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.


Suicide attack outside ministry kills at least 7 in Kabul

Updated 15 min 25 sec ago
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Suicide attack outside ministry kills at least 7 in Kabul

  • Civilians and members of the security forces were among those killed, said Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai

KABUL: A suicide attack outside the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation in the Afghan capital on Sunday killed at least seven people and wounded more than 15.

The attack happened as some employees were leaving the ministry, which was the scene of a similar incident a month ago.
In Sunday’s attack, one vehicle in a convoy was damaged, but there was no immediate report of any casualties among its occupants. The target was not known.
Civilians and members of the security forces were among those killed, said Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Daesh claimed responsibility for the previous attack, which killed a group of ministry employees.
Sunday’s attack came hours after the UN reported a record number of civilian deaths from suicide attacks in Afghanistan, with a 22 percent jump during the first half of 2018.