Sit-in ends without standoff


ISLAMABAD: Leaders of Sunni Tehreek and other religious parties address protesters at D-Chowk here on Wednesday.
—Photo by Tanveer Shahzad/White Star
ISLAMABAD: Leaders of Sunni Tehreek and other religious parties address protesters at D-Chowk here on Wednesday. —Photo by Tanveer Shahzad/White Star

ISLAMABAD: After three days, several rounds of negotiations and the deployment of thousands of security personnel in the heart of the capital, the D-Chowk sit-in finally ended on Wednesday night without a showdown.

At a press conference in the evening, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that the protest had been called off just in time, as security personnel were ready to move in.

“There were at least six rounds of negotiation between officials from the capital administration and Sunni Tehreek leaders, which were mediated by religious leaders from Karachi,” sources in the Islamabad administration told Dawn.

Cabinet members Ishaq Dar and Khawaja Saad Rafique were instrumental in talking the protesters down. The two met Shah Awais Noorani and Haji Rafiq Pardesi — who were negotiating on behalf of the protesters — at Punjab House around 5pm on Wednesday. The demonstration was called off after the meeting.

Nisar denies formal agreement with protesters, slaps ban on gatherings at D-Chowk

According to the text of the agreement, the government agreed to: not amend the blasphemy law, release all those arrested for protesting, not be lenient towards anyone convicted under the blasphemy law, and review cases against Barelvi clerics.

But speaking to reporters later, Chaudhry Nisar denied that there had been a written agreement with the protesters, but confirmed nearly all the points the protesters claimed were part of the agreement.

He said that 1,078 persons had been arrested from Rawalpindi and Islamabad alone over the past three days, adding that those who were innocent would be released after investigations, but those who had destroyed public property would be prosecuted.

The minister revealed that mobs had destroyed Safe City security cameras, set ablaze a fire brigade truck and containers, damaged railings and metro bus stations as well as injuring security personnel.

Regarding the demand that the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act be reviewed, he said that such a review was already under way. He admitted that many entries under the Fourth Schedule warranted a review. A few hundred names have already been omitted after a review of the list, he said, citing the example of Allama Sajid Naqvi, whose name was recently taken off the list on his (Nisar’s) directions.

However, he did not reply when asked how some fourth schedulers had managed to reach the protest venue.

Chaudhry Nisar insisted that the government of Punjab had given permission for a gathering on Mumtaz Qadri’s chehlum in good faith and said the committee formed to investigate the weaknesses of the district administration and police that allowed protesters to enter the Red Zone had been asked to submit its report within a week. He added that a similar inquiry would be conducted in Punjab.

According to an interior ministry statement, the committee includes Ministry of Interior Special Secretary Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, NPB Director General Iqbal Mahmood and Additional Secretary Tariq Mahmood Khan.

He also announced that after the PTI-PAT sit-in outside parliament in 2014, the ministry had proposed that no forcible entries into the Red Zone, particularly D-Chowk, would be allowed.

He said the proposal would be laid before the cabinet and until it was approved by parliament, there would be a ban on using D-Chowk as a venue for rallies by political and religious parties.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2016