Pakistan calls in army to end protests of religious parties

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is chairing a high-level meeting to evolve a strategy to tackle the situation in the federal capital and other parts of the country following the launch of Islamabad operation.

The meeting is being attended by Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal along with district administration and police officials from the twin cities.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa will hold an important meeting today to discuss the situation in Islamabad, sources said.

The two will discuss the sit-in being held on the Faizabad Interchange by a religious group, which has entered its third week despite the commencement of a security forces operation on Saturday.

The army chief was on a visit to the United Arab Emirates and cut short his trip to reach the country last night, sources said.

Rangers have taken forward positions at and around Faizabad interchange as protests continue in the capital and other cities on Sunday, a day after authorities launched an operation to disperse the protesters.

Security arrangements for the operation have now been handed over to the Rangers to keep the law and order situation in the federal capital under control,  sources said.

The operation, which commenced on Saturday to disperse protesters at the interchange, was suspended at approximately 2:30 PM local time.

Protesters renewed violence early Sunday morning as they resorted to arson and pelted stones at police. The protesters began pelting stones at policemen and set fire to five motorcycles and a car belonging to the police near I-8 sector earlier today, police said.

The situation remains tense in the capital as demonstrations continue at Faizabad interchange, I-8 Markaz and other areas. Express Highway, IJP Road, and the motorway leading to Lahore remain closed to traffic.

On Saturday, a protester was killed while over 250 people including 90 policemen and FC personnel, as protests, took a violent turn in the capital. Around 8,000 security officials took part in the operation aimed at dispersing the protesters with the help of tear gas and water cannons.

Pakistan, the army was called in on Sunday to deal with the aftermath of a botched operation against protesters from religious parties that paralysed the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi for over a fortnight.

As many as six people were killed and hundreds wounded as law enforcement agencies finally acted under court orders to disperse protesters who had amassed at Faizabad Interchange.

But the ill-planned action only added fuel to the demonstrators’ fire and not only failed to dislodge them, but also fanned smaller protests in other parts of the country.

The ancestral home of Law Minister Zahid Hamid was also attacked in Pasrur, near Sialkot. Nearly all major motorways and highways in Punjab remained blocked for traffic.

Lahore saw the strongest backlash, with protesters blocking all routes in and out of the city and bringing life to a standstill.

The Ministry of Interior issued on Saturday night a statutory regulatory order (SRO) to authorize the deployment of the Pakistan Army to aid civil power to control the law and order situation in the Islamabad Capital Territory.

The SRO — issued in light of the request of the Islamabad Capital Territory Islamabad Administration, dated November 25, issued by the ministry under Article 245 of the Constitution, read along with Sections 4 and 5 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and section 131-A of the Cr.P.C — authorized “the deployment of sufficient number of troops” as “to be determined by the Commander 111 Brigade” in effect from November 25 until further orders.

Sources said Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi took the decision to summon the Army and the interior ministry issued the notification after the premier’s approval.

In response, however, the Pakistan Army said while its troops are “fully ready to perform the assigned task in line with its institutional obligations”, there are “few aspects meriting deliberation prior to [the deployment”.

The police force “has not been optimally utilized to its full capability” in “dealing with [the] protesters”, the Army noted.

In addition, “Pakistan Rangers, backing […] police as 2nd tier force physically deployed with police in Islamabad, have not been given written instructions as agreed for their employment.”

The Army added that its troops are “traditionally not just used for dispersal of crowd/protesters but to quell commotion”.

Therefore, their deployment “needs to be clarified in the context of item 6 of Supreme Court judgment dated November 23, 2017, with regards to civil petition no 2983 of 2016 (Sher Jamal and others vs Wali Sardar and others)”.

Also, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) “restrains [the] use of ‘firearms’ during clearance operation”, as per Item 8 of its “judgment of writ petition number 3914 of 2017”.

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