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Faizabad handed over to Rangers

By Amir Wasim and Baqir Sajjad Syed 2017-11-27
ISLAMABAD: Top civil and military leaders on Sunday went into a huddle to review and assess the law and order situation developing in the country in the aftermath of Saturday`s botched operation against protesters at Faizabad interchange, and decided to reinitiate the process of negotiations with the leadership of the protesting religious groups after the army showed a reluctance to directly take on the protesters.

Soon after the meeting, presided over by Prime Minister Shahid Khagan Abbasi and attended by Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Naveed Mukhtar, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the government issued a notification, putting the Islamabad police and the Punjab police under the command of the Rangers for one week.

`Maj Gen Azhar Naveed Hayat Khan, Director General Rangers (Punjab), is hereby appointed as overall in-charge of the operation to handle and clear the sit-in organised by activists of Tehreeki-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah at Faizabad interchange and atother places in Islamabad and Rawalpindi with ef fect from Nov 26 till Dec 3, 2017,` said the notification issued by the Ministry of Interior, indicating the possibility that there would be no further action against protesters until Eid Miladun Nabi, on Dec1.

Sources in the military said that during the meeting, the army chief had opposed the use of army against the sit-in participants, saying that force could not be applied against its own people `as the people of Pakistan loveand have trust in [the] army, which can`t be compromised for little gains`.

`Anarchy doesn`t suit ourimage in [the] world community.

We have to stay cohesive and united,` the army chief is said to have told the prime minister.

Sources claimed that Gen Bajwa asked the government to `iden-tify and punish` those responsible for the chaotic situation prevailing in the country.

The military leadership told the government that the army, as an instrument of the state, would perform any task. But since the use of the military represents the application of force, it should therefore be employed as a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted and if there is athreatto the state.

Sources said that no additional troops were being moved as the few already stationed in Islamabad could take over the security of government buildings from police and Rangers personnel.

The army chief also called for lifting of ban on private TV channels` transmissions.

Talking to Dawn, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal defended his decision to stop the operation midway and blamed the media for the chaotic situation faced in the aftermath of the police action on Saturday. He said the operation was going smoothly, but the media`s live coverage incited armed people from nearby areas and madressahs to head towards Faizabad and attack police. Sincethe police was `de-weaponised` they had no option but to retreat, he said.

The minister said that Saturday`s incidents proved that what he told the court, i.e. that the protesters were armed and wanted bloodshed, had proven true. He said the protesters used modern tear-gas shells, which were not even available to the country`s law enforcement agencies.

However, Mr Iqbal claimed that there were no casualties during the operadon, adding that the deaths were reported in incidents that took place af ter the operation was called off, when the mob started attacking private properties, including the residence of former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.When asked if the army had refused to directly take part in the operation, Mr Iqbal simply said that the army was always used as a last resort. He said the government still had the option of using police and Rangers to improve the situation and disperse protesters.

The minister said they had been successfully engaging the protesters in dialogue over the past two weeks and were close to a resolution, but the administration had to launch the operation on the directives of the high court. He said the court had already declared that the minister had no role and that the administration should implement itsorders.

Earlier in the day, the militaryleadership responded to the federal government`s directive seeking deployment of troops to control the situation in Rawalpindi and Islamabad and raised some legal and technical objections, stating that `employment of army implies application of a force which is traditionally not just used for dispersal of crowd/protesters but to quell commotion`.

There was no of ficial confirmation from the federal government or the military about the authenticity of the letter, apparently written by the Military Operations Directorate of the General Headquarters (GHQ) and available with most sections of the media. Military sources, however, claimed that the letter was genuine.