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Who emerged the winner in the Islamabad protests?

The Islamabad high court has strongly objected to the terms of the agreement between the government and the leaders of the sit-in that turned violent over the weekend, besides questioning the role of the armed forces as mediator in the episode.

world Updated: Nov 29, 2017 08:22 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Tehreek-e-Labbaik,Pakistan government,Khadim Hussain Rizvi
Tehreek-e-Labbaik supporters celebrate after Pakistan’s law minister Zahid Hamid resigned.(AP)

A viral video showing a major general of the Pakistan Rangers handing out envelopes with Rs 1,000 notes to members of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan has once again raised questions about the armed forces’ role in the stand-off between the government and the protestors who paralysed Islamabad for three weeks.

Privately, senior members of the Shahid Khaqan Abbasi government have alleged the army played a key role in starting the crisis and protecting the extremists by not intervening when its help was sought by the civilian set-up.

Officially, the army played a role in brokering peace.

The Islamabad high court has strongly objected to the terms of the agreement between the government and the leaders of the sit-in that turned violent over the weekend, besides questioning the role of the armed forces as mediator in the episode.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, while hearing a case regarding the protest, said an acknowledgement in the agreement indicated the army chief, instead of following the orders of the chief executive, became a mediator.

These remarks have put the government and the army in an embarrassing position. For its part, the army says its role was restricted by the order issued by the Islamabad high court, which forbade use of force in dispersing the protestors from a busy traffic intersection at Faizabad.

It was the high court’s order, backed by comments made by the Supreme Court, that finally forced the government to act against the protestors. Behind this order was the same judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who is no stranger to controversy.

Siddiqui had earlier ordered social media to be blocked on the grounds that it contained religiously objectionable material. He publicly came out in support of late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassin Mumtaz Qadri. More recently, he was being investigated by the Supreme Judicial Council on charges of corruption.

Local media reported the blockade in Islamabad and sit-in protests across Pakistan might be over after the army-brokered deal between the protesters and the government, but the fallout and implications of Monday’s controversial accord, which many have termed as a capitulation on the part of the government, are yet to be seen.

Moreover, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik leader who led the blockade, claims much more was agreed to between him and the government than what has been officially acknowledged. Reports have suggested that clerics will now conduct a probe against a provincial minister over blasphemy and be included in boards that decide the school curricula.

Rizvi seems to have won round one. He has emerged out of nowhere to lead a protest that nearly toppled the PML-N government. It is believed the Tehreek-e-Labbaik will now actively contest the 2018 general election on the same platform.

The other winner in this test of wills seems to be the army high command, which has managed to keep its distance from the PML-N government, while at the same time playing an active role in the crisis from behind the scenes. This in itself is a cause of concern for democracy in Pakistan.

First Published: Nov 29, 2017 08:21 IST