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

Pakistan’s Law Minister Zahid Hamid
Updated 18 November 2017
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Pakistan government ‘caught between devil and deep sea’ in blasphemy protests

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.


US security chief in Moscow as nuclear treaty hangs in balance

Updated 30 min 53 sec ago
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US security chief in Moscow as nuclear treaty hangs in balance

  • John Bolton is expected to discuss Trump’s plan to jettison the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Putin
  • “It is the United States that is eroding the foundations and main elements of this pact” said Putin’s spokesman

MOSCOW: The Kremlin said on Monday that Washington’s withdrawal from a key Cold War-era nuclear treaty would make the world more dangerous, as Donald Trump’s national security adviser met senior Russian officials in Moscow.
John Bolton is expected to discuss Trump’s plan to jettison the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
On Monday, Bolton discussed the fate of the treaty with Russian Security Council Chief Nikolai Patrushev and was expected to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later in the day.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that ditching the treaty “will make the world more dangerous” and rejected US claims that Moscow has violated the pact, instead accusing Washington of doing so.
“It is the United States that is eroding the foundations and main elements of this pact” with its missile defense capabilities and drones, he said.
Lavrov said he was waiting to hear Bolton’s “official explanation” regarding Trump’s intentions, adding that for the moment the US side has not initiated the official procedure for exiting the treaty.
Trump on Saturday claimed that Russia had long violated the treaty, known as the INF.
“We’re the ones who have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honored the agreement, but Russia has not unfortunately honored the agreement, so we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” he told reporters.
“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years,” he said.
“And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons (while) we’re not allowed to.”
Trump’s announcement raised global concerns, with the European Commission urging the US and Russia to pursue talks to preserve the treaty and China calling on Washington to “think twice.”
The Commission, the 28-nation European Union executive, stressed that the INF has been a mainstay of European defense for the last three decades.
“The US and the Russian Federation need to remain in a constructive dialogue to preserve this treaty and ensure it is fully and verifiably implemented,” spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters.
She said the agreement was important for both European and global security.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said a unilateral withdrawal from the treaty “will have a multitude of negative effects.”
Trump argued that the treaty does nothing to hold non-signatory China back from developing missiles, but Hua said that “it is completely wrong to bring up China when talking about withdrawal from the treaty.”
The treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles was signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.
Gorbachev on Sunday said that “dropping these agreements... shows a lack of wisdom” and was a “mistake.”
The INF resolved a crisis over Soviet nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals.
The latest row between Russia and the United States comes ahead of what is expected to be a second summit between Trump and Putin this year.
Analysts have warned that the latest rift could have lamentable consequences and drag Russia into a new arms race.
The Trump administration has complained of Moscow’s deployment of Novator 9M729 missiles, which Washington says fall under the treaty’s ban on missiles that can travel distances of between 310 and 3,400 miles (500 and 5,500 kilometers).
Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said that Bolton himself is pressuring Trump to leave the INF and had blocked talks to extend the New Start treaty on strategic missiles set to expire in 2021.
US-Russia ties are under deep strain over accusations Moscow meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. The two countries are also at odds over Russian support for the Syrian government in the country’s civil war, and the conflict in Ukraine.
On Friday, the US Justice Department indicted the finance chief of Russia’s leading Internet troll farm for allegedly interfering with US congressional elections to be held in November.
Russia accused the United States of fabricating the charges.
Putin and Trump will both be in Paris on November 11 to attend commemorations marking 100 years since the end of World War I.