ISLAMABAD: The government team currently negotiating with the heads of religious parties whose protest has paralysed the capital for nearly a fortnight has offered to send the law minister on leave or reshuffle his portfolio.
However, the leadership of the protesting Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah is said to have turned down the proposal.
Sources privy to the talks between government teams and the protesters said that a number of possible options were offered to the sit-in leaders in return for calling off the protest, but all of them were rejected.
Insiders said that the protest leaders are demanding the minister’s removal from the cabinet, adding that this was not acceptable to the government, which has led to a deadlock.
For the safety of the minster and his family, the government has decided to send them abroad in case the protesters agreed to call off the demonstration, they added.
Ahsan Iqbal seeks religious leaders’ help to negotiate peaceful end to sit-in
The security of the law minister and his family has become a real concern for the government, given the number of threats issued to him, adding that while Zahid Hamid had a security protocol as a minister; his removal from the cabinet could make him an easy target.
The government team consisted of over 30 people, including legislators, ulema and caretakers of shrines in the twin cities and representatives of the pir of Golra, source said.
Raja Zafarul Haq, leader of the house in the Senate, is leading the negotiations from the government side. When contacted, he said the option to change Mr Hamid’s portfolio was one of many issues that were discussed during his meeting with the protesters’ representatives.
He said the protest leaders were also offered a meeting with the law minister, where both sides would discuss the issue and remove any doubts and reservation they may have.
But in response, the legislator said, the protesters said they had made a commitment to their people to get the law minister removed and nothing less than that would be acceptable for them.
He also added that a committee was working on the issue and no action could be taken against the demonstrators before the body can submit its findings.
The senator also confirmed that the law minister and his family was under threats and had received several threatening messages, adding that measures were being taken to ensure their security.
The PML-N leader said that talks were still in progress, adding that although the high court had already ordered police to remove the protesters at all cost, the government would seek more time for negotiations.
On Sunday, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal made another appeal to the protesters to call off their sit-in, and also called upon religious figures and ulema to help resolve the issue and convince the demonstrators to leave.
Flanked by State Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Aminul Hasnat, the interior minister criticised protesters for using abusive language on the stage and said it was very painful to see media clips of the demonstrators saying such deplorable things.
“It is very painful to see all this because our Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) never used such language, even for his enemies,” he said.
He said it was taking this long to resolve the issue because the government wanted a peaceful end to the standoff, adding that this should not be considered a sign of weakness on their part.
“Our police and law enforcement agencies are capable of handling any situation and they can get the area vacated whenever they want,” Mr Iqbal stated, adding that they were only awaiting orders.
“Our patience is running out and the pressure from the public to take decisive action is also mounting,” he said, adding that on Monday, a high-level Chinese delegation was due in the capital to participate in the Joint Cooperation Committee meeting on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects.
This protest is sending the wrong message and portraying a negative image of the country, which our enemies are using us, Mr Iqbal said, adding that the Khatm-i-Nubuwat issue had been settled once and for all and no one should try to divide the nation over the issue.
The interior minister has also convened another meeting of religious scholars today (Monday).
Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2017