Pak law minister quits in victory for zealots
Religious fundamentalist protesters had accused Zahid Hamid of blasphemy... resignation clears main hurdle to lifting of siege.
Islamabad: Pakistan's law minister Zahid Hamid on Monday resigned to quell violent protests by Islamists across the country as the embattled government "surrendered" to hardline groups, who were baying for his sacking for alleged blasphemy.
Hamid's resignation comes in the aftermath of deadly clashes between security forces and protesters during the weekend, that killed six people and injured hundreds. The sit-in had paralysed the national capital for three weeks.
An official of the Prime Minister House confirmed that the law minister last night sent his resignation to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who accepted it on Monday.
Hamid was accused by the protesters of blasphemy after a reference to the Prophet Muhammad was left out of a revised version of the electoral oath. He called it a clerical error. Hamid's resignation cleared the main hurdle in the lifting of siege of the capital by protesters. Activists of Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST) religious groups started protests three weeks ago.
Official sources said an understanding was reached with protesters with the help of the powerful Army to call off the protest as their key demand had been accepted and the changes made in the law had already been taken back when parliament restored the original oath. Following the agreement and the subsequent resignation of Hamid, TLY chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi ordered his followers all over the country to end the sit-ins and go home.
"We have decided to end the protest after assurance by the army chief and an agreement with government," he said at Faizabad interchange, where he was camping with over 2,000 supporters for last three weeks.
The civilian government is being criticised for backing down in the crisis, which raises new questions about the military's role in politics in this country. The right wing cleric, who parlayed life in Islamabad and neighbouring Rawalpindi, said his party was not in favour of violence. He said all of his supporters arrested during crackdown would be released by the government.
Meanwhile, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court lashed out at the government and the powerful military for the role assigned to the Army as the "mediator" in striking the deal with the protesters to end their sit-in.
"The court had asked the government to clear the roads and not for an agreement with protestors. What you have done is surrender," the judge told Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal. "Who is the Army to play the role of mediator?...Where does the law assign this role to a Major General?" he asked.
In more scathing words, the judge said the protesters could not sit at Faizabad if it were located closer to the Army's headquarters.
Justice Siddiqui told Iqbal that the government had constitutional right to call in Army to help civil administration in any emergency situation. He also said the "Army chief is an officer in an institution that comes under the state" and rhetorically asked "Is he above the law?" Radio Pakistan said that Hamid, the minister for law and parliamentary affairs, "voluntarily" presented his resignation to Abbasi to bring the country "out of a state of crisis".
The protesters were demanding Hamid's ouster over his alleged role for changes in the oath about finality of prophethood in the recently passed elections laws.