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How the Islamabad protests happened

Updated November 25, 2017

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Daily life in Islamabad was disrupted for 20 days by protesters belonging to religious parties, including the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY), the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST).

The protesters had occupied the Faizabad Interchange which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad through the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road, both of which are the busiest roads in the twin cities.

The agitators believe that during the passage of Elections Act 2017, the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath was deliberately modified as part of a larger conspiracy. The amendment to the oath was deemed a 'clerical error' by the government and was subsequently rectified through an Act of Parliament.

Nonetheless, the protesters had been insistent on the resignation of Zahid Hamid, the now former law minister, 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 probed the issue and released a report on the matter which has not yet been made public.

The Islamabad High Court, the Supreme Court and the heads of various religious parties had repeatedly called on the protesters to disband, calling the protest unlawful as a ban had been imposed on public gatherings in the city, besides which the Democracy and Speech Corner at Islamabad's Parade Ground had been reserved for such gatherings.

The IHC finally ordered the district administration to evict the protesters from the Faizabad Interchange using "any means necessary".

The government initiated several rounds of negotiations with the protesters, but failed each time, and the IHC warned Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal of contempt of court for not complying with the court's orders.

The IHC on Friday observed that the protest's leaders had, prima facie, committed an 'act of terror' by continuing their process despite the court's orders.

A final deadline given to protesters by the government: 7am on Saturday, Nov 25, lapsed without any let-up in the sit-in.

As the government launched an operation to disperse the protesters, at least six people were killed and scores others were injured. After a botched operation, the government decided to call in the army for help.

When the army refused, the government turned towards negotiations with the protesters once more and then accepted a number of their demands in return for ending the protest.

Here's a timeline of how the chaos unfolded.


October 02: It all began when the government hastily bulldozed the amended Election Bill 2017 through the National Assembly ─ despite strong protests from opposition lawmakers ─ paving the way for ousted premier Nawaz Sharif (who was removed as PML-N head after being disqualified) ─ to head his political party once again by means of a controversial amendment that allowed politicians disqualified from holding public office to head a political party.

In the same bill, the words "I solemnly swear" were replaced with "I believe" in a clause relating to a candidate's belief in the finality of the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) ─ the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath.

October 04: Then law minister Zahid Hamid vociferously defended the now-controversial Elections Act 2017, saying that it was meant to neither benefit ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, nor repeal the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat laws.

"The bill was proposed in 2014, well before Panamagate surfaced. There is no question of it being passed to benefit one man (Nawaz Sharif)," the law minister had told the National Assembly at the time.

The same day, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq had, however, accepted that a "clerical error" was responsible for the change in the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath. The speaker met with parliamentary leaders, and all political parties agreed to revert to the original declaration.

October 05: The NA passed the Election Reforms Amendment Bill 2017, tabled by the law minister, that amended the Elections Act 2017 to restore the Khatm-i-Nabuwwatt oath to its original form.

October 30: The Islamabad administration warned organisers and activists of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah International to immediately vacate Jinnah Avenue where they were staging a sit in protesting the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath and served them a notice in this regard as well. The notice asked them to move to Parade Ground or face arrests and legal action.

Capital administration officials had said at the time that police were able to resolve the issue and that a few of the protesters had been picked up and taken to various police stations for further legal action.

November 5: The capital administration warned TLY and ST against taking any rally to Islamabad, saying a ban on public gatherings had already been imposed in the city.

The parties were also informed that Parade Ground had been reserved for such gatherings and holding a rally somewhere else in the capital would be unlawful. Besides, the organisers had not sought any permission for the rally or the sit-in.

November 6*: The Islamabad police sought a grant of over Rs70 million to maintain peace ahead of the arrival of the religious parties’ rally which set out from Lahore a day before.

November 8: The protesters blocked the Faizabad Interchange that connects Islamabad with Rawalpindi. Since then, the metro service has also been halted. According to the Metro Bus Authority (MBA), more than 100,000 people used the service to travel between the twin cities daily.

November 9: Islamabad police registered a First Investigation Report (FIR) against TLY leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi in a case pertaining to the death of an infant. The infant's family had not been able to reach the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) because of roadblocks put in place due to the joint rally of the TLY and ST.

Police had registered an FIR against Rizvi and other participants of the protest under Section 322 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with qatl-bis-sabab (unintentional murder).

November 10: Islamabad police lodged two more cases against Khadim Hussain Rizvi. Pir Aijaz Afzal and other leaders and participants of the Islamabad sit-in were also nominated in the two FIRs.

One case was registered by a private TV channel regarding alleged violence against its crew, including attacking, torture and threatening of a media team, vandalism of their vehicles and snatching of their cameras.

A second case was lodged on the complaint of a magistrate for violation of Section 144 by the protesters, along with other charges.

November 11*: The leaders of the religious parties staging a sit-in outside the capital threatened to attack the families of federal ministers if their demands were not met.

The threats were made in the Friday sermon delivered by Almi Tanzeem Ahle Sunnat leader Pir Afzal Qadri.

November 12: Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the government would use all possible means to persuade the religious groups holding a sit-in at Faizabad to shift to the Parade Ground or any other place.

"Otherwise we will have no option but to go for the administrative solution as the government cannot allow any group to restrict the fundamental rights of the citizens. However, the protesters want a dead body or ‘shaheed’ [martyr] to achieve their goal," he had said while talking to Dawn.

November 14: IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, while hearing a petition filed by a Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat supporter, ordered the government to reverse in the Elections Act 2017 all amendments in sections pertaining to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath.

The same day, at least five police officials were assaulted by TLY protesters. The beefing up of police, Frontier Constabulary and Punjab Constabulary around the sit-in areas such as Islamabad Highway near Faizabad, Sector I-8 and 9th Avenue had reportedly made the protesters nervous, leading to clashes with security officials.

November 15: The protesting clerics petitioned the IHC for "execution" of their demands, calling for the release of the Raja Zafarul Haq report investigating who was responsible for the changes to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath, and action against the culprits.

November 16: The IHC, while hearing a TLY petition, directed the religious party to call off its sit-in.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui directed the protesting clerics to immediately vacate the Faizabad Interchange and show respect for the law.

November 17: The IHC ordered the Islamabad administration to evict protesters from the Interchange using "any means necessary" within 24 hours.

After the court's orders, the government issued "a last warning" to the protest's organisers, asking them to peacefully vacate the venue by 10pm on Friday night or face action.

The district administration, meanwhile, was ordered to take all necessary steps to clear the sit-in by the next morning. All hospitals in the city were ordered to cancel doctors and paramedical staff's leaves and ask them to be present on duty till further instructions.

One thousand personnel were requested from the Punjab Rangers "to perform duty along with police".

The first deadline to vacate the area lapsed without any action on the part of the protesters.

November 18: On Saturday morning, a heavy contingent of Islamabad Police, Frontier Corps and Rangers personnel ─ equipped with tear gas and shell guns ─ arrived at the Faizabad Interchange.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal requested the IHC to allow the government to resolve the matter peacefully through dialogue, and ordered the district administration to defer the operation by 24 hours as a ministerial-level government team held marathon meetings with protest leaders.

Religious scholar and Chairman of the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee Mufti Muneebur Rehman urged both the government and protesters to find a solution to the issue "as a prolonged protest could turn into a major crisis for both sides." However, the appeals of Rehman and several other leaders went unheeded.

Meanwhile, the interior minister expressed hope that the face-off between religious activists and security personnel at Faizabad Interchange would end within a day. It did not.

November 20: The government scrambled to secure the support of religious leaders and ulema from across the political spectrum in a bid to negotiate a peaceful end to the sit-in.

However, a meeting between representatives of the protesters and government ministers held at Punjab House was unable to make any breakthrough.

November 21: The Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the sit-in, asking the government to explain what steps have been taken to protect public's basic rights, while mentioning that Article 15 of the Constitution allows freedom of movement to the public.

November 22: The Pakistan Army’s spokesperson said the [military would abide by whatever decision the government took22 on the matter ─ although it would be preferable to address the situation through peaceful means.

Saying that the civil and military leaderships were on the same page when it came to the country’s security, he said that the army was duty-bound to carry out the government’s instructions.

November 23: The head of a committee tasked by the government to come up with an amicable solution to the lingering sit-in submitted his recommendations to the concerned authorities.

Sources said that the committee had offered the government the same suggestions that had already been presented by the government to leaders of TLY. The government had offered to change the portfolio of the law minister, or send him on leave. However, both suggestions were turned down by the sit-in’s leaders.

According to sources, the committee had stated that the law minster should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

All sides would accept the report of a Raja Zafarul Haq-led committee probing the matter and that further action would be taken once the report’s findings and recommendations are finalised, the committee suggested.

November 24: The IHC issued a show-cause notice for contempt of court to Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal over his failure to end the sit-in.

Islamabad's district administration subsequently issued another "final warning" to protesters.

Acting on the administration's orders, and after sharp criticism from the Supreme Court, law enforcers deployed around the sit-in confiscated food meant for the participants of the sit-in.

Lights around the venue were turned off before the crackdown.

A final deadline issued to the protesters to disperse by 7am on Saturday went ignored.

November 25: A day-long operation was launched by the Islamabad police, with the help of FC personnel and other LEAs.

As the operation was underway, the Army's spokesperson issued a statement quoting the army chief asking the prime minister to "handle the Islamabad dharna peacefully" and "avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest".

As many as six people were killed and hundreds wounded during the operation, which failed to clear protesters from the Faizabad Interchange.

Soon after the operation in the twin cities began, the agitation spilled over to several other cities, where protesters chanted anti-government slogans and blocked major roads. In many areas, protesters attacked LEAs and damaged public property.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) took a number of private news channels off-air and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) also blocked social media websites in select parts of the country.

By the end of the day, security agencies were on the back foot as more protesters poured into the city. Meanwhile, the protesters regained their hold on Faizabad.

Subsequently, the administration requested army deployment in the capital to cope with the agitators.

Explore: How Faizabad became Waterloo for security personnel on Saturday

November 26: By late Sunday morning, the army had not deployed to the capital. However, the army had 'agreed' to the request, but put forth a series of issues that must be deliberated prior to deployment.

According to military sources, a high-level meeting was held in which Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa told Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi that he opposed the army's use of force against its own people since the population's trust in the institution of the army "can't be compromised for little gains",

The civil and military leadership in the meeting decided to engage with influential protest leaders, saying that the use of force against protesters had been discouraged in favour of a political settlement.

The federal government then called in the Punjab Rangers to lead civilian law-enforcement agencies handling the sit-in.

November 27: The government gave in to the demands of the protesters after a 20-day-long sit-in, and Zahid Hamid resigned as law minister.

[Read the full text of TLY chief Khadim Rizvi’s demands in return for ending the protest here.

The document of the agreement bears the signatures of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Interior Secretary Arshad Mirza, Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, two other protest leaders and Maj Gen Faiz Hameed, who facilitated the agreement.

"We are thankful to him [Gen Bajwa] for saving the nation from a big catastrophe," the agreement document concludes, crediting the army chief and his representative team for their "special efforts".

TLY leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi while addressing a press conference at the protest site ordered his followers all over the country to end the sit-ins and go home.

The protesters at Faizabad started packing up their belongings and police started removing containers placed around the protest site around 8am.

The [IHC lashed out at the government as well as the Army][31] for the role assigned to the military "as the mediator" in the agreement with the protesting parties to end the sit-in.

[31]: https://www.dawn.com/news/1373184/govt-asked-to-satisfy-court-on-role-of-armed-forces-as-an-arbitrator-in-agreement-with-protestersDaily life in the capital has been disrupted for 18 days by protesters belonging to religious parties, including the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST).

The protesters occupied the Faizabad Bridge which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad through the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road, both of which are the busiest roads in the twin cities.

The agitators believe that the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath 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 IHC 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 final deadline given to protesters by the government, 7am on Saturday (today), lapsed without any let-up in the sit-in.


On November 5, the capital administration had warned TLY and ST against taking any rally to Islamabad, saying a ban on public gatherings had already been imposed in the city.

The parties were also informed that Parade Ground had been reserved for such gatherings and holding a rally somewhere else in the capital would be unlawful. The organisers had not sought any permission for the rally or the sit-in.

On November 8, the protesters blocked the expressway that connects Islamabad with Rawalpindi. Since then, the metro service has also been halted. According to the Metro Bus Authority (MBA), more than 100,000 people used the service between the twin cities daily.

On November 9, Islamabad police registered a First Investigation Report (FIR) against TLY leader Khadim Rizvi in a case pertaining to the death of an infant. The infant's family had not been able to reach the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) because of roadblocks put in place due to the joint rally of the TLY and ST. Police had registered an FIR against Rizvi and other participants of the protest under Section 322 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with qatl-bis-sabab (unintentional murder).

On November 10, Islamabad police lodged two more cases against Khadim Hussain Rizvi. Pir Aijaz Afzal and other leaders and participants of the Islamabad protest sit-in were nominated in the two FIRs.

A private TV channel had nominated the protesting leaders in a case pertaining to violence against its crew. According to the FIR, the media team was attacked, tortured, threatened and their vehicles were also smashed. The protesters had also snatched their cameras, the complaint stated. The second case was lodged on the complaint of Magistrate Ghulam Murtaza Chandio for the violation of Section 144 by the protesters, along with other charges. Both the cases were registered at the I9 Police Station.

On November 12, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal had said the government would use all possible means to persuade the religious groups holding a sit-in at Faizabad to shift to Parade Avenue or any other place.

“Otherwise we will have no option but to go for the administrative solution as the government cannot allow any group to restrict the fundamental rights of the citizens. However, the protesters want a dead body or ‘shaheed’ [martyr] to achieve their goal,” he had said while talking to Dawn.

On November 15, the protesting clerics had approached the judiciary and petitioned in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) for the “execution” of their demands. In its petition submitted in the IHC, TLY demanded: “It is humbly prayed that this Hon’ble Court while allowing the writ petition, direct the federal government, represented by the respondents to publish and publicize the inquiry report submitted by Raja Zafarul Haq, and the culprits so determined therein, may very kindly be proceed against under the relevant laws.”

On November 16, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had directed TLY to call off its sit-in. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui issued the direction while hearing the petition filed by the religious group. Justice Siddiqui directed the protesting clerics to immediately vacate the interchange and show respect for the law while he heard the case.

On November 17, the government had issued "a last warning" to the protest's organisers, asking them to vacate the venue. However, the government failed to launch an operation or to get the venue vacated. The government then ordered the district administration to take all necessary steps to clear the area latest by the next morning. All hospitals in the city were ordered to cancel doctors and paramedical staff's leaves and ask them to be present on duty till further instructions.

One thousand personnel were requested from the Punjab Rangers "to perform duty along with police". Nothing happened.

On November 18, religious scholar and Chairman of the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee Mufti Muneebur Rehman urged both the government and protesters to find a solution to the issue, "as a prolonged protest could turn into a major crisis for both sides." However, the appeals of Rehman and several other leaders were not heeded.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal also expressed hope that the face-off between religious activists and security personnel at Faizabad Interchange would end within a day. It did not.

On November 20, the government scrambled to secure the support of religious leaders and ulema from across the political spectrum in a bid to negotiate a peaceful end to the sit-in. However, a meeting between representatives of the protesters and government ministers held at Punjab House was unable to make any breakthrough.

On November 21, the Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the sit-in.

On November 22, the Pakistan Army’s spokesperson addressed the issue and said the military would abide by the government’s decision on the matter.

In remarks released to the media, Inter-Services Public Relations chief Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said that while it would be preferable to address the situation through peaceful means, the military would abide by whatever decision the government took.

Saying that the civil and military leaderships were on the same page when it came to the country’s security, he said that the army was duty-bound to carry out the government’s instructions.

On November 23, the head of a committee tasked by the government to come up with an amicable solution to the lingering sit-in submitted his recommendations to the concerned authorities. However, a representative of the committee complained that the government was delaying its implementation.

Sources said that the committee had offered the government the same suggestions that had already been presented by the government to leaders of TLY. The government had offered to change the portfolio of the law minister, or send him on leave. However, both suggestions were turned down by the sit-in’s leaders.

According to sources, the committee had stated that the law minster should be considered innocent until proven guilty. All sides would accept the report of a Raja Zafarul Haq-led committee probing the matter and that further action would be taken once the report’s findings and recommendations are finalised, it suggested.

On November 24, the IHC issued a show-cause notice for contempt of court to Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal over his failure to take steps ordered by the court to end the sit-in. Islamabad's district administration subsequently issued another "final warning" to protesters. Acting on its orders, and after sharp criticism from the Supreme Court, law enforcers deployed around the sit-in confiscated food meant for the participants of the sit-in. Lights around the venue had already been turned off before the crackdown.