Four-day sit-in ends with deal

WEB DESK:The four-day long sit-in by supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, came to an end on Wednesday after government gave them a safe passage under the pretext of accepting some of their demands.

Despite repeated warnings by the administration, the clerics remained steadfast till last minute but the deployment of over 7000 baton-yielding personnel of police, FC and Rangers to conduct an operation, forced the protesting clerics to manage a face-saving exit.

In order to strike a deal with clerics, the government made life difficult for them by stopping supply of food and water. Food supply to them remained blocked during their protest. Some protesters were even seen eating grass and leaves to beat hunger. Some protesters fainted due to exhaustion and hunger. They were rushed to hospitals by Rescue 1122. Before protesters dispersed, an announcement was made by the organisers of the protest that an FIR would be registered against Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and others for the loss of two lives. However, police rejected the claims made by the clerics that two of their protesters died due to hunger. “No participant of the sit-in protest died in any hospital of the city,” said SSP operation Sajid Kayani in a statement.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan Chairman Shah Owais Noorani and Rafiq Pardesi played an important role towards successful negotiations. Sarwat Ijaz Qadri, leader of Sunni Tehrik (ST), along with Noorani and others indulged a prolonged session of dialogue between the government and protestors. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique and Minister of State for Religious Affairs Pir Mohammad Amin Ul Hasnat Shah represented the government in the negotiations.

Contrary to the original demands presented by protesters, a seven-point agreement was reached between the two sides, which included an assurance that no amendment to 295-C of the Blasphemy Law will be made, arrested protesters will be released, those convicted under the Blasphemy Law will not be spared, the list of the Fourth Schedule would be reviewed, withdrawal of cases against clerics, directions will be issued to PEMRA to stop vulgarity on media channels while Ministry of Religious Affairs will be asked to draft recommendations for the implementation of “Nizam-e-Mustafa”.

However, some key demands earlier issued by protesters under the banner of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool-o-Allah (PBUH) could not be met. These included the unconditional release of all Sunni clerics and leaders booked on various charges, including terrorism and murder; official recognition of Mumtaz Qadri as a “martyr” and the conversion of his Adiala Jail cell into a national heritage site; the removal of Ahmadis and other non-Muslims who had occupied key posts.

Earlier, the government had given the protesters an ultimatum to leave late Tuesday, but it went unheeded, prompting the government to issue a second warning, announcing that security forces would begin an operation to clear the area by Wednesday morning but an expected action was averted at the eleventh hour following successful negotiations between the two sides.

Around 7,000 personnel of Islamabad and Punjab along with FC and Rangers cordoned off the protest venue for a possible crackdown, blocking all the roads leading to D-Chowk, the venue of the sit-in protest and also arrested scores of protesters from the outsides the venue.

The agreed points were shared with the media and by the protesters’ leader Pir Mohammad Afzal Qadri, who stated that it was a ‘big achievement’ of the movement. ST leader Sarwat Ijaz Qadri said the government needs to ensure implementation of the agreed points and hoped that all the arrested activists would be released as per the understanding. Soon after the announcement that an agreement was reached between the protesters and the government, the cellular phones companies restored blocked services which remained suspended for the last three days due to security reasons.