Protesters spurn talks offer by administration

29 Mar 2016


Protesters shout slogans during an anti-government sit-in in front of the parliament building in Islamabad on March 28, 2016. ─ AFP
Protesters shout slogans during an anti-government sit-in in front of the parliament building in Islamabad on March 28, 2016. ─ AFP

ISLAMABAD: Efforts to negotiate with Mumtaz Qadri’s supporters camped outside parliament since Sunday night did not bear fruit even on Monday.

The protesters insisted that they would only negotiate with a three-member committee consisting of the Leader of the House in the Senate, the National Assembly speaker and a Punjab government representative, refusing to deal with officials from the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration, who tried in vain to win them over. An ICT official said the administration had contacted the protesters at 10pm on Sunday night.

“We requested them to wind up the sit-in, but the protesters wanted to negotiate with the Pakistan Army. We told them that the ICT administration does not have mandate to contact the army, but the message would be conveyed,” he said.

“Then, around 11pm (on Sunday), some army vehicles arrived at D-Chowk, but that was only because the security of the Red Zone had been handed over to the military,” he said.

Insist they will only negotiate with NA speaker, Senate’s Leader of the House and Punjab govt representative

“We have been in touch with the protesters, but have received no proper reply from the government, so we cannot take any decision over what to do with them,” he said.

The government’s response to the ransacking of the federal capital had been uncharacteristically timid on Sunday.

But on Monday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan broke his silence over the issue as he lashed out at the violence and damage to public property caused by the protesters.

Chairing a joint meeting of the police and district administration of the twin cities on Monday, he admonished the administration of the twin cities for their flawed arrangements.

“The way the law was flouted on the [pretext] of a chehlum is not acceptable,” he remarked.

He directed the Rawalpindi and Islamabad administration to take immediate action to restore life in the city to normal, but the statement did not elaborate if this meant an operation against the protesters.

Later, in his televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also referred to the protests on D-Chowk: “We will not tolerate the violation of law and damage to public property in the name of God and the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). The leniency of state should not be considered a weakness,” he said.

However, Sunni Tehreek spokesperson Naeem Raza told Dawn that the protesters had come to D-Chowk with certain goals and would not go back without achieving their targets.

He confirmed that the deputy commissioner and his team had met the protesters at least five times, “but we refused to hold talks with them”.

“We were clear that we would only negotiate with Raja Zafarul Haq, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Zaeem Qadri,” he said.

He said the government had been told that whoever was sent to negotiate must have the authority to make concessions. “We don’t want to waste our time in negotiations where we simply get promises that our demands will be shared with the government,” he said.

He accused the district administration of confiscating their food supplies and arresting at least 500 protesters, but these claims could not be independently verified.

“Our workers are waiting in Karachi at the Press Club and Numaish Chowrangi; in Lahore, they are at Data Darbar: we just have to give word and they will block all important roads all over the country,” he warned.

Talking to Dawn, Senator Raja Zafarul Haq said that the State Minister for Interfaith Harmony, Pir Muhammad Aminul Hasnat, had called to tell him that the protesters want to negotiate with him.

“I told him that I can negotiate with them, but I need to be ordered and mandated to do so by the leadership. So far, I have received no such orders,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2016