Clashes began when police launched an operation in Islamabad, involving 4,000 officers, to disperse 1,000 activists belonging to religious parties.
ISLAMABAD — Daily life in the capital has been disrupted for 18 days by protesters belonging to religious parties, including the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST).
The agitators believe that the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath was deliberately modified as part of a larger conspiracy during the passage of the Elections Act, 2017. The amendment was deemed a ‘clerical error’ by the government and has already been rectified through an Act of Parliament.
Nonetheless, the protesters had been insistent on the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for his alleged role in the controversy. There is no proof yet that indicates Hamid was responsible for the amendment. A committee headed by Raja Zafarul Haq has been probing the issue.
The Islamabad High Court, the Supreme Court and the heads of various religious parties had repeatedly called for the protesters to disband, calling the protest unlawful. The IHC had said the protest’s leaders had, prima facie, committed an ‘act of terror’ by continuing their process.
Government crackdown against religious protesters camped out at Islamabad’s Faizabad Interchange was ‘suspended’ on Saturday evening as thousands of protesters took over the streets in the federal capital.
The Islamabad police, with the help of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel and other law enforcement agencies, launched the operation against protesters earlier today after the last of a long series of deadlines lapsed this morning without response from the agitating parties.
Roughly 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear took part in the clearance operation.
A Pakistani riot policeman throws a rock toward protesters of the religious group. — AFP
An Islamabad police spokesman told AFP that an officer was killed in the clash with protesters after he was struck in the head by a rock. His death has not been independently verified by DawnNews.
So far, over 200 people have been injured across Islamabad and Rawalpindi with numbers expected to rise. At least 60 police officers, 45 FC men, and 50 civilians are among those injured. The injured also include the Bani Gala station house officer (SHO) and Abdul Hadi, a magistrate of the Islamabad administration.
Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s residence in Sialkot was also attacked by protesters as the agitation spilled over to other cities across the country.
At least 150 protesters have been arrested so far.
The operation was suspended in the evening when roughly 1,000 protesters unexpectedly entered Islamabad through the Express Highway to join the agitators, according to a DawnNews reporter present on-site.
Due to the unfavourable wind direction, law enforcement personnel found themselves unable to shell the incoming protesters effectively and retreated, leaving the area open for a few thousand more to enter in through the Murree Road, Rawal Dam and Express Highway areas.
Shortly thereafter, the operation was suspended.
Protests spread to other cities
Unrest in the federal capital has spilled over to Karachi, as protesters loyal to the same religious parties have begun agitating against the Faizabad operation at various spots in the city.
Protesters blocked roads and demonstrated at the Numaish traffic intersection in the city’s busy Saddar area in the morning.
However, the protests later spread to other parts of the city, including Teen Talwar, Boat Basin, NIPA, Shahrah-i-Faisal near Stargate and Nursery, Hub River Road and Hassan Square, where both tracks of the road have closed for traffic.
At least 12 people were reportedly injured in skirmishes with police at Stargate and Nursery, where police have begun tear gas shelling protesters. In response, the protesters stone-pelted police officials.
Reports have been received of enraged protesters burning tyres and forcibly closing businesses in various areas. Police is standing alert in Karachi, and important government buildings have been secured.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah took notice of the sit-ins in Karachi. He has directed the commissioner and inspector general of police to to clear the traffic in the city.
A large number of religious parties also took out rallies and staged demonstrations in Umerkot, Mithi, Sujawal and other towns of lower Sindh to register their protest against the ongoing operation against the protesters in Islamabad. They vowed to continue their peaceful protests.
Various religious organisations also staged a protest demonstration outside the Badin Press Club, demanding a halt in use of violence against protesters in the capital.
Meanwhile, demonstrators have also converged at Shahdara in Lahore.
There are reports of similar protests at Imamia Colony and other settlements along the GT Road. Roads from Lahore to Gujranwala and Faisalabad have also been closed.
News channels, social media ‘blocked’
In the afternoon, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) prohibited all satellite TV channels from live coverage of the operation.
After the Pemra notification was issued, news channels went off air in various parts of the country.
Additionally, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram have been blocked in some parts of the country.
(Agencies with inputs from Dawn.com)