Asia case; Army asks protestors to end standoff: Army
Islamabad/Karachi, Nov 2 : Pakistan Army on Friday warned hundreds of radical Islamists hardliners not to test their “patience” and asked them to end the standoff peacefully to avoid the use of force as the mass protests against the acquittal of a Christian woman for blasphemy entered its third day.
Asia Bibi, a 47-year-old mother of four, was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting Islam in a row with her neighbours. She always maintained her innocence, but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.
The apex court’s judgement, which was pronounced last Wednesday, triggered protests across Pakistan with protestors led by Islamic political party Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan and other groups blocking major highways and roads in different parts of the country.
Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told state-run channel PTV that a government team, including a representative of ISI was holding talks with the protestors.
So far there were no reports about success of negotiations despite indications by the officials that a breakthrough might be reached.
He said the Army had seen statements of protest leaders against the military but it was showing tolerance as its focus was on militancy and to get the country out of the security problems.
“We have shown patience. We have no link with the case (of Bibi) but we want that justice should prevail. We also want that the Army should not be forced to take action (against protestors) which it is empowered under the law to take,” he said.
He said the Army was close to winning the war against militants and it was not interested to be side-tracked by any incident.
Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi said talks had failed and asked for complete shut down on Friday.
The protest entered the third day and several major roads in Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi and other cities were blocked, according to police.
The education institutions were also closed in Punjab, while private schools were closed in Khyber-Pakhtukhwa provinces as well as in cities like Karachi and Islamabad.
Many universities across Pakistan announced cancellation of papers due to the ongoing tense situation.
According to a notification from the Karachi Commissioner’s office, roads and junctions were blocked at 22 locations in the six districts of the city.
Business and trade activities were also badly affected as around 14 religious parties took part in Friday’s shut down.
An industry leader said that the ongoing protests had led to a virtual shutdown of business activities in Karachi as labour attendance is thin and truckers have refused to transport finished goods.
“There is a disruption in public transport due to which labourers are unable to reach their work places. Truckers are also reluctant to carry goods which has led to production losses and shipment delays,” he said.
In many areas, petrol pumps and shopping centres and markets remained closed as groups of protesters staged sit-ins at various points despite the enforcement of section 144 in the city which bans the gathering of more than five people at any place.
The mobile phone and internet services also remained suspended in major cities.
However, hospitals across Pakistan were put on high alert as fears mounted that the government would have to use force to disperse the protests if talks failed.
“The talks with the government have completely failed,” he said on Twitter, as local media almost completely ignored his and other leaders’ speeches and interview.
Information minister Fawad Chaudhry said that there was complete peace and people should not panic.
“The patience shown by the state should be interpreted as its weakness. It is in the interest of the people to fully implement law and order in the country and we will fulfill this responsibility,” he said on Twitter.