ISLAMABAD: The government deferred action against protesters belonging to the Sunni Tehreek and other parties, who have camped out in D-Chowk since Sunday night, for another day as Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan vowed to get Constitution Avenue cleared out by Wednesday.
With the fate of the sit-in hanging in the balance, backchannel attempts at negotiation also looked to have borne fruit, as the minister told reporters that some religious leaders had flown in from Karachi to intercede on the protesters’ behalf and were negotiating with the district administration for safe exit of the protesters.
However, he made it clear that those who had damaged public and private property under the guise of a chehlum would not be spared. Though he did not give a clear timeline for the proposed action against protesters, he said any operation would be conducted in broad daylight and under the watchful eye of the media.
Chaudhry Nisar insisted that no one from the government was involved in talks with protesters, adding that the sit-in leaders should deal with the district administration. He also denied reports that cabinet members Ishaq Dar and Tariq Fazal Chaudhry were negotiating with the protesters. “No such talks are taking place on a government level and no such talks will take place,” he said.
“I will not allow anyone to further their politics over dead bodies,” he said.
He recalled that permission was extended on an application submitted to the Punjab government to hold the chehlum with an undertaking that the participants would disperse peacefully.
Interior minister says action against sit-in to be carried out in broad daylight
The minister said that a senior official had been tasked with investigating how the protesters managed to enter the Red Zone, adding that the police were apparently unprepared for such an eventuality.
Saying that details would be provided later, the minister claimed that many of the protesters involved in the destruction of public property had already been arrested.
The interior minister said that the reason for delaying the operation against protesters was to give those who wanted to leave peacefully, especially the elderly, should be given the chance to evacuate.
Also on Tuesday, Awais Noorani, who is the son of late Jamiat Ulema Pakistan leader and eminent Karachi businessman Haji Rafiq Pardesi, who heads the Barkati Foundation, arrived along with senior officers of ICT administration to hold talks with the leaders of the protest.
Earlier, Mufti Muneebur Rehman – who heads the government’s Ruet-i-Hilal Committee – had also came out in support of the sit-in, saying that the government should immediately negotiate with the leaders to end the standoff.
Police and security officials Dawn spoke to on Tuesday also claimed to have the situation well in hand. “There are around 1,000-1,500 protesters and we have around 3,000 police, 3,000 FC and around 700 Rangers personnel who have surrounded the sit-in from all sides,” a police officer said, adding, “We are prepared.”
The sit-in in Karachi also continued for the second day on the Numaish traffic intersection. The sit-in organised by Sunni Tehreek and Tanzeemat Ahl-i-Sunnat caused closure of two key roads which led to a traffic jam on alternate routes.
A large number of vehicles got stuck for hours in long queues due to traffic jams that not only hit M.A. Jinnah Road, but also the arterial Sharea Faisal and other major thoroughfares in the city’s East and South districts. A heavy contingent of police, backed and Rangers, was deployed around the protest venue in the evening with a water cannon and armoured personnel carrier, although there was no action from the law-enforcement agencies.
Similar protests were also reported from several other cities and towns.
Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2016