Attack on Ahsan Iqbal result of appeasing Faizabad protesters, says Nawaz

Updated May 07, 2018

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Nawaz Sharif media talks outside the accountability court in Islamabad.

A day after Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was attacked by a suspect believed to be affiliated with the Tehreek-i-Labbaik, ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif insinuated that the state had emboldened the attacker to execute his plans.

A video showing the distribution of money to protesters after the Faizabad sit-in was called off.

Blaming the incident on the state's capitulation to Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) following the Faizabad sit-in and subsequent standoff with security forces in Islamabad last year, Sharif said: "This is the result of the distribution of Rs1,000 to the protesters. If the protesters had not been given Rs1,000 each, perhaps this day would not have come."

Explore: How the Islamabad protests happened

He was referring to an infamous incident, also captured on video, wherein representatives of the armed forces had handed out Rs1,000 cheques to protesters as the latter dispersed following the November 2017 dharna spearheaded by the TLP.

The TLP had protested for more than 20 days at Islamabad's Faizabad Interchange to have changes made to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017 reversed.

The agitation had ended after the PML-N government failed to dislodge the protesters and launched a botched operation which eventually failed and forced the state to capitulate.

The government ended up conceding to nearly all of the TLP's demands — including the dropping of all cases against the protesters, who had at times turned violent and destroyed public property.

The army had played mediator between both parties, and the army chief was thanked in writing for the "special efforts" that led to the agreement.

After the 'surrender', Interior Minister Iqbal had said that “Civil & military leadership acted collectively [to] save the country from [the] threat of religion based violence. We must heal wounds [to] unite nation,” in a tweet on November 28, 2017.

However, contradicting the interior minister on the same day, TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi had stated that it was the army which ensured the government met the protesters' terms.

"We told them [the government] that we cannot talk to you," Rizvi had told Samaa TV on November 28, 2017. "Then the army came in the middle and our companions met with army and ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] bigwigs, generals etc."

"They told us they will get all of our demands accepted," Rizvi had said in a startling revelation.

Rizvi said that his team never met the interior minister — whose signatures were present on the agreement — and it "must have been" the army leadership which got Iqbal to sign the document.

What was the money for?

"I would like to know — and not just I, but many people would like to know — why the money was distributed, and with what motive? This question remains, and one day the reality will come to light. If this matter can be resolved now, then it should be resolved now," Nawaz Sharif said today.

While referring to an ongoing case in the Islamabad High Court concerning the Faizabad sit-in, Sharif also pointed out that Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui had "asked relevant questions [from the state, about the protests], to which there was no response".

Justice Siddiqui had previously questioned the army's involvement in and the legal standing of the Faizabad agreement, saying that none of its terms could be legally justified.

Read more: IHC asks govt to probe how army chief was dragged into sit-in controversy

"Similarly, no one responded to questions raised by [Supreme Court] Justice Qazi Faez Isa," Sharif added. Justice Isa had previously asked who had backed the sit-in while lashing out at security agencies for "failing to produce a new report" in court after a previous report on the fiasco was found unsatisfactory.

'Failed attempt to restrict political activity'

Separately, the leader of the House in the Senate, Raja Zafarul Haq, described the assassination attempt on Ahsan Iqbal as a "failed attempt to restrict political activity".

"The culture of intolerance in this country must be discouraged," he asserted. "Extremism should not harm the political process, and all schools of thought must come together to condemn these acts of terror."

"We will need to take organised steps to curb this culture of intolerance. All political parties are united in creating a favourable political environment for timely elections and the continuation of the democratic process," he added.

"The entire nation is strongly opposed to extremism and intolerance."

Leader of the Opposition in Senate Sherry Rehman strongly condemned the incident and said the attack was "a message" for politicians and that an environment of fear was deliberately being created.

She vowed that political forces would fight the situation and would not allow for any more violence.

"It would be incorrect to call the incident an accident," PPP Senator Raza Rabbani noted, adding that the fall-back of the incident needs to be analysed.

"This is the result of attempts to mainstream banned organisations," he further said, adding that the situation is deliberately being worsened so that elections can be postponed.