ISLAMABAD: Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa called for government restraint on Saturday in dealing with protests led by Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah and cautioned that violence would hurt national interest and cohesion.

Gen Bajwa made the call during a telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as police and Frontier Constabulary personnel clashed with the protesters, who had been occupying Faizabad interchange for about 18 days to press for Law Minister’s Zahid Hamid’s ouster, whom they hold responsible for an omission in the election law related to the finality of prophethood of Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The gist of the conversation between the army chief and the prime minister was released to the media on Twitter by military’s media wing ISPR, whereas there was complete silence from the PM’s Office on the matter.

ISPR releases statement on Twitter, while PM Office remains silent

ISPR chief Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor tweeted: “COAS telephoned PM. Suggested to handle Islamabad Dharna peacefully avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest and cohesion”.

The tweet came as rumours swirled that the government was mulling invocation of Article 245 for calling the army in aid of civil power because of expanding agitation. Therefore, many interpreted the military’s message as a signal of the army’s refusal to deploy troops for quelling protests that had by afternoon spread countrywide.

The timing of the tweet also coincided with the decline in intensity of the police action against the protesters, although isolated incidents continued afterwards.

The ISPR tweet was immediately followed by a tweet by Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb, which said: “Islamabad Administration is responsible to ensure enforcement of Islamabad High Court Order to restore public convenience in Faizabad area.”

It wasn’t clear if the information minister’s tweet was in response to the one by the military spokesman or it was a mere coincidence.

In remarks made on a TV channel late on Wednesday night and later shared with media by the ISPR, military spokesman Gen Ghafoor had said that it was government’s prerogative to call the army in its aid.

He had, however, then also insisted on an amicable and peaceful settlement of the issue. It was not a political issue and was a sensitive matter, the spokesman had cautioned.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2017