IHC lashes out at Army’s role ‘as mediator’ in government’s agreement with protesters

IHC lashes out at Army’s role ‘as mediator’ in government’s agreement with protesters

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The Islamabad High Court on Monday lashed out at the government as well as the Army for the role assigned to the military “as the mediator” in the agreement to to end the sit-in at Islamabad’s Faizabad Interchange.

“Who is the Army to play the role of mediator?” Justice Shauqut Aziz Siddiqui asked. “Where does the law assign this role to a major general?”

Security forces had launched an operation against protesters camped out at the Faizabad Interchange on Saturday after the high court had ordered the clearance of the bridge that connects the federal capital with Rawalpindi. The same day, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had advised Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to “handle the Islamabad dharna peacefully”.

The day-long operation had culminated with the government seeking the military’s assistance to disperse the participants who had put up fierce resistance to the security personnel’s action.

However, the Army had said in its response to the government’s call for assistance that, while it was “fully ready” to take action, a “few points need deliberation”. Subsequently, no troops were deployed in the city.

“Where is their Radd-ul-Fasaad now? Did they not see any Fasaad (anarchy) in this protest?” Justice Siddiqui asked as a hearing into the Faizabad protest was underway at the high court on Monday. The judge was referring to a military operation that was launched in February.

“This is proof of the military’s involvement,” the judge remarked.

During the hearing, Justice Siddiqui told Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal that the administration has the right to call in the Army to control an emergency situation. The Army is bound to heed the administration’s call, the judge added.

“Soldiers who are inclined towards politics should turn in their weapons,” Justice Siddiqui said, asking if the protests would have continued as they did if the Army’s headquarters had been located near the Faizabad Interchange.

“The army chief is an officer in an institution that comes under the state. Is he above the the law?”

The minister told the court that during the protests and the operation in Islamabad, the country’s internal security was at risk. “Security officials were being attacked everyday. Motorways, railways and cities were being closed.”

“There was a conspiracy to show that a nuclear-state was failing. The agreement was reached with the protesters to bring the country out of those circumstances,” said Iqbal, referring to the ‘successful negotiations’ with leaders of the demonstration late Sunday night.

The judge asked why the agreement did not carry the signatures of the chief commissioner and the IG. The document of the agreement reached between protesters and the government bears the signatures of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Interior Secretary Arshad Mirza, TLY leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, two other protest leaders and Maj Gen Faiz Hameed, who facilitated the agreement.

“Iqbal sahab, you have embarrassed the police and the administration,” Justice Siddiqui said.

“What role did the Rangers fulfill?” he asked. “You are supporting the impression that the Army is the cure for all illnesses.”

“This is not just an issue of Khadim Hussain Rizvi,” the judge said, referring to the religious leader spearheading the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah sit-in.

“I know that after these remarks, I will also become a ‘missing person’ or get killed,” the justice said, adding, “I am a true lover of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).”

The judge tasked Barrister Zafarullah with file a report on the incident. “He will tell us in 10 days what happened, where and when,” the judge said.

The IHC is conducting hearings on two applications that were filed by residents about the disturbances caused by the protracted sit-in.

“Where did the protesters get tear gas and gas masks from?” the judge asked, ordering the Intelligence Bureau to submit a report in this regard before the court.

The hearing was adjourned until next Monday.

Iqbal summoned

Earlier, the high court had expressed its displeasure when the interior minister had failed to appear for the hearing. The minister had been ordered to appear before the court within 15 minutes before the hearing was adjourned for a break.

Ahsan Iqbal arrived at the court soon after. Inspector General Khalid Khattak, Chief Commissioner Zulfiqar Ahmed Bhutta and Deputy Commissioner Captain (retired) Mushtaq were present in court.

The high court has also summoned Director General Intelligence Bureau Aftab Sultan and secretary commander of the Inter-Services Intelligence.

In a previous hearing of the case, which was held before the Islamabad Police with the help of the Fontier Constabulary personnel launched their operation against the protesters, the high court had issued a show-cause notice for contempt of court to Iqbal over his failure to take steps ordered by the court to end the sit-in

Situation in capital

The Faizabad protests had paralysed life in the twin cities for three weeks before an operation of security forces was finally launched on Saturday in keeping with the court’s orders.

The operation had continued all day on Saturday. Tensions had remained high in the federal capital on Sunday when the Rangers were handed over charge of the operation.

After negotiations late Sunday night, the government’s gave in to the protesters’ demand for the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, among other conditions.

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