• Law minister Zahid Hamid resigns
• ISI official signs agreement as ‘guarantor’
• Interior minister seeks proposals to prevent future sit-ins
ISLAMABAD: Protesters from various religious groups on Monday cleared Faizabad interchange and called off their countrywide protest after over 20 days when the government accepted most of their major demands under an army-brokered agreement.
Though the government started implementing the apparently one-sided agreement — starting with the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid — the administration was not able to completely open Faizabad interchange until late in the night.
The protesters, who continued to block Murree Road until the evening, had earlier reportedly refused to leave until all those arrested during the three-week standoff were released.
The six-point accord agreed upon by representatives of the federal government and the protesting parties in secret talks held on Sunday night, was presented before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) by officials of the Islamabad administration on Monday.
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah later told Dawn that the talks were held at the Punjab House in Islamabad.
Mr Hamid had already agreed to resign during a meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in Lahore on Sunday. State-run Pakistan Television reported that Mr Hamid had presented his resignation to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to bring the country “out of a state of crisis”.
Mr Abbasi accepted the resignation before his departure for Saudi Arabia along with the army chief.
The agreement reached between the two sides — a day after six protesters were killed during a botched operation — carries the signatures of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Interior Secretary Arshad Mirza from the government side, and leaders of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Afzal Qadri and Mohammad Waheed Noor as representatives of the protesters.
Maj Gen Faiz Hameed of the Inter-Services Intelligence also signed the agreement in the capacity of ‘guarantor’.
In the agreement, the government has sought a guarantee from the religious leaders that after the removal of the law minister, they would not issue any Fatwa (decree) against him.
The government has also agreed that the report of the three-member committee, headed by Senator Raja Zafarul Haq, would be made public within 30 days and those responsible for changing the language of the electoral declaration for candidates would be taken to task in accordance with the law.
Through the agreement, the government has also agreed to release all those arrested during the protest within one to three days, after fulfilling legal requirements. It has also committed to drop all cases and release those put under house arrest.
The agreement says that a board will be constituted, in consultation with protesting parties, to hold an inquiry into the incidents of Nov 25, when the government carried out a failed operation against the protesters, and has asked for action against those responsible to be initiated within 30 days.
The agreement stipulated that the federal and the Punjab governments would compensate for the losses to public and private property, which was damaged during the standoff.
Both sides also express their gratitude to Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, saying the agreement came about as a result of efforts made by the army chief and his team.
“We are thankful to him as he has saved the nation from facing a huge disaster,” reads the agreement, written in Urdu.
The sixth point of the agreement says that the points already agreed upon with the Punjab government should be implemented in letter and spirit. While the text of the agreement says that these points have been annexed with the agreement, no annexures were provided to the media or the court.
The agreement opens with the sentence: “Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah is a peaceful party and does not believe in violence and unrest.”
The agreement blames the government for mishandling the issue, stating: “this party raised the issue of the controversial change in the laws regarding Khatm-i-Nubuwat and Namoos-i-Risalat, but regretfully, [the government] used force instead of giving a proper reply.”
Punjab Rangers Director General (DG) Azhar Naveed Hayat, who was charged with clearing and handling the sit-in by the federal government, later visited Faizabad, where he was warmly received by the protesters.
Later, the DG distributed cash envelopes among the protesters. A video clip showing the DG Rangers distributing money among the protesters went viral on social media with people questioning the act.
Police officials present at the time told reporters that the protesters had been given Rs1,000 in cash each so that they could return to their homes.
Police sources said that out of the 400 men arrested, 30 had already been released following the agreement between the government and the protesters.
They said 23 cases had been registered against the protesters since Nov 8 at various police stations in Islamabad, adding that they could not release some of the activists, despite the agreement, since under the law, only trial courts have powers to release them on bail and decide their fate.
Earlier, Mr Rizvi held a news conference at the site of the sit-in and announced that their main demand had been accepted.
He claimed it was propaganda against his group that that they had been sent to Islamabad by someone, adding that Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah would also appear before a panel of ulema to probe remarks made by him against the persecution of Ahmadis.
He announced that the board would be headed by Pir Afzal Qadri and include Pir Haseenuddin Shah, Mufti Muneebur Rehman, Pir Inayatul Haq and Mufti Subhan Qadri.
He further stated that the ministries of foreign affairs and interior should take steps for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui and the public holiday on the birth anniversary of Allama Iqbal should be restored.
Moreover, he said, two representatives of their movement would be included in the board which would recommend changes in the syllabus, with an aim to incorporate the translation of the Holy Quran and other Islamic material.
He said that no leniency would be given to those convicted by courts for blasphemy and demanded that there should be no ban on the use of loudspeakers.
He also announced that the chehlum of those who died in the operation would be held on Jan 4 in Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh, while Nov 25 would be observed as “Martyrs of the Prophet’s Honour Day” every year.
Mr Rizvi said they would start packing up within 12 hours of the release of their arrested comrades.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal constituted a three-member committee under the interior secretary to make an assessment of the failed operation of Nov 25 and to suggest steps to prevent such sit-ins in the future.
The minister directed that a 1,000-man special force be established to deal with sit-ins.
According to a statement issued by the interior ministry, Mr Iqbal has called for steps to end the holding of sit-ins in the future, in the light of the court’s decisions.
Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2017