ISLAMABAD: Swift action by the Saudi authorities against Pakistani pilgrims over sloganeering and physically attacking some members of the visiting delegation under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif at Masjid-i-Nabwi in Madina and the widespread condemnation of the incident on Friday put the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on the defensive as the party disowned the arrested hooligans.

Following the arrest of the pilgrims who raised slogans and chased members of the official Pakistani delegation, including ministers Marriyum Aurangzeb and Shahzain Bugti, during their visit to the holy mosque, the Pakistan government announced that it had decided to formally ask Saudi authorities to take “appropriate” legal action against those involved in the unruly incident and also share the information about these people so that separate action could also be taken against them in the country.

A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Islamabad confirmed that authorities in the Kingdom had arrested some of the troublemakers who had harassed, taunted and assaulted ministers at the holy mosque.

“Regarding the arrest of Pakistanis, yes this is true,” said the embassy spokesman in response to a query sent by Dawn to confirm reports about the arrests.

Information sought to award punishment to hecklers; PTI terms attack ‘spontaneous reaction’ against ouster of party’s govt

Without giving the numbers or providing details, the official said the protesters had been taken into custody for “violating regulations” and “disrespecting” the sanctity of the holy mosque.

The video clips which went viral on social media on Thursday night showed some of the Pakistani pilgrims, apparently PTI supporters, chanting slogans of Chor, Chor (thieves) and Lotay (turncoats) as soon as members of the official delegation arrived at the holy mosque of Madina. Some protesters were seen chasing and trying to physically attack Mr Bugti and Ms Aurangzeb who were saved and escorted by the guards and police officials. One of the protesters was seen pulling Mr Bugti’s hair when he was being escorted to a safer place by the guards.

Later, in a video message, Ms Aurangzeb said the act was perpetrated by a “select group” while most Pakistanis respected the sanctity of the holy mosque.

“I don’t want to name the persons responsible for this incident because I don’t want to use this holy land for political purposes,” she said in her brief video message.

She said it would take time for them to fix the ways in which these people had damaged the Pakistani society, adding: “we can only do that through a positive attitude.”

In a separate video message, Mr Bugti also condemned the incident and said he kept clam and did not retaliate in view of the sanctity of the holy mosque.

Hours after the incident, local media started airing reports regarding the attack on former National Assembly deputy speaker Qasim Suri and some of his friends at Islamabad’s posh Kohsar Market during the Sehri time.

Interestingly, the video clips of the Madina incident were mostly posted on social media by the PTI supporters and leaders, including some former ministers in the cabinet of Imran Khan, and they were found justifying the action of these pilgrims and termed it a natural reaction and anger of people against the ouster of the PTI government through a foreign conspiracy and installation of the new government comprising the former opposition parties.

However, after seeing a severe reaction from almost all the sides over the incident and following a widespread condemnation, a number of PTI leaders on Friday expressed their regret over the incident and advised the people to maintain sanctity of the holy places.

Speaking at a news conference, PTI’s vice president and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry claimed that the PTI had not planned such an attack on the members of the Pakistani delegation in Saudi Arabia and termed it a spontaneous reaction shown by the people on their own.

The former minister said the PTI should not be pushed to the wall and that law should be applied on all the parties equally. He said the cornering of a political party would cause division within the society. He said they were not in favour of using religion for politics.

He condemned the attack on Mr Suri in Islamabad and alleged that it was committed by the guards of Mr Bugti.

Mr Chaudhry confirmed the arrests of some Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia and quoted an official announcement of the Saudi authorities saying that five Pakistani nationals had been arrested for “assaulting a Pakistani woman and her companions with abusive words” while they were in the courtyard of the Prophet’s Mosque.

Meanwhile, speaking at a news conference, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah condemned the mosque incident and said the government would ask Saudi Arabia to take appropriate action against characters of the episode.

Accompanied by Adviser to Prime Minister on Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan Qamar Zaman Kaira, the interior minister said his ministry had sought advice from the law department about taking legal action against the culprits. The law ministry, he said, had also been asked to assist and advise if cases could be filed against those involved in the incident in Pakistan.

“My ministry is going to make a humble request to the Saudi government to take appropriate action in this regard so that such behaviour is controlled. We will also apprise them that the whole nation passed through a stressful period when they came to know what happened at the holy mosque”, he said.

The minister said the Saudi authorities would be requested to identify the culprits through CCTV footage and share details with Pakistan. He said these culprits should be sent back and they should not be allowed to stay there.

“Such elements did not deserve to be at holy places as it could cause religious disharmony”, he noted.

Terming the violation of the sanctity of the holy mosque a “shameful act”, the minister said, “What happened in Medina last night was saddening and badly damaged our image”.

Mr Sanaullah alleged that the act was pre-planned in Pakistan at the behest of former prime minister Imran Khan and former interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed as both of them were making efforts to provoke public sentiments against their rivals. He said it was never a difficult job to arrange some 50 to 100 people for a protest anywhere.

The minister asked Imran Khan to refrain from spreading anarchy and hatred in the country as such things were not useful for parliamentary system.

He said that Mr Bugti was physically assaulted by the protesters whereas Ms Aurangzeb was also harassed and misbehaved.

Mr Sanaullah alleged that Imran Khan was staging dramas aimed at preventing his trial in several corruption scandals. He said National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had already ordered a reference against Farrah Khan, a front woman of Imran Khan.

He said the entire nation stood with judiciary and the chief election commissioner.

On this occasion, he said the Cyber Crime Wing of FIA would not be utilised against freedom of expression or for political purposes. He, however, said stern action would be taken against those running smear campaign against judiciary and armed forces on social media.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Kaira alleged that the PTI chief wanted to create rift within the nation and institutions for his personal benefits. He said Imran Khan was spreading hate among youth and trying to sow seeds of a civil war.

Meanwhile, federal Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman also strongly condemned the abusive slogans chanted against cabinet members in a place as holy and sacred as Masjid-e-Nabwi.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2022

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