Faizabad crisis worsens: protests spread across Pakistan, TV channels forced to go off air
There is chaos in Islamabad in Pakistan after government action on thousands of protesters belonging to a religious outfit led to clashes. The violent protests have spread to other cities including Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. There are reports in the Pakistani press of attack on journalists. Reports say scores of protesters and police personnel have been injured in the clashes.
Amidst all this, the Army Chief has advised the Pakistani government to deal with the protestors peacefully. “COAS [chief of army staff] telephoned PM. Suggested to handle Islamabad Dharna peacefully avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest and cohesion,” Major General Asif Ghafoor, the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said in a tweet referring to the conversation between General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
As the violence spread, Interior Minister of Pakistan Ahsan Iqbal, in a bizarre statement, blamed India. "They are not simple people. We can see that they have various resources at their disposal. They have fired tear gas shells [at security forces], they also cut the fibre optic cables of cameras that were monitoring their protest, " Dawn reported. The interior minister said the protesters had also "contacted India", according to a report in the newspaper.
In an unprecedented move, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority ordered all private television channels to go off air for airing a live feed of the police action on the protesters. The move has expectedly invited sharp criticism from the media fraternity in the neighbouring country where religious outfits have a history of holding the country to ransom. There are also reports of social media blackout in some parts of Pakistan.
The clashes started after police officials surrounded the protesters at the sit-in area in Faizabad, on the road which connects Rawalpindi to Islamabad. The police was acting on a court order which directed that the protests be cleared.
Tear gas shells were fired to disperse these protesters belonging to the Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRAP) leading to a violent retaliation.
The Dawn reported how the operation had to be suspended Saturday evening “when roughly 1,000 protesters unexpectedly entered Islamabad through the Express Highway to join the agitators.”
The newspaper says 150 protesters were arrested as the operation kicked off. But later violence has led to injuries to as many as 200 people according to hospitals in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
“At least 60 police officers, 45 FC men, and 50 civilians are among those injured,” the newspaper says explaining how the figure of casualties is expected to rise as violence spreads to other parts.
What are the protests all about?
The religious party is agitating over modification in the sworn oath affirming a politicians belief in the finality of prophethood, according to The Dawn. The protest which has been on for the last three weeks demanding that the law minister Zahid Hamid steps down, claimed that the modification was part of a larger conspiracy even as the government called it a clerical error.