Pakistani policemen say feel ‘betrayed’ by government concessions to religious party after violent protests

Policemen arrive at the site of a protest by the supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party along a blocked street during a demonstration in Lahore, Pakistan, on April 18, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 29 April 2021
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Pakistani policemen say feel ‘betrayed’ by government concessions to religious party after violent protests

  • Government said would ban TLP but then met its demands to release arrested rioters, call parliamentary debate on French envoy’s expulsion
  • Information minister says debating French ambassador’s expulsion in line with wishes of Pakistani people, TLP demands “judicial probe” into clashes

KARACHI/LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Several members of the Pakistani police force interviewed by Arab News across the country last week have said there was a growing sense of “betrayal” among their colleagues after the government negotiated with, and met the demands of, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party despite policemen being “killed, tortured and humiliated” by the group’s supporters during protests this month.
Demonstrations by the religious political party erupted on April 12 and quickly turned violent after TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in Lahore for threatening the government with rallies if it did not expel the French envoy to Islamabad over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) published in France last year. Six policemen were killed and over 800 injured, according to official figures, in protests that lasted a week. Photographs of policemen, with their heads, legs and arms heavily bandaged, were posted on social media by their captors through the week.
The government first said it would ban TLP over the violence. But as protests continued and became deadlier, ministers negotiated with the party and eventually acquiesced to its demand to halt criminal cases against, and release, hundreds of TLP supporters arrested during the riots. The government also called a parliamentary vote on expelling the French ambassador, fulfilling the religious group’s top demand. 
TLP has built a wide base of support in recent years, rallying around cases of blasphemy, which are punishable by death in Pakistan.
A policeman who was taken hostage and ultimately released by the TLP in the eastern city of Lahore, the epicenter of the violence, said it was “highly demoralizing” that the government had released rioters who had assaulted police.
“There is no problem in negotiations with protesters,” he told Arab News in an interview last week, declining to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media on the record. “But how can you set those free who have killed, tortured and humiliated law enforcers?”




Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party throw stones over the police armoured vehicle during a protest against the arrest of their leader in Barakahu neighbourhood of Islamabad, Pakistan, on April 13, 2021. ( AFP)

A senior police officer in Punjab echoed the sentiment.
“The police don’t see any point in performing their duties after what has been done to us,” the officer said on condition of anonymity, saying it would now be difficult to keep his force “motivated.” “We don’t have answers to the questions our staff asks us, and we don’t know how to motivate them after this disgrace.”
Saleem Vahidy, a former deputy inspector general of Sindh Police, said the confidence of the force had “hit rock bottom”:
“When you set free criminals … who are arrested for serious breaches of the law, you are setting a dangerous precedent and sending the wrong message.”
DIG Counterterrorism Sindh, Omar Shahid Hamid, admitted that tackling riots was “difficult for the police” and a “negative impact” on officer morale was inevitable after the federal government decided to negotiate with their attackers.
“When police are targeted by miscreants in any such incident, obviously there is bound to be a negative impact on the morale of the forces,” he told Arab News.
Arif Rana, a spokesperson for police in Lahore, said more than 190 policemen had been injured and two killed in clashes with rioters at 31 locations across the city, but declined to comment on the impact the riots and subsequent events had had on the morale of the police force in the city.
Sindh Inspector General of Police Mushtaq Mehar and the Capital City Police Officer for Lahore, Ghulam Mehmood Dogar, did not respond to calls seeking comment for this article.
But Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said the government’s decision to discuss the expulsion of the French ambassador in parliament was not “capitulation.”
“Like all civilized and democratic societies, the government has agreed to discuss the matter in parliament and resolve it in line with the wishes of the Pakistani people,” Hussain told Arab News. “This shows the government’s firmness and resolve, not weakness.”
Though the interior ministry has announced that hundreds of TLP supporters involved in the violence had been released, Hussain said: “No one involved in attacks on police shall be released nor cases shall be withdrawn. State will never forget or forgive terrorists who attacked law enforcement agencies.”
Pir Ejaz Ashrafi, a central leader of the TLP, called for a “judicial commission” to be set up to probe clashes between police and protesters.
“This was totally unfortunate that police and protesters stood face to face at different places,” he told Arab News.




Policemen help an injured colleague during a clash with supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party while they protest against the arrest of their leader in Lahore, Pakistan, on April 13, 2021. (AFP)

TLP first came to prominence as an organized force when it protested for the release of Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard who gunned down Salman Taseer, then governor of Punjab province, for seeking justice for a destitute Christian woman who had been jailed on blasphemy charges. The woman, Asia Bibi, was acquitted and released in 2019 after eight years on death row and has since fled Pakistan.
Qadri was eventually sentenced for killing Taseer and hanged in 2016, but since then, TLP has morphed into a political party that contested the 2018 general elections, campaigning to defend the blasphemy law. The party also has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands.
In November 2017, TLP followers staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was removed from the text of a government form.
Zoha Waseem, a research scholar at the Institute for Global City Policing, said the latest protests and ensuing violence had highlighted the limitation of viewing riots simply as a “law-and-order problem.”
“This is a political challenge, it was a product of political developments in Pakistan, and a series of sociopolitical events in the country over the past several decades,” Waseem told Arab News.
She added: “This is not a failure of the police; it is the failure of inadequate and short-sighted state policies that imagine that such challenges can be dealt with force by law enforcement agencies … You simply cannot just ‘police’ [your way] out of this.”
“So, this will be a long-term challenge for the police,” Waseem said, “and I fear that if the state does not rethink its policies about radical groups that incite violence, we may see the police further pushed into a corner.”
For now, police officers in Punjab say they feel “betrayed” by the government.
“We were told that they [the government] were with us. We took a huge beating only on the promise that this time, they [TLP] are going to be tried in the courts under the anti-terror law,” a second Punjab police official based in Rawalpindi, who declined to be named, told Arab News.
“But in the end, it’s all the same,” the senior officer added. “In the end, if this is how things transpire... then what’s the point?”


Peshawar end Multan’s PSL 2024 winning streak by snatching win in last-ball thriller

Updated 23 February 2024
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Peshawar end Multan’s PSL 2024 winning streak by snatching win in last-ball thriller

  • Peshawar Zalmi’s Arif Yaqoob returned figures of 3/43 to keep Multan Sultans from chasing the 180-run target
  • With their maiden PSL 2024 win, Peshawar Zalmi have gone from bottom place on the points table to number five

ISLAMABAD: Peshawar Zalmi ended Multan Sultans’ winning streak in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) tournament on Friday by clinching a five-run victory in a closely fought contest that was decided on the last ball of the match.
Batting first, Zalmi finished with a respectable total of 179/8 at the end of the first 20 overs. None of Peshawar’s batters were able to score a half-century, with Haseebullah Khan top-scoring with 37 runs from 18 balls while skipper Babar Azam hitting 31 runs off 26 balls. Rovman Powell scored a quickfire 23 from 11 balls while Luke Wood contributed with 17 runs off 12 deliveries.
Sultan bowlers David Willey, Mohammad Ali and Usama Mir took two wickets each while Shahnawaz Dahani and Abbas Afridi only got one.
When they came to bat, the Sultans faced an early setback when skipper Muhammad Rizwan was dismissed for 0 but opening batter Yasir Khan and Reeza Hendricks contributed with 43 and 28 respectively to give the Sultans some support. Dawid Malan smashed a 25-ball 52 runs knock but after his dismissal, the Sultans buckled. Khushdil Shah, Iftikhar Ahmed and Usama Mir failed to hold on to their nerves, scoring only 5, 16, and 12 runs respectively, as Zalmi bowled out Multan for 174 runs on the last ball of the match.
Zalmi’s Arif Yaqoob returned figures of 3/43 while Salman Irshad, Naveen-ul-Haq and Luke Wood finished with figures of 2/39, 2/44 and 2/13 respectively.
“Catches win matches,” the team exclaimed on its social media account after displaying brilliant fielding performance.

With their first victory of the match, Peshawar have gone from the bottom in the PSL points table to number 5 with their latest win.

 


Thousands protest Pakistan Supreme Court minorities ruling

Updated 23 February 2024
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Thousands protest Pakistan Supreme Court minorities ruling

  • CJP Faez Isa ordered the release of a man from Ahmadi community, considered heretical by Muslim scholars
  • Around 3,000 people gathered at protest rallies across the northwestern city of Peshawar after Friday prayers

PESHAWAR: Thousands of Pakistanis protested against the Supreme Court’s top judge on Friday, after he issued a ruling related to blasphemy that sparked online backlash and thinly veiled death threats.
A campaign targeting Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa began after he ordered the release of a man from the Ahmadi community, considered heretical by hard-line Muslim scholars.
The man had been accused of disseminating a forbidden Ahmadi text, which firebrand clerics consider tantamount to blasphemy — an incendiary issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of offending Islam have sparked violence.
Around 3,000 people gathered at rallies across the northwestern city of Peshawar after Friday prayers.
Crowds blocked roads and chanted “Death to Qadianis” — a slur referring to Ahmadis — as well as “Long live Islam.”
The Supreme Court issued a statement on Thursday evening defending his ruling, denying that it went against the Islamic constitution of Pakistan.
“This impression is absolutely wrong,” it said. “The organized campaign against judiciary and judges is unfortunate.”
A spokesman for Pakistan’s Ahmadi community, Amir Mahmood, told AFP that “one-sided negative propaganda is being spread against this judgment” which protected a man from “being persecuted for his religious belief.”
Isa’s ruling first went unnoticed two weeks ago, before it was highlighted by social media accounts linked to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party behind violent anti-blasphemy protests.
Posts calling for him to resign have been shared thousands of times on social media.
The Pakistani chapter of the Taliban militant group — known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — called Isa “an enemy of Islam” and “a damned man.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said Isa’s ruling “protects the constitutional right of all religious minorities to freedom of religion or belief.”
“Those political leaders and sections of the media that are responsible for this campaign must be restrained,” the organization said on social media platform X.
Ahmadis have been discriminated against and persecuted for decades in Pakistan.
The second amendment of Pakistan’s constitution, made in 1974, declares Ahmadis non-Muslims.
The law also prohibits them from professing to be Muslims or spreading their faith, and allows the death penalty for those found guilty of insulting Islam.
In his judgment, Isa ruled that according to the constitution, “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion.”
“Freedom of faith is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. But sadly, in matters of religion, tempers flare up and the Qur’anic mandate is forsaken,” he added.
He also said the book allegedly disseminated by the accused had not been outlawed at the time of the alleged crime in 2019.
Cleric Fazlur Rehman, the influential leader of the conservative religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, said Isa’s reasoning was “false and based on bad intentions.”
In 2011, the governor of eastern Punjab province was killed by his bodyguard after calling for reforms to the stringent blasphemy laws that Ahmadis frequently fall foul of.


Government greenlights construction of 80-kilometer segment of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline

Updated 23 February 2024
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Government greenlights construction of 80-kilometer segment of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline

  • The pipeline will be constructed from Pakistan’s border with Iran to its port city of Gwadar in the first phase
  • The project is likely to boost the country’s energy security, strengthen local industry with enhanced gas supply

KARACHI: Pakistan decided to build an 80-kilometer segment of the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline on Friday after the Cabinet Committee on Energy approved the recommendations of a ministerial oversight committee evaluating various dimensions of the project after it was constituted by Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar last September.
Originally intended to supply gas from Iran to both Pakistan and neighboring India, the project was referred to as the IPI pipeline. However, India later withdrew from the project over concerns related to pricing and security, leading to the current designation as the IP gas pipeline.
The project remained stalled for a significantly long period since it could potentially create problems for Pakistan due to the international sanctions targeting Iran.
The United States, in particular, expressed opposition to the project, and there had been concerns that Pakistan could face economic sanctions if it proceeded with it.
“The [Cabinet] Committee [on Energy] recommended to start work on the 80 km segment of the pipeline inside Pakistan i.e. from Pakistan border up till Gwadar in the first phase,” said an official statement circulated by the Petroleum Division of Energy Ministry. “The Project will be executed by Inter State Gas Systems (Pvt) Ltd. and will be funded through Gas Infrastructure Development Cess.”
“All the concerned divisions gave a positive nod to move ahead with the project to ensure gas supplies to the people of Pakistan, thereby addressing the increasing energy needs of the country,” the statement added.
The project is expected to boost the country’s energy security and strengthen the local industry that can be assured sustainable and enhanced gas supplies.
The construction of the IP pipeline is also expected to catalyze the economic activity in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province and which can positively impact the national economy.


Pakistan calls for Israeli occupation end, settlement reversal at International Court of Justice

Updated 23 February 2024
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Pakistan calls for Israeli occupation end, settlement reversal at International Court of Justice

  • The country’s interim law minister tells the court Israel is seeking annexation of Palestinian lands through military action
  • He recalls how France withdrew a million settlers from Alegria in 1962 who were more numerous and better established

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories on Friday at the advisory proceedings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in which several other states have also participated in recent days.
The country’s legal position over the issue was presented by its interim law minister, Ahmed Irfan Aslam, who said the ICJ proceedings inspired hope since it provided the world the opportunity to develop jurisprudence and to advance essential principles of international law that preserved and upheld basic human dignity.
The Pakistani minister noted it had been the United Nations stated position not to condone legal changes to a territory as a result of military action. He reminded the court the UN had also asked Israel to withdraw its forces from from all the territories it had invaded in the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six Day War.
However, he maintained Israel’s policy was not just to occupy but annex the Palestinian lands.
“Israel’s occupation is no longer, if it ever was, the military occupation. It is annexation,” the minister said.
“This may have been the intention all along,” he continued. “[Israel’s first] Prime Minister [David] Ben Gurion affirmed in 1950 that ‘the Israeli empire must comprise all the territories between the Nile and the Euphrates.’ And this was to be achieved as much by invasion as by diplomacy.”
Aslam said Israel’s current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also declared his government would its sovereignty over all the communities formed by moving Jewish settlers to Palestinian lands.
He maintained Israel had created “irreversible facts on the ground” by following its settlement policy to make it as difficult as possible to end its prolonged occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
However, he pointed out the world had dealt with such problems in the past in other contexts while specifically mentioning the French government’s withdrawal of a million settlers from Algeria in 1962.
“France’s settlements in Algeria were not only more numerous they were also far older and better established than Israel’s West Bank colonies,” he continued.
The Pakistani law minister sought the reversal of the policy while saying: “Israel’s occupation is unlawful and unlawfulness must have consequences.”
The ICJ proceedings have come at a point when Israel has been accused of carrying out the genocide of Palestinian people in Gaza.
It besieged the territory and launched airstrikes after a surprise attack was initiated by Hamas on Oct. 7 in response to the deteriorating condition of Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.
The Palestinian death toll in the war has almost 30,000, with most victims of the conflict being women and children.


Leading VPN brand raises censorship concerns as Pakistan faces fifth Internet restriction in 2024

Updated 23 February 2024
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Leading VPN brand raises censorship concerns as Pakistan faces fifth Internet restriction in 2024

  • Surfshark says Pakistan willing to take any measure ‘to cut citizens off from each other and the rest of the world’
  • It mentions a spike in censorship, saying Pakistan witnessed four Internet restrictions in 2023 and three in 2022

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s recent restriction on social media platform X marks the country’s 5th Internet restriction in 2024 alone, said a leading virtual network (VPN) brand on Friday, raising concerns about growing Internet censorship in the country.
The social networking website has largely remained inaccessible to users in Pakistan for nearly a week since a senior bureaucrat last Saturday accused the country’s chief justice and top election commission official of rigging the controversial February 8 election.
The blockage has raised widespread concerns about democratic expression and media freedom, with the United States and several international organizations urging the government to provide unhindered Internet access to people.
Surfshark, a leading VPN brand, said Pakistan witnessed three restrictions in February that were “directly related to the election, while the remaining two happened in January during virtual events organized by the opposition [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party].”
“These new cases mark a worrying spike in Internet censorship in Pakistan,” it said in a statement. “2024 has only started but has already exceeded both 2023 and 2022 in new restriction count — there were 4 Internet restrictions in 2023 and 3 in 2022.”
It added Surfshark had witnessed an increase in VPN usage in Pakistan since February 18.
“Daily new user acquisition rates have grown three to four times compared to the previous month, indicating a growing reliance on these services for Internet access and privacy,” it added.
The company noted that Pakistan had imposed restrictions on VPNs which could lead to difficulties when connecting to the circumvention tools.
“Pakistan’s Internet censorship efforts have been alarmingly increasing, and 2024 may be a record year for the country regarding Internet restrictions,” Lina Survila, Surfshark spokeswoman, said. “With reports of VPN restrictions coming to light as well, it seems that the country is prepared to take any means necessary to cut its citizens off from each other and the rest of the world.”
Earlier, NetBlocks, an Internet monitor based in the United Kingdom, said that restriction on platform X had entered the sixth day, making Pakistan join “a handful of countries that ban access to international social media platforms.”