ISLAMABAD: The federal government has decided to reopen negotiations with demonstrators camped in Islamabad for 21 days, after attempts to disperse the rally ended in deadly violence.
Thousands of demonstrators were occupying the roads between the federal capital and neighbouring Rawalpindi on Sunday evening, with the numbers rising and protests spreading to other towns and cities after law enforcers launched a failed operation to clear them one day earlier.
At least one protester was killed and over 250 people, including 90 policemen and FC personnel, were injured in the violence, as the government also ordered a electronic and social media blackout in its attempts to keep the situation under control.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi chaired a high-level meeting in which the government took the decision to reopen negotiations with the protesters.
The meeting participants also agreed that the Army would play its constitutional role for the restoration of peace in the capital.
Participants of the meeting—including Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the Director-General of ISI—were told that the military would continue to play its role in the protection of the country as per Article 245 of the Constitution.
The Article 245 of the Constitution states: “The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.”
But the army chief has suggested to the government to handle the situation peacefully “avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest and cohesion.”
In a one-on-one meeting with the prime minister earlier today, the army chief also suggested that the findings of the Raja Zafar-ul-Haq committee should be made public.
Protesters demand resignation of federal cabinet
The protesters had demanded that the entire federal cabinet resign Saturday night following the police operation. They remarked that no one will present demands on their behalf.
They also said their committee will make a decision on negotiations and added that the administration of Islamabad and Rawalpindi will be held responsible for their actions.
In the first week of November, protesters from religious parties had staged a protest at Faizabad Interchange demanding that government should punish those responsible for changing the wording of the oath regarding the finality of Prophethood taken by lawmakers.
The government had immediately fixed the ‘clerical error’ by passing another amendment. Later on, the protesters demanded resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid.
PM, COAS agree to not used force against protesters
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa agreed that force will not be used to disperse protesters in Islamabad during a high-level meeting on Sunday, sources told Geo News.
During the meeting, the two officials exchanged views on the matter and tried to formulate a plan of action.
The two officials discussed the issue of whether firearms should be used by army personnel. In its order, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) “restrains [the] use of ‘firearms’ during clearance operation”, as per Item 8 of its “judgment of writ petition number 3914 of 2017”.
The COAS affirmed that that the army will act according to the law and Constitution of the country, sources added.
Both officials agreed that the issue should be resolved in a peaceful manner.
The army chief was on a visit to the United Arab Emirates and cut short his trip to reach the country last night, sources said.
Rangers, police deployed as sit-in continues
Rangers and police personnel were deployed and around Faizabad interchange as protests continue in the capital on Sunday.
Security arrangements for the operation have now been handed over to the Rangers to keep the law and order situation in the federal capital under control, sources said.
Protesters renewed violence early Sunday morning as they resorted to arson and pelted stones at police. The protesters began pelting stones at policemen and set fire to five motorcycles and a car belonging to the police near I-8 sector earlier today, police said.
The situation remains tense in the capital as demonstrations continue at Faizabad interchange, I-8 Markaz and other areas. Express Highway, IJP Road, and the motorway leading to Lahore remain closed to traffic.
Transmission of news channels restored after 28 hours
News channels across Pakistan were restored 28 hours Sunday afternoon after they were taken off air at the behest of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) following operation in Islamabad.
The regulatory body, prior to its decision to take news channels off air, had directed media houses to ensure the security of their staff while the tense security situation persisted across the country.
PEMRA had earlier barred media from live coverage of the Islamabad Operation under the Media Code of Conduct 2015.
Moreover, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) also announced to restore social media websites across the country.