Pakistan

ISLAMABAD – Today, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Muhammad Safdar Awan jumped onto the anti-army bandwagon claiming that the Director General Rangers (Punjab) gave away cash to Tehreek-e-Labbaik protesters much less than the money released from the institution.

In a lighter exchange with media men on Tuesday outside an accountability court, the legislator shared that originally Rs5,000 were released for each detainee while the top Rangers officer, who was tasked to diffuse the escalating situation in the heart of Islamabad and all across the Punjab province, distributed Rs1,000 only among each of the freed protesters.

Safdar, who is also the son-in-law of former PM Nawaz Sharif, also termed the Islamabad sit-in as ‘Mehfil-e-Milad’. Earlier this month, he went against his party stance to condemn the alleged amendment in Khatam-e-Nabuwwat clauses through Election Reforms Act 2017 and had expressed his wish to join the Faizabad protest.

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Commenting on the Army’s direct role as a mediator in recent religio-political disagreement, the soldier-turned-politician reminded the journalists of several ‘shady’ deals between the protesters and past military rulers.

His statement comes a day after the DG Rangers, Maj-Gen Azhar Naveed was found distributing envelopes containing Rs1,000 in cash among the workers of religious groups – staging a weeks-long sit-in in Islamabad – after they were freed by the law enforcement agencies.

Pak-Army and Faizabad fiasco

A 36-second clip of the cash distribution, believed to be a token of goodwill, went viral on social media after the Faizabad sit-in was called off on Monday following an army-brokered deal between the government and the pro-Khattam-e-Nabuwwat (PBUH) protesters. The workers of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah and other religio-political groups were taken into custody during the Saturday’s operation by Islamabad Police and FC troops to vacate the Faizabad interchange.

Following the countrywide clashes, the government conceded to the protesters’ demands in the agreement reached late on Sunday night after the 20-day protest virtually paralysed the twin cities.

Later, TLYR chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi called off the protest, acknowledging the efforts of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa in the episode. The unexpected move met with a mixed public reaction; the most catching one from senior judiciary.

While Islamabad High Court’s Chief Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui lashed out at the military’s role as the mediator between the protesters and the government, Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmad of the Lahore High Court (LHC) praised the armed forces for their efforts in defusing the situation in the federal capital.

LHC judge praises army’s role to end Faizabad sit-in

“Who is the army to adopt a mediator’s role?” Justice Siddiqui had asked on Monday during a hearing at the Islamabad High Court (IHC). “Where does the law assign this role to a major general?” the judge said while referring to ISI’s DG Counter-Intelligence Maj-Gen Faiz Hamid, who was also a signatory of the deal.

“This court has serious reservations on the terms of the agreement and mannerism in which it arrived; however, the federal government has to satisfy the court about the constitutional role of Armed forces and an acknowledgement by the federal government/Executive of the country regarding role of armed forces as an arbitrator,” the order by IHC on Monday read, calling for the attorney general to assist the court on this point.

On the other, Justice Ahmad remarked “everyone knows that the army has saved the country from a huge catastrophe,” adding numerous people would have been killed had the army not played a role.

Rangers and Goodwill Gesture

While the debate of Army’s role as mediator is continued, analysts say the cash was handed over by the Rangers chief to the religio-political workers on their request as they needed money to travel back home.

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Taseer Akram Rana, a political commentator, has revealed that the top Rangers official handed over the cash from his own pocket, without inflicting any loss to the national exchequer adding that a chunk of the video clip was intentionally removed in which the protesters could be seen putting a request for some cash.

Safdar’s history of controversial statements

This is not the first time the PML-N legislator has made a controversial statement. He, last month, came under fire for urging an action against Ahmadi community while speaking in the National Assembly. Safdar also criticised the renaming of Quaid-i-Azam University’s (QAU) physics centre after Professor Dr Abdus Salam, the country’s first Nobel laureate — the grounds for the lawmaker’s objections being the scientist’s Ahmadi faith.

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“These people [Ahmadis] are a threat to this country, its Constitution, and ideology. This situation is heading towards a dangerous point,” said the lawmaker in his diatribe against the community.

Pakistan was created with an ideology to protect the finality of Prophethood [Khatm-i-Naboowat] so Islam is practised here, the PML-N leader said.

Safdar, a former military serviceman, also shared he wanted to bring a resolution in the National Assembly calling for a “ban on recruitment of Qadianis [Ahmadis] in the armed forces”.

“Because their’s is a false religion, in which there is no concept of jihad for Allah,” said Safdar while referring to the appointment of and promotion of military officers who he said were members of the Ahmadi community and “could not be trusted” with the responsibility of guarding the country’s frontiers. He further said that government servants should be made to sign a declaration that they swear by the idea of Khatm-i-Naboowat.

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Safdar’s statements were disowned by his own party, including ex-PM Nawaz Sharif and incumbent PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims in Pakistan through a constitutional amendment in 1974 during the tenure of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They are also banned from preaching as well as from travelling to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage. They are also not allowed to publish any material propagating their faith.