The government geared up for a possible showdown with religious hardliners camped out on the federal capital’s busy Faizabad Interchange after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday ordered the district administration to take all necessary steps to clear the area latest by Saturday morning.
There were fears that a crackdown would have serious repercussions, with the government hinting that some of the protesters were armed and would not shy from resorting to violence.
“We know that there are armed men and we know that there are people with them [the protesters] who are waiting to provoke chaos,” the interior minister said in a press conference on the matter late Friday evening. “It is incumbent on the leaders of this protest to make sure nothing untoward happens.”
“Whoever challenges the writ of the government will be dealt with,” he promised. “We have the capability, but we would rather avoid violence.”
A couple of hours before a 10pm deadline for the protesters expired, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal made what seemed to be a last-ditch effort to appeal to the better nature of the protesters.
Presenting himself as the son of ‘exceptionally devout’ Muslims, he pleaded that the sit-in, which has disrupted life in Islamabad and Rawalpindi for the past week or so, be called off as it went against the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Saying that “international lobbies” would “use pictures of the protests to further their agenda”, Iqbal asked the protesters if they wanted their actions to hurt the state of Pakistan.
“The CPEC Joint Coordination Committee’s session is scheduled for Nov 20-21. What image of the capital city do we wish to portray? Do we want that the investor who is coming in should run away?” he asked.
“I assure that there is no shortcoming in the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat laws and a gap that had been created after 2002 has also been filled for ever,” he said. “Therefore, there is no reason this sit-in should continue and be allowed to disrupt people’s lives.”