The federal government on Saturday evening ordered the deployment of the army in Islamabad under Article 245 of the Constitution to aid civilian law-enforcement agencies, following the 'suspension' of the day-long crackdown against religious protesters camped out at Faizabad Interchange.
The Islamabad police, with the help of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel and other law enforcement agencies, launched an operation against protesters earlier in the day after the last of a long series of deadlines lapsed this morning without any response from the agitating parties. The protesters have been camped out at the Faizabad Interchange since November 8 and till the filing of this report, held their position there following the unsuccessful operation.
Consequently, military personnel will be deployed across Islamabad to secure main offices of the judiciary, Parliament House, Presidency and Prime Minister Houses, foreign missions, foreign office and other important installations.
Later in the day, a high-level meeting of the capital administration and police officials, chaired by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, failed to devise any strategy to control the volatile situation in the capital territory, DawnNews reported.
All officials reportedly opposed relaunching the operation against the protesters.
A day long battle
Roughly 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear took part in the clearance operation.
The security personnel first encircled the Faizabad Interchange area and used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse agitators. In response, the protesters used stones and rocks to attack the advancing security forces, as well as tear gas shells.
An Islamabad police spokesman told AFP that an officer was killed in the clash with protesters after he was struck in the head by a rock. His death could not be independently verified by DawnNews.
Meanwhile, a protester was killed when security guards opened fire at a mob trying to break into the residence of former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in Faizabad, DawnNews reported. Law Minister Zahid Hamid's residence in Sialkot was also attacked by protesters as the agitation spilled over to other cities across the country.
By day-end, over 200 people were injured across Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
At least 60 police officers, 45 FC men, and 50 civilians were among those injured. The injured also include the Bani Gala station house officer (SHO) and Abdul Hadi, a magistrate of the Islamabad administration.
The Islamabad administration asked TLY leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi to surrender, but he refused to do so. A live video streamed on Facebook by one of his supporters at 9am showed him leading the sloganeering from a raised platform, surrounded by men armed with sticks.
The protesters burned cars on Rawalpindi's Sawan Bridge and reportedly shut down markets. Announcements were also made from nearby mosques, reportedly calling on people to join the protest.
At least 150 protesters were arrested before security forces withdrew.
The protesters allegedly looted four police vehicles, and a Samaa DSNG was set on fire in the twin cities. The Metro bus station on Sixth Road was damaged. Trees were also cut down to block roads.
According to DawnNews, the protesters appeared to have been prepared for the crackdown. Some had armed themselves with catapults and sticks. Some were wearing crude masks to prevent identification.
The operation was suspended in the evening when roughly 1,000 protesters unexpectedly entered Islamabad through the Express Highway to join the agitators, according to a DawnNews reporter present on-site.
Due to the unfavourable wind direction, law enforcement personnel found themselves unable to tear gas the incoming protesters effectively. Opting to retreat, security forces left the area open for at least one thousand more protesters to enter in through the Murree Road, Rawal Dam and Express Highway areas.
It was at this point that the operation was suspended.
Soon after the suspension, protesters regrouped at the Faizabad Interchange. The number of protesters reportedly swelled from 1,000 to 5,000 by nightfall.
Protests spread to other cities
Unrest in the federal capital spilled over to Karachi, as protesters loyal to the same religious parties took to the streets condemning the Faizabad operation. The protesters blocked roads and demonstrated at the Numaish traffic intersection in the city's busy Saddar area.
The protests later spread to other parts of the city, including Teen Talwar, Boat Basin, NIPA, Shahrah-i-Faisal near Stargate and Nursery, Hub River Road and Hassan Square, where both tracks of the road were closed for traffic.
At least 12 people were reportedly injured in skirmishes with police at Stargate and Nursery.
A large number of religious parties also took out rallies and staged demonstrations in Umerkot, Mithi, Sujawal and other towns of lower Sindh to register their protest against the ongoing operation against the protesters in Islamabad. They vowed to continue their protests.
Various religious organisations also staged a protest demonstration outside the Badin Press Club, demanding a halt in use of violence against protesters in the capital.
Meanwhile, demonstrators have also converged at Shahdara in Lahore. There were reports of similar protests at Imamia Colony and other settlements along the GT Road. Roads from Lahore to Gujranwala and Faisalabad were also closed.
News channels, social media 'blocked'
In the afternoon, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) prohibited all satellite TV channels from live coverage of the operation.
After the Pemra notification was issued, news channels went off air in many parts of the country. The online live streams of the TV channels, including that of DawnNews, were also blocked.
Additionally, Facebook, YouTube, DailyMotion, Twitter and Instagram were blocked in some parts of the country.
Recapping the crisis
The agitators believe that a sworn oath affirming a politician's belief in the finality of prophethood (Khatm-i-Nabuwwat) was deliberately modified as part of a larger conspiracy during the passage of the Elections Act, 2017.
The amendment was deemed a 'clerical error' by the government and has already been rectified through an Act of Parliament.
Nonetheless, the protesters had been insistent on the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for his alleged role in the controversy.
There is no proof yet that indicates Hamid was responsible for the amendment. A committee headed by Raja Zafarul Haq has been probing the issue.
The Islamabad High Court, the Supreme Court and the heads of various religious parties had repeatedly called for the protesters to disband, calling the protest unlawful.
The Islamabad High Court had said the protest's leaders had, prima facie, committed an 'act of terror' by continuing their process.
The interior minister was warned of contempt of court by the IHC for not evicting the protesters.
The government initiated several rounds of negotiations with the protesters, but failed each time.
The religious hardliners camped out at Faizabad had been unrelenting on their demand for the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid over his alleged role in the amendment of the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017, which is apparently what led to the breakdown in the negotiation process.
The Elections Act 2017 — which paved the way for Nawaz Sharif to return as PML-N president — had become a cause of controversy when it was revealed that an oath regarding the finality of prophethood had been modified to a 'declaration' somewhere during the process of its passage. The government had claimed that the modification was the result of a clerical mistake.
The amendment in the oath which caused the controversy has already been reversed by parliament.
The Islamabad protesters belong to various religious parties, including the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek (ST).
Deployment of LEAs
Security deployment in the capital had been beefed up since October 24, when the Ashraf Jalali faction of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah descended on the city and staged a sit-in in the Blue Area, which had ended on Nov 3.
According to media reports, the number of personnel deployed around the sit-in varies as per the situation. On average, a shift consists of 3,000-7,000 personnel.
Police also impounded over 200 containers to control access to the city as part of security measures. Five cranes and 10 trailers were also hired to move the containers around, while 19 water tankers – 15 of which were meant to refill water cannons and four to supply drinking water to on-duty personnel, had also been requisitioned.
Another 40 vehicles, including buses and wagons, had been engaged to transport personnel from their accommodations to the duty spot around the Faizabad.
Over the more than two-week-long sit-in, several cases had been filed against the protesters and the organisers of the sit-in. One of these included a murder case.
The protesters were also accused of beating up two photojournalists and several others during their sit-in.
Police had arrested around 150 participants over the course of the protests. The arrests had been made during clashes between law enforcement agencies and protesters, which broke out sporadically over the 17-day showdown between the state and religious hardliners.
With additional reporting by Hanif Samoon in Badin and Iftikhar Sherazi in Islamabad.