Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa advised Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Saturday to "handle the Islamabad dharna peacefully" as violent clashes erupted between security forces and protesters in the capital city during a clearance operation at the Faizabad Interchange.
At least 139 people ─ including protesters and security forces ─ were injured as police, the Frontier Constabulary and other law enforcement agencies employed teargas shelling and rubber bullets to disperse the agitators, who have held an 18-day-long sit-in despite repeated requests by the government to clear the area. In response, the protesters have been using stones and rocks to attack the advancing security forces.
The crackdown ordered by the Islamabad High Court was launched after the last of a long series of deadlines lapsed today morning without response from the agitating parties.
Roughly 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear are taking part in the clearance operation of over 2,000 protesters in the capital city.
Following the news of the clearance operation, religious parties began protesting in other cities, including Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and Badin.
Director General (DG) Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor tweeted that the army chief telephoned the prime minister and suggested the clearance operation in Islamabad be handled peacefully, "avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest and cohesion."
Earlier this week, the military’s spokesperson said the army would abide by whatever decision the government took regarding the clearance of the Faizabad Interchange, although it would be preferable to address the situation through peaceful means.
The DG ISPR said that the civil and military leaderships were on the same page when it came to the country’s security, and that the army was duty-bound to carry out the government’s instructions.
'Capital admin bound to enforce court's order'
Shortly after the DG ISPR tweeted today, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb tweeted that the administration of Islamabad is "responsible to ensure enforcement of [the] IHC order to restore public convenience in the Faizabad area.
The IHC, which had initially advised protesters to end their protest, then ordered the capital administration to use "whatever means necessary" to evict protesters from the Faizabad Interchange by Saturday last week.
Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal had, however, requested the court for several extensions in the deadline as the government attempted to negotiate with the protesters, but failed each time.
The IHC then warned the interior minster of contempt of court for not taking action against the protesters. A final deadline for dispersal for Saturday 7am was handed to the protesters, but passed unheeded after which security forces launched an operation to clear the area .
Life in Islamabad disrupted
The capital administration had, on Nov 5, warned the TLY and ST against holding any sit-in in Islamabad, saying that a ban on public gatherings had already been imposed in the city.
The parties were also informed that Islamabad's 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 Nov 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.
IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui on Friday asked "why contempt of court proceedings may not be initiated against him [Ahsan Iqbal]. He is directed to appear in person on the next date".
The IHC order noted that: "Patients dying for want of access to hospitals, traders crying for lack of business activity, students are being deprived from their right to education and right of free movement of almost six million people of twin cities usurped by dictatorial act of one person and passive approach of law enforcing agencies [is] adding to the miseries of citizens".
The court order, however, advised the district administration not to use "firearms" during the clearance operation, if one was required.