A two-member Supreme Court bench on Thursday castigated government officials, intelligence agencies as well as the media for their 'questionable role' in the sit-in at Faizabad, which had disrupted life in Islamabad and Rawalpindi for 20 days.
"How did the protesters get teargas shells and sticks?" Justice Mushir Alam asked the advocate general of the Islamabad jurisdiction.
"If you cannot secure the federal capital, how will you secure the country?" he asked, addressing the government.
The bench, which is hearing a petition on the disturbance caused to public life due to the sit-in, made the remarks while reviewing a nine-page report submitted to the apex court on Wednesday on behalf of Inspector General of Islamabad Police, Khalid Khattak.
At the outset of the hearing, Deputy Attorney General Sohail Mahmood requested the court to adjourn the matter until Tuesday as the attorney general is out of the country.
"Why should we adjourn if you are going to be present?" Justice Qazi Faez Isa asked in response.
Continuing with the hearing, the judge asked why the country's agencies do not come forward. "Why is the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) representative not here?" he asked, inquiring as to why the intelligence agency was "silent".
He added that it was the ISI's responsibility to protect the state. "The poor of this country provide the funds for ISI," he said.
Justice Isa also took note of the fact that the protests are not completely over and that a sit-in is still ongoing.
On the role of the army in the matter, which previously came under scrutiny in the Islamabad High Court, the judges said that it was incorrect to say that the army is separate from the government.
"The government is not separate from the army," observed the bench. "They should not be maligned — those doing so are working on personal agendas."
During the last hearing, the court had rejected reports furnished by intelligence agencies, saying there had been no depth in them and that the agencies' performance was not up to the mark.
"We are not satisfied with the ISI report," Justice Isa said on Thursday, asking ISI to submit more details.
'Media fanning conflict'
Justice Isa also censured the media for fanning the conflict. "Is it so easy to say hateful things?" he wondered, questioning the government as to why no action had been taken against the media. "Should we close a few media channels ourselves?" he asked.
It seems to be the media's job to defame people, the judge further remarked, asking who owned each TV channel and where they got their funding from.
"The ISI report also mentions a channel — should we take its name in open court?" he asked.
"We cannot look away from what is happening," the bench said, asking, "Should we issue notices to channels? Where is the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra)?"
The judges said that if the media does not agree with the court's remarks, it could become a party to the case.
"It is our responsibility to hear every party," one of the justices remarked.
"It is the responsibility of TV channels not to fan violence," said Justice Isa, warning that the judiciary would keep an on eye whether the media "corrects its direction or not".
"How can licenses of TV channels be suspended?" he asked.
"Does the media encourage or discourage sectarianism and hatred?"
Acknowledging that an independent media was important for the country's development, the court said that verbal abuse was not allowed [to be aired] in any country.
"Media people are also required to follow the laws," the bench remarked, asking how many channels were operating in the country.
The deputy attorney general told the court that more than 89 channels were operating in Pakistan.
"Did any TV channel tell what Islam is?"
"The media does not tell us who the enemy is. Should we summon all TV channel owners?" the judges wondered.
Damages during sit-in
Justice Alam asked whether cases have been registered against protesters possessing explosive material.
The advocate general informed the court that 27 cases have been registered against the protesters.
The bench also inquired about how many people had died, how many were injured and how many public and private assets were damaged during the protest.
"Will sit-ins be staged [in the country] to achieve objectives? What message has been sent — that the danda [stick] should be picked up to achieve anything?"
Speaking on religion, Justice Isa said Islam had spread in the region due to the strength of Muslims' character, not war.
"Can people even talk about Islam in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?" he wondered.
He remarked that the people of Pakistan are "very naive" and get killed due to their naivete.
"Is bloodshed a part of our religion? The tongue is being used as a weapon," the judges noted.
Separately, the court adjourned hearing a suo motu notice taken on the chronic traffic congestion and roadblocks due to the Faizabad sit-in until an unspecified date.
In its last hearing, when the sit-in was ongoing in the capital, the SC had said that the life of believers in a Muslim country was being made difficult, and wondered how the protests would help glorify Islam.
“The protesters are undermining the state and its institutions,” Justice Isa had complained, adding that the biggest crime in any society was fitna [dissent] and fasad-fil-arz [discord], because it disturbed the social order.
'What went wrong with Faizabad operation'
Islamabad police had on Wednesday told the SC that the security personnel who had launched a botched operation against the protesters at Faizabad interchange on Saturday were fatigued due to prolonged deployment during the 20-day-long siege.
“Mixed deployment of different forces, including the police, Frontier Constabulary (FC) and Pakistan Rangers, also had negative effects on productivity,” read the report submitted to the apex court, adding that the religious sentiments of the men deployed for the operation were also provoked by the protesters through their speeches, thus making them a hurdle in effective utilisation of men.
The police report explained that the mob/protesters were prepared and they even cut wires of all relevant cameras installed around the sit-in places within the jurisdiction of Islamabad and Rawalpindi through which their activities were being monitored. They were armed with stones, pistols, axes, rods, teargas shells and masks and were highly motivated religiously.
The report criticised electronic media for live coverage of the operation as well cellular networks and social media which disseminated the time of operation for giving the protesters final notice of the deadline to vacate the Faizabad place.
This went against the police and resulted in the gathering of more protesters from adjoining areas of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the report lamented.
During the operation, 173 officials or officers of the law enforcement agencies were injured by the protesters, but no government employee or private person died during the operation, as no firearms were issued to any of the officers or officials deployed there, the report said.
The police report also admitted that since the protesters were sitting on an open area, teargas did not work effectively.
Regarding the security plan, the report said that 5,508 officers/officials fully equipped with anti-riot equipment had been deployed at the Faizabad Interchange to disperse the protesters.
Initially, teargas and water canon were used when the operation was launched on Nov 25, but the protesters resisted and assaulted the police with batons and axes and pelted them with stones. The protesters were also armed with teargas and used it upon police force, the report said.
This went against the police and caused a gathering of more protesters from the adjoining areas of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the report lamented.
After hectic efforts of about four hours almost 80 per cent of the area was cleared from the protesters, but in the meanwhile, workers of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah from adjoining areas of Rawalpindi joined them and started brutal attacks on police force.
Resultantly, several personnel of police and other law enforcement agencies were injured and rushed to nearby hospitals.
Due to severe resistance by the protesters, there was an apprehension of loss of lives so the operation had to be stopped for some time and the force was reassembled to seal all incoming roads and streets so that another attempt could be made with full preparation.
Regarding the losses the nation suffered during the sit-in, the police report said that protesters burnt many vehicles owned by private persons as well as of the police. The police registered 27 cases from Nov 8 to 25 against 418 protesters, who were sent to the judicial custody after investigation and challans against them were being sent to the court of competent jurisdiction for trial.
The leadership of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik had promised shifting to the Democracy Park to record their protest, after which they should have been dispersed peacefully, but they backed out later from the promise and staged the demonstration at the Faizabad junction while blocking the incoming and outgoing roads used by the general public.
Since the issue was of sensitive nature, the federal government as well as the district administration continued negotiations with the leadership of Tehreek-i-Labbaik to end their demonstration peacefully, the report said.
The Islamabad Capital Territory police under the directives of the Islamabad High Court and the district administration utilised all its resources to disperse the protesters as well as to shift them to Democracy Park, the report said, adding that extra force was also requisitioned from other provinces and Rangers personnel were also deployed at specific points after complete briefing on operations.
The police claimed that the operation was carried out with proper planning but due to strong resistance by the protesters and reinforcement by the workers of the Tehreek from nearby areas of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, it had to be halted temporarily to avoid any casualty, but when information came that countrywide protests had been started and problems were occurring to maintain law and order throughout the country, the operation had to be completely stopped.