.
COAS Javed Bajwa said that military will not use force against its own people
The Chief of Army Staff said that the Military will abide by their constitutional duty to aid the civilian government. However, they will not directly be involved in using force to remove protestors. Considering that on the first day of the crackdown 150 people including protestors and police officials were injured, this might have been a wise decision on the part of the army.
IHC labeled the sit-in a ‘terrorist act’ on Nov 25:
The Islamabad High Court took sou moto notice of the protest and declared the sit-in to be “an act of terrorism” and an “anti-state activity”.
An agreement giving in to the demands of the protesters was reached today:
In the latest turn of events, an agreement has been reached between the government and Tehreek-e-Labbaik, which clearly shows the failure of the government to end the protest on it’s own terms. Ironically, Islamabad has given into the demands of the protesters who were said to be involved in the ‘act of terrorism’ just two days ago.
Zahid Hamid has resigned as Law Minister, hopefully bringing an end to the protest
Zahid Hamid resigned as Federal Law Minister this morning stating that it is a personal decision. As the main demand of the religious parties has been met it is expected that the protestors will disperse, bringing an end to 19-day long sit-in.
The ongoing events in the country have brought to light several fissures in the relationship between government, the army, and the people. Imran Khan’s call for early elections has shown the ugly side of politics as he used the protest to further his own political gains. However, more than a few may hold the opinion that his call for early elections is necessary to ensure democratic stability in the country. The calling in of the army and the consequent hesitance to use force has demonstrated the limitations of a government-army alliance. The nail in the coffin is perhaps the possibly avoidable death of an 8 month old infant.
Does the government have to wait for such heavy ‘collateral damage’ to take action against protests that paralyze the country? And lastly, the greatest rift shown is within the government. It is pertinent to ask whether party affiliations trump national security both at government and civilian level.