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Law court challenges Army's role in agreement with Faizabad protesters

Law court challenges Army’s role in agreement with Faizabad protesters

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 end the sit-in at Islamabad’s Faizabad Interchange.

The army chief instead of following the orders of the chief executive became a mediator, pointed out Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui as a hearing into the Faizabad protest was underway at the high court on Monday.

“Who is the army to adopt a mediator’s role?” inquired the judge. “Where does the law assign this role to a major general?”

After the weeks-long protest that virtually paralysed the capital, the government and protesters reached an agreement late Sunday night, in which the former conceded to the latter’s demands.

The document of the agreement — submitted before the court — bears the signatures of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Interior Secretary Arshad Mirza, Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, two other protest leaders and Maj Gen Faiz Hameed, who facilitated the agreement.

“We are thankful to him [Gen Bajwa] for saving the nation from a big catastrophe,” the agreement document concludes, crediting the army chief and his representative team for their “special efforts”.

Court’s objections

In its written order, the court notes a “number of serious objections on the terms of agreement”.

“Most alarming is that Maj Gen Faiz Hameed put signature as [the] one through whom [the] agreement was arrived at,” the order says. “It is also very strange that the efforts of Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff, have been acknowledged in the words: this entire agreement was reached through the efforts of the army chief and his representative team.”

The order notes that the role assumed by the army chief is “besides the Constitution and the law of the land”.

“Armed Forces being part of executive of the country cannot travel beyond its mandate bestowed upon it by the organic law of the country.”

On the matter of the abusive language used by the protesters against the judiciary, the order says that “the Federal government and the arbitrator did not bother to persuade the leadership of TLY to even tender an apology in this regard.”

“This court has serious reservations on the terms of the agreement and mannerism in which it arrived; however, the federal government has to satisfy the court about the constitutional role of Armed forces and an acknowledgement by the federal government/Executive of the country regarding role of armed forces as an arbitrator,” the order reads, calling for the attorney general to assist the court on this point.

The court has also directed the chief commissioner to submit a report regarding the Islamabad operation and “reasons for its failure”.

Further, Joint Director General of the Intelligence Bureau Anwar Ali has also been asked to submit a report detailing how the protesters gained acces to guns, tear gas shells and masks.

“He shall also submit a report showing reasons of failure of operation and aid provided to protesters, when ICT Police almost cleared Faizabad Interchange.”

“It is made clear that [the] question raised by this court shall not be used as an excuse to dislodge/disburse the protesters of sit-in as order to clear Faizabad Interchange is still in field.”

The order adds that if the protesters continue their sit-in, the government and the administration are “required to persuade them to shift to the sit-in at Parade Ground.”

Army’s response to operation

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.

‘You’ve embarrassed the police, administration’

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

“Where is their Radd-ul-Fasaad now? Did they not see any Fasaad (anarchy) in this protest?” Justice Siddiqui asked, referring to a military operation that was launched in February.

The judge remarked that this was proof of the ‘military’s involvement’.

He told Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal that the administration has the right to call in the army to control an emergency situation and that the military is bound to comply.

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.

“Iqbal sahab, you have embarrassed the police and the administration,” Justice Siddiqui said. “You [the institutions] are destroying the state in your bid to make each other look bad.”

“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 TLY sit-in.

The IHC judge, while declaring his love for the Holy Prophet (PBUH), said that these remarks could cost him his life or add him to the list of missing persons’.

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

Using Zahid Hamid as a ‘scapegoat’

Speaking on Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation ─ the main demand put forward by the protesters ─ the judge accused the government of using him as a scapegoat to protect PML-N leader Anusha Rehman, state minister for IT and Telecommunication. Rehman was also named in the Khatme-Naboowat controversy. “In order to protect one person, the minister is being sacrificed.”

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

“The petitioner has asked for a lot of things in the application,” the judge observed, “This will only be made apparent when the project is over and the [protesters] have left.”

“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. Subsequently, the TLY chief on Monday ordered his followers to end sit-ins across the country.

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