SC grills ISI, IB on ‘dharna’

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Apart from some casualties, country lost Rs.146m in 22-day sit-in. One TV channel funded the ‘dharna’ and fanned hatred for ‘rating’ , money awarded to protestors by Rangers flayed

Nation special report

ISLAMABAD: The 22-day ‘religious dharna (sit-in) in Faizabad (junction of twin cities Rawalpindi and Islamabad) is now over but left many questions behind to answer.
What hands were behind, who funded and met expenses and what was the actual purpose? These are main questions need to be answered. In a related development, the Islamabad High Court has expressed its dissatisfaction over the reports submitted by two intelligence agencies ISI and IB on Thursday.
ISI’s report is reportedly sealed whereas IB report submitted an open report and gave some details including the monetary loss worth more than Rs.146 million. Money-envelopes awarded to protestors by Rangers was also severely criticized by public circles. During the much waited hearing, the apex court snubbed both the organizations and held them accountable.
The two-member Supreme Court bench grilled government officials on Thursday over the sit-in at Faizabad that brought the twin cities to a virtual halt for 20 days. “How did the protesters get teargas shells and sticks?” Justice Mushir Alam asked the Islamabad advocate general.
“If you cannot secure the federal capital, how will you secure the country?” The bench, hearing a case on disturbance of public life due to the sit-in at the Faizabad interchange, took up the nine-page report submitted to the apex court on Wednesday on behalf of Inspector General of Islamabad Police Khalid Khattak. At the outset of the hearing, Deputy Attorney General Sohail Mahmood requested the court to adjourn hearing of the matter until Tuesday as the attorney general is out of the country.

ISLAMABAD: Director General (DG) Pakistan Rangers Punjab Maj Gen Azhar Naveed distributing cash among the activists of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan for traveling. Life in the Federal Capital and Rawalpindi started limping back to normality soon after the Tehreek-eLabbaik Pakistan leader called off a three-week-long protest sit-in.

“Why should we adjourn the case if you are present?” Justice Qazi Faez Isa said in response. Continuing with the hearing, the judge asked why the country’s agencies do not come forward. “Why is the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) representative not here?” he asked, inquiring as to why the intelligence agency was “silent”. He added that it was the responsibility of ISI to protect the state, saying, “The poor of this country give funds to ISI.” Justice Isa observed that the protest is not completely over and that the sit-in is still ongoing. On the role of the army, which has come under scrutiny by the Islamabad High Court, the judges said that it was incorrect [to say] that the army is separate from the government.
“Government is not separate from army,” observed the bench. “They should not be maligned — those doing so are working on personal agendas.” During the last hearing, the court had rejected reports furnished by the intelligence agencies, saying there had been no depth in them and that their performance was not up to the mark. “We are not satisfied with the ISI report,” Justice Isa said on Thursday, asking ISI to submit another report. Media fanning conflict Justice Isa censured the media for fanning the conflict. “Is it easy to say hateful things?” he asked, questioning the government as to why no action had been taken against the media.
“Should we close a few media channels?” It is the media’s job to defame people, the judge remarked, asking who owned each TV channel and where did they get their funding from. “The ISI report also mentions a channel — should we take its name in open court?” “We cannot look away from what is happening,” the bench said, asking, “Should we issue notices to channels? Where is Pemra?” The judges said that if the media does not agree with the court’s remarks, it could become a party to the case. “It is our responsibility to hear every party.” Damages during sit-in Justice Alam asked whether cases have been registered against protesters possessing explosive material. The advocate general informed the court that 27 cases have been registered against the protesters.
The bench also inquired about how many people had died, how many were injured and how many public and private assets were damaged during the protest. “Will sit-ins be staged [in the country] to achieve objectives?” Speaking on religion, Justice Isa said Islam had spread in the region due to character, not war. “Can people even talk about Islam in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?” Justice Isa remarked that the people of Pakistan are “very naive” and get killed due to their naivete. Deputy attorney general, representatives of ISI and IB, and advocate generals of Islamabad and Punjab attended Thursday’s hearing. The court adjourned hearing of the suo motu notice taken on the chronic traffic congestion and roadblocks due to the Faizabad sit-in until an unspecified date. In its last hearing, when the sit-in was going on in the capital, the SC had said that the life of believers in a Muslim country was being made difficult, wondering how the situation would help glorify Islam.
“The protesters are undermining the state and its institutions,” Justice Isa had bemoaned, adding that the biggest crime in any society was fitna and fasad-fil-arz because it disturbed the social order. What went wrong? Islamabad police on Wednesday told the SC that the security personnel who had launched a botched operation against the protesters at Faizabad interchange on Saturday were fatigued due to prolonged deployment during the 20-daylong siege. “Mixed deployment of different forces, including the police, Frontier Constabulary (FC) and Pakistan Rangers, also had negative effects on productivity,” read the report submitted to the apex court, adding that the religious sentiments of the men deployed for the operation were also provoked by the protesters through their speeches, thus making them a hurdle in effective utilisation of men. The police report explained that the mob/protesters were prepared and they even cut wires of all relevant cameras installed around the sit-in places within the jurisdiction of Islamabad and Rawalpindi through which their activities were being monitored.
They were armed with stones, pistols, axes, rods, teargas shells and masks and were highly motivated religiously. The report criticised electronic media for live coverage of the operation as well cellular networks and social media which disseminated time of operation for giving the protesters final notice or deadline to vacate the Faizabad place. This went against the police and caused gathering of more protesters from the adjoining areas of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the report lamented. During the operation, 173 officials or officers of the law enforcement agencies were injured by the protesters, but neither any government employees nor any private person died during the operation as no firearms were issued to any of the officers or officials deployed there.
The police report also admitted that since the protesters were sitting on an open area, teargas did not work effectively. Regarding the security plan, the report said that 5,508 officers/officials fully equipped with anti-riot equipment had been deployed at Faizabad interchange to disperse the protesters. Initially, teargas and water canon were used when the operation was launched on Nov 25, but the protesters resisted and assaulted the police with batons and axes and pelted them with stones. The protesters were also armed with teargas and used it upon police force, the report said. This went against the police and caused a gathering of more protesters from the adjoining areas of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the report lamented. After hectic efforts of about four hours almost 80 per cent of the area was cleared from the protesters, but in the meanwhile, workers of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah from adjoining areas of Rawalpindi joined them and started brutal attacks on police force. Resultantly, several personnel of police and other law enforcement agencies were injured and rushed to nearby hospitals.
Due to severe resistance by the protesters, there was an apprehension of loss of lives so the operation had to be stopped for some time and the force was reassembled to seal all incoming roads and streets so that another attempt could be made with full preparation. Regarding the losses the nation suffered during the sit-in, the police report said that protesters burnt many vehicles owned by private persons as well as of the police. The police registered 27 cases from Nov 8 to 25 against 418 protesters, who were sent to the judicial custody after investigation and challans against them were being sent to the court of competent jurisdiction for trial. The leadership of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik had promised shifting to the Democracy Park to record their protest, after which they should have been dispersed peacefully, but they backed out later from the promise and staged the demonstration at the Faizabad junction while blocking the incoming and outgoing roads used by the general public.
Since the issue was of sensitive nature, the federal government as well as the district administration continued negotiations with the leadership of Tehreek-i-Labbaik to end their demonstration peacefully, the report said. The Islamabad Capital Territory police under the directives of the Islamabad High Court and the district administration utilised all its resources to disperse the protesters as well as to shift them to Democracy Park, the report said, adding that extra force was also requisitioned from other provinces and Rangers personnel were also deployed at specific points after complete briefing on operations. The police claimed that the operation was carried out with proper planning but due to strong resistance by the protesters and reinforcement by the workers of the Tehreek from nearby areas of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, it had to be halted temporarily to avoid any casualty, but when information came that countrywide protests had been started and problems were occurring to maintain law and order throughout the country, the operation had to be completely stopped. Role of armed forces 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”.