Instead of cracking down on Islamists who were blockading Islamabad since November 6 demanding the resignation of a minister for blasphemy, the Pakistani Army “guaranteed” that most of their demands would be met. On Monday, Law Minister Zahid Hamid resigned, and the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) ended its 22-day blockade of the Faizabad Exchange, a major intersection connecting Islamabad with Rawalpindi.
The TLYR and a few other hardline Islamist outfits had launched a ‘sit-in’ protest against a slight change in the country’s electoral law, which they felt was a softening of the state’s position against Ahmadis Muslims. Though the clause was immediately reversed, the rabid TLYR, which opposes and persecutes Ahmadis and Shias in the country calling them ‘blasphemers’, was insistent that Hamid must quit.
Things came to a boil Saturday as after a stricture by the Islamabad HC, the government ordered a police crackdown. At least five were killed and more than 220 wounded in the clashes, in which cops used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse protestors armed with stones and metal rods. When the violence started spreading to other parts of the country, the government called in the Army. But instead, Sunday, Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa met Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi and “convinced” him to concede to the demands of the protesters, and sent a major general to negotiate with the agitators.
Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad HC was not amused. “The court had asked the government to clear the roads ... What you have done is surrender,” he told the interior minister. “Who is the Army to play the role of mediator?” he asked, demanding to know whether the Army chief was above the law. But in a clear sign of how fundamentalists and the military rule the roost in Pakistan, he added: “I know that after these remarks, I will also become a ‘missing person’ or get killed.” One can only hope that his words don’t prove prophetic.