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Pakistan govt ‘caught between devil and deep sea’ in blasphemy protests

November 17, 2017


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Law Minister Zahid Hamid has told Arab News he had no involvement in the amendment of the country’s electoral law.

The government blames a “clerical error” for an Oct. 2 change in the wording of an oath for lawmakers that declares Prophet Muhammad as God’s final prophet by omitting the clauses pertaining to the official status of Ahmadis — a minority sect that is considered non-Muslim.

The alteration — which was reversed on Oct. 5 — has sparked mass protests, with demonstrators from hardline groups demanding that Hamid resign and face punishment for what they claim amounts to blasphemy.

“All the allegations against me for making any changes (to the) clauses are totally false and baseless,” Hamid told Arab News. “I cannot even think of getting my name attributed to an attempt directly or indirectly aimed at amending the laws related to Khatam-e-Nabuwwat (the finality of prophethood).”

He added that he and his family “are willing to sacrifice our lives to defend the sanctity of the Prophet.”

Hamid has already clarified his position on the issue numerous times, but has failed to pacify outrage of several far-right religious groups.

One such group, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRP) party, has staged a sit-in at Faizabad Interchange, the main gateway between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, for almost two weeks, causing great disruption to the lives of residents of the twin cities.

Around 3,000 protesters there, led by religious scholar Khadim Hussain Rizvi, have refused to open negotiations with authorities until Hamid resigns.

They may no longer have that option.

On Friday, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court ruled that the government must remove protesters from the route by early Saturday morning.

The court has directed the Islamabad police to enlist the help of paramilitary forces the Pakistan Rangers and the Frontier Constabulary, if necessary, and to disperse the protesters through “peaceful or non-peaceful” means.

The court’s directive will likely lead to violence.

TLYRP spokesperson Mian Faisal reiterated to Arab News that the protest would continue until the law minister tendered his resignation.

“We are staying here come what may,” he said. “We don’t care about court orders.”

He added that his party’s leadership had directed sit-in participants to resist any efforts by law enforcement agencies to dislodge them.

“We are ready to sacrifice our lives to protect the sanctity and reverence of Prophet Muhammad,” Faisal said.

Besides causing serious disruption to the general public, the protests have also eroded the authority of the government. But Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said on Thursday that the government is “caught between the devil and the deep sea” over the issue.
“We have been trying our best to resolve the issue through dialogue,” he said, “but the protesters want a violent clash with law enforcement agencies to instill new life into their movement.”

Iqbal also stressed that the law minister would not resign.

Political scientist Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi told Arab News that the government was to blame for allowing the clauses to be altered in the first place, considering how sensitive an issue Khatam-e-Nabuwwat is in Pakistan, and that it should accept that it can no longer exercise control over the country.

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