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Ministerial-level meeting held with religious parties

19 November, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: Signs of a negotiated end to the sit-in organised by some religious parties at Faizabad emerged on Saturday night when a ministerial-level government team held marathon meetings with the protest leaders.

Reports claimed the government had offered the sit-in leaders that all cases registered against them would be withdrawn and a committee would be appointed to look into claims that Law Minister Zahid Hamid was behind the now-withdrawn controversial change into the Khatm-i-Nubuwat declaration for electoral candidates.

The representatives of the protest leaders were expected to give their response to the offer after consulting their leadership.

The meetings were held at the residence of senior Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Raja Zafarul Haq, a member of the official team which included Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Minister of State for Religious Affairs Pir Muhammad Aminul Hasnat Shah and Islamabad Mayor Sheikh Ansar.

Those who took part in negotiations from the protesters were Pir of Golra Sharif Ghulam Moinuddin, Pir Ijaz Ashrafi, Maulana Waheed Noor and Shafique Amini.

Meanwhile, talking to reporters at around midnight, Mr Iqbal said the government wanted to end the crisis through dialogue. He said this was not a political sit-in, rather the people had gathered due to religious emotions.

The minister said that ulema were playing a very positive role and they had also given some good advice.

He, however, rejected the protesters demand for the law minister’s resignation. He said the minister could not be asked to resign without solid evidence against him.

He said the Islamabad High Court had set a deadline for Sunday to remove the protesters. He said the government would request the court to give some more time as ulema would now talk to the protesters. He expressed the hope that soon the issue would be resolved amicably and without use of force or violence.

The minister said the sit-in had been causing great difficulties to millions of residents of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. He added that another patient lost his life because he could not be taken to hospital due to the road blockade.

He said that protesters should congratulate the government for the historic work of restoring a law that had lapsed in 2002 and now the Khatm-i-Nubuwat issue had been settled once and for all.

He said that in the next few days the nation would be celebrating Eid Miladun Nabi and, therefore, the protesters should ensure that no tense situation was created during these days.

In response to a question, he said talks were still on and there had been no discussion on the issue of withdrawal of cases against the protesters. He said the law provided a mechanism for registration of cases and their withdrawal. He said the committee under Raja Zafarul Haq was yet to come out with its findings.

The government wants the sit-in to end latest by Sunday so that Islamabad could host the seventh JCC meeting of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with the capital free of all political agitation. The two-day meeting will start on Monday and will be attended, among others, by a delegation from China.

Earlier in the day, the interior minister stopped the capital police and administration from taking action against the protesters to avoid bloodshed. The minister, officials said, also deferred the plan to remove the protesters by force for another 24 hours.

Sources said that some members of the government team also visited the site of the sit-in before the negotiations began.

Minister of State for Religious Affairs Pir Aminul Hasnat arrives at the residence of Leader of the House in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq for negotiations between government’s representatives and leaders of religious groups which staged a protest sit-in at the Faizabad interchange.—Online

However, the sources claimed that the protesters were not ready to budge from their demand and insisting on Zahid Hamid’s removal because they held him responsible for the change in the Khatm-i-Nubuwat declaration.

Mr Haq had been given the task of holding the negotiation with the protesters because he was the head of the three-member committee that had been constituted by PML-N president Nawaz Sharif last month to fix responsibility for the change in the declaration.

The committee has submitted its report to Mr Sharif and the protesters are demanding that it be made public.

The change in the language of the candidates’ declaration form in the Elections Act 2017 enraged religious parties, who launched an agitation against it which they claimed had been made intentionally to carry out the Western agenda.

Though the government has already reversed the change besides restoring the declaration for the Ahmadi voters, the protesters are insisting that those responsible for this faux pas be identified and punished.

Earlier, the interior ministry in a statement appealed to the ulema and religious scholars to persuade the protesters to call off the sit-in because the country could not afford lawlessness and chaos.

The minister said that the compliance of the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) order to remove the protesters was a legal requirement.

There was no justification to continue the sit-in when parliament had already passed the law about the Khatm-i-Nubuwat, the minister was quoted as saying.

The protesters have been demanding removal of the federal and Punjab law ministers which the officials said was not acceptable to the government.

The IHC had asked the protesters on Friday to end the sit-in and ordered the capital administration and police to remove them if they failed to obey the court order and submit a compliance report on Saturday.

The capital administration and police prepared for action despite police intelligence wing’s suggestion for negotiations. About 8,000 personnel of the capital police, Rangers, FC and PC were deployed around Faizabad.

Officials said the strength of the protesters kept changing, but it never fell below 2,000.

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