ISLAMABAD: The capital’s Red Zone gave a look of a battle zone on Wednesday as the federal government employees and security personnel clashed throughout the day in the heavily-guarded area.
The protesters are demanding increase in their salaries in accordance with the prevailing inflation.
Protesting under the umbrella of All Government Employees Grand Alliance, the public servants announced a sit-in at Pak Secretariat till their salaries were increased.
On the other hand, the officials of the capital administration and police told Dawn on condition of anonymity that detention order of union leaders of different government departments had been issued under Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance 1960 to counter the sit-in.
The officers said an operation was conducted by the police and over a dozen union leaders were arrested, including those of the Capital Development Authority.
Besides, a well-equipped contingent of capital police, including Anti-Riot Unit, Counter Terrorism Department, Anti-Terrorism Force and police commandos were deployed on Constitution Avenue and at the Red Zone, and paramilitary troops on government buildings.
In the morning, over 2,000 employees of Pak Secretariat gathered inside the premises to stage a protest and locked the main entrance to the secretariat, the administration’s officials said.
Government officials from other departments also reached the Secretariat from Radio Pakistan and PTV roundabouts and gathered outside the secretariat, the officers said, adding that police tried to intercept the protesters, but remained unsuccessful.
At around 10am, the police started arresting the protesters, and shortly afterwards resorted to teargas shelling, they said, adding that the protesters retaliated and pelted the police with stones. The police also fired rubber bullets at the protesters on Constitution Avenue.
Over a thousand protesters had also assembled in the National Press Club following which the police immediately sealed D-Chowk by placing containers on Jinnah Avenue.
They tried to intercept the protesting employees who were marching towards D-Chowk by firing teargas and rubber bullets near the containers. As a result, the protesters staged a sit-in there, the officials added.
During the confrontation, police fired over a 1,000 teargas shells at the protesters to disperse them.
The government employees coming from adjacent districts and various parts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also started reaching the capital, the officials said, adding that about 1,500 to 2,000 protesters were intercepted at Golra by the police with teargas shelling and baton charge.
The protesters retaliated and pelted stones, the officials said, adding that as a result there were massive traffic jams on Srinagar Highway.
Hundreds of vehicles remained stuck in kilometres-long queues and the Islamabad Traffic Police kept diverting traffic on alternative routes.
The police picked up over 200 protesters and detained them in Bhara Kahu, Secretariat, Kohsar, Aabpara and women police stations.
A committee, comprising ministers, called Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Hamza Shafqaat and asked him to hold negotiations with the detained leaders under the given terms and conditions, the officials said.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the government was engaged in talks with the protesting federal government employees.
The government’s parliamentary committee had already held negotiations with the All Government Employees Grand Alliance and it had agreed to increase pay of grade 16 employees, the minister said while talking to a private news channel.
Mr Ahmed said the protesters were now demanding increase in salaries of employees up to grade 22 which was impossible for the government as the country was facing a financial crunch.
The grade 22 officials were supporting and inciting the employees towards anarchy, he added.
The minister said due to the 18th Amendment, the federal government was not bound to increase salaries of employees of the provincial governments, adding that the police personnel had taken action against violators of law during the protest.
Mr Ahmed said the government, after negotiations with the protesting employees, was ready to notify an increase in the wages of grade 1-16 employees.
Addressing a joint press conference with Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan, the interior minister said the protesting employees were primarily demanding increase in salaries from grade 1 to 16, adding that 25 per cent increase in their basic salaries was possible at the moment and would be notified by the cabinet after agreement with them.
Mr Ahmed said political parties were instigating the protesters for their own gains, adding that service rules were applicable on government employees and not political leaders.
Therefore, public servants should raise voice for their own rights instead of becoming tools at the hands of political parties, he said, adding that negotiations with the government team were underway.
The minister also thanked Pims protesters for calling off their protest on his request.
Pervez Khattak said the protesters had made a new demand for raising salaries of employees till grade 22 which was not possible at the moment.
He said: “We have requested the protesters to wait for the Pay and Pension Commission’s report as the government itself wants to give this increment to them.”
Mr Khattak said with regard to provincial government employees, who were also participating in the protest, their respective governments were responsible to resolve their issues following the 18th Amendment. Ali Mohammad Khan said the protesters were responsible people, employees of the state and their brothers.
He said the government was concerned about their problems, adding that when the employees protested for the first time, he and National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri met them and brought the issue to the notice of the prime minister.
“The prime minister formed a high-powered committee comprising me, Pervaiz Khattak and Arbab Shehzad,” he said. The negotiations were held with the employees in numerous meetings and the government representatives also met with the Pay and Pensions Commission and the finance minister, he added.
The minister said most of their issues had already been resolved, including upgradations and mergers, and hopefully the remaining ones would be sorted out as well.
Meanwhile, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said the Pakistan Democratic Movement had set a new example of political opportunism by trying to gain political mileage from the protest of the secretariat employees.
Talking to media persons after administering oath to newly-elected office-bearers of Dir Press Club, Mr Faraz said it was ironic that those who were responsible for the problems of the employees were raising slogans now.
The minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan was concerned about the problems of the government employees and had issued directives to solve them at the earliest.
He said the cabinet committee comprising Pervaiz Khattak, Sheikh Rashid and Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh was holding talks with the employees and a solution would soon be found.
On the other hand, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, in his tweet, condemned the use of force against the protesting government officials and their arrest.
He demanded the government to accept their demands and release the arrested protesters, immediately PPP information secretary Senator Sherry Rehman slammed the government for arresting protesting government employees. “These employees serve our country and are rightfully asking for a pay rise as inflation is going through the roof but instead teargas shells are being fired at them. They must be released immediately,” Ms Rehman said, adding that the government was at war with its own employees, student groups, PTDC, Steel Mills and PIA employees, labour unions, independent media and working journalists, lawyers, doctors, lady health workers and the political opposition.
Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2021