Year 2017 was different for the country’s political climate which has previously been polarized between the civil and the military leaders.
The year saw a surprise emergence of a religious political party, making inroads into the mainstream politics after Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government gave in to its demands and sent its federal law minister packing.
After Panama Papers case, the resurgence of politico-religious party belonging to Barelvi sect, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA), gave the government hard time until the government had to show its law minister the door to defuse mounting pressure.
Arising from a protest movement against execution of convicted Mumtaz Qadri, TLYRA gained momentum as a new party in the political sphere of country in late 2017 after holding a three-week-long protest in Islamabad, paralyzing the normal life in the federal capital.
Prior to the sit-in in Islamabad, the party had also fielded its candidate Azhar Rizvi from Lahore’s NA-120 constituency in by-election held on Sept 17 for a National Assembly seat, which fell vacant after former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ouster.
Subsequently, the TLYRA contested another by-election for a National Assembly seat from Peshawar’s NA-4 constituency on October 26, 2017. TLYRA candidate Dr Muhammad Shafique Ameeni bagged 9,935 votes, higher than the votes obtained by mainstream Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) candidate.
The politically marginalized Barelvi sect found a strong political platform to campaign for General Elections 2018 at a time when the government ‘made’ and ‘withdrawn’ amendments in clauses pertaining to Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (finality of the Prophethood).
The wheelchair-bound TLYRA leader, Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi, called for the party supporters and workers to take to the streets over the amendments in an electoral clause in early November, galvanizing Barelvi political element into action and bringing them on roads across the country.
Heralding itself as a guardian of the finality of the Prophethood (Khatm-e-Nabuwwat), the TLYRA leadership along with hundreds of supporters remained camped out at the arterial intersection in protest in November 2017, demanding action against those responsible for making amendments in a declaration in the election law, which were later cancelled by the court and withdrawn by the parliament.
PML-N enters new phase of controversy after reinstating Sharif as party president
It was Election Reforms Act 2017, passed from National Assembly to safeguard former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s top position in the party after his ouster, opened up a new chapter of controversy.
The election commission, in light of the Supreme Court’s landmark July 28 verdict, asked the ruling party under the law to elect a new party chief as a disqualified person could not hold any office in a political party.
The ruling party tabled ‘Election Reform Bill 2017’ in the National Assembly with a controversial clause to re-elect ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as president of the party despite his disqualification by the top court.
The bill was passed from the lower house of the parliament, despite the opposition parties voted against the proposed change in legislation.
President Mamnoon Hussain signed the Election Reforms Bill 2017 into law, just a day after it was passed from the lower house on October 2.
The major opposition parties including Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Awami Muslim League (AML), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and PPP protested over the clause that seeks to help a man disqualified by the Supreme Court to become the head of a party.
Meanwhile, former PM Nawaz Sharif was reinstated as PML-N president on October 3, 2017 in a hurriedly held party election.
Govt muddles through without PPP’s proposed amendments
Earlier in September, Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) proposed amendments in Article 203 of the Election Reforms Bill 2017, asserting that any individual who was not qualified to become a member of the parliament, should not be eligible to become a party’s chairperson either.
The ruling party despite lacking majority in the Senate managed passage of the bill defeating the amendment proposed by the PPP. The bill stated that every citizen, not being in the service of Pakistan, shall have the right to form or be a member of a political party or be otherwise associated with a political party.
The PPP’s proposed amendment in the bill was defeated by 38 votes to 37 votes in the Senate despite the opposition had more votes in the upper house. Hence, the amendment was rejected by a margin of one vote.
What provoked an outburst of anger?
The Elections Reforms Bill 2017 also encompassed amendments in some clauses pertaining to Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (finality of the Prophethood).
Changes in Candidate’s nomination form:
Although no significant changes were made in the Bill regarding Khatm-e-Nabuwat (PBUH) with exception of moving it from point number (i) to point number (iii) and changing the wording from ‘solemnly swear’ to ‘declare’, there’s something missing in the Nomination Form for Candidate.
According to the bill, every citizen will have the right to be a part of a political party, except those in government service, and will also have the right to form a party.
Amendments withdrawn after govt faced barrage of criticism
After facing immense pressure from opposition parties, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had to table the ‘Election Act 2017’ again in the National Assembly to reinstate clauses 7A and 7B pertaining to Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (finality of the Prophethood) in its original form.
Addressing the NA session on Nov 16, former Law Minister Zahid Hamid then said sections 7A and 7B of the Conduct of General Elections Order, 2002 have been restored to their original form.
“I am a lover of the Prophet (PBUH) and have performed two Hajj and several Umrah pilgrimages… I can’t even think about changing the clauses on Khatm-e-Nabuwwat,” he said in his address.
Amended bill would make the clauses relating to finality of the Prophethood (Khatm-e-Nabuwwat) more effective and a separate voters list would be created for Ahmadis as they would not be included in the list for Muslims, said the former law minister then.
From simple demonstration to national crisis
The situation turned crucial after Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah staged protest over the withdrawn amendments in a clause pertaining to Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (finality of the Prophethood) at a busy artery of the federal capital, paralyzing the normal life in Islamabad for over three weeks.
PML-N government held rounds of talks with the protesters but all efforts went in vain after TLYRA leadership remained stuck to their central demand of Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation.
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) and Supreme Court had to intervene in the matter.
Court deadlines to govt
The Islamabad High Court then expressed extreme displeasure over the government for its failure to clear the capital’s busy artery of protesters and issued a show cause notice to Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal.
Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui then directed the interior minister to appear before the court along with an explanation for flouting the court orders with regard to evicting the defiant protesters from the Faizabad Interchange.
He observed that fundamental rights of the people were being violated. “This is the failure of the government,” Justice Siddiqui then noted, adding “but we will not let the state to fail.”
Meantime, the Supreme Court also expressed extreme annoyance over the government for its failure to end the Faizabad sit-in.
The two-judge bench of the apex court, comprising Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Qazi Faiz Isa, rejected the reports submitted by the intelligence agencies and directed them to inform it as to who was funding the protesters.
It observed that the court was not asking to spray the protesters with bullets, but wanted to know whether any investigation was carried out to ascertain who was bankrolling them.
Crucial 48-hour court deadline to evict artery from protesters
After holding futile rounds of talks with the protesters, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal asked the IHC for 48 hours to clear the Faizabad Interchange from protesters after renewing hopes for a successful negotiation.
Talking to press after court proceedings on November 20, Iqbal asserted that the government would not take action on whims of some conspirators.
“The government does not want a showdown resulting in another Lal Mosque [Lal Masjid] or Model Town incident,” he then said while appearing optimistic for productive talks with the protesters.
He said there was no legal justification of protest after a bill passed unanimously by both houses of the parliament concerning the finality of Prophethood (Khatm-e-Nabuwwat).
Pakistani parliament and nation are defenders of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, Iqbal underlined.
However, the interior minister said the Frontier Constabulary and Punjab Rangers personnel would remain deployed to avoid any kind of eventuality.
Army called in to control situation after botched operation
The desperate government had called out the army to control the chaotic situation in Islamabad after a daylong botched operation on Nov 25 to disperse protesters camped out at Faizabad Interchange.
The Ministry of Interior then issued a notification to authorize deployment of the Pakistan Army troops in the federal capital to assist civil authorities under Article 245 of the constitution.
The issuance of notification came after a daylong crackdown against protesters belonged to Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) to clear Faizabad Interchange, an arterial traffic intersection, of the federal capital city. However, the protesters were totally unmoved by the crackdown.
Top civil-military officials call for political negotiations
After a day-long abortive operation on Nov 25, the protests were erupted in solidarity with TLYRA leadership in various cities of the country.
The civil administration then called out the army to handle the situation.
In a meeting on Nov 26, the top civil and military officials then decided to engage the protesters in political negotiations, while discarding an option relating use of force to disperse them.
In a high level meeting between top civil and military officials at PM House in Islamabad, the Pakistan Army officials called for a peaceful solution to the sit-in while urging the civil administration to refrain from use of force.
Chief of Army Staff Qamar Jawed Bajwa, who reached the country after curtailing his visit to UAE on Nov 26, was in the attendance of meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Naveed Mukhtar, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif were among the attendees.
The army chief then reportedly suggested that the use of force should not be used against the protesters, as the support for the army was valuable asset and could not be used for petty gains.
Gen Bajwa reportedly also suggested PM Abbasi to identify those responsible for the amendment in the oath-taking clause, which ignited the chaos which has engulfed the nation.
Govt finally caves in to TLYRA demands, countrywide protests vanish
On Nov 27, the government finally caved in to the demands of protesting religious parties after a failed operation to evict them from Faizabad Interchange.
The PML-N government showed its Law Minister Zahid Hamid the door, who was at the center of the controversy.
The agreement between government officials and protest leaders came on the heels of a botched police action against the protesters that left five people dead and over 150 injured, paralyzing major cities of the country.
As the tensions in Islamabad dissipated, the PML-N government suffered another major blow on December 10 during Khatm-e-Nabuwwat conference when five of its lawmakers including three MPAs and two MNAs submitted their resignations to estranged party leader Pir of Sial Sharif Muhammad Hameeduddin.
The conference was presided over by Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi.
Addressing a mammoth of crowd, Sialvi then said that he could offer any sacrifice for the honour of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). He said Pakistan was created as a result of efforts of religious scholars and custodians of shrines.
“As firm believers of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, we [are] gathered here with no intention to solicit support for elections or a political agenda,” Sialvi then said.
The conference was attended by custodians of various eminent shrines across the country, pledging support to Pir of Sial Sharif and his campaign against the Punjab government.
Earlier on December 6, Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi of Astana-e-Aalia Sial Sharif had parted ways with PML-N after giving the Punjab government three successive deadlines to clarify its stance regarding reported remarks of Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah.
PML-N still in the hot water
Another faction of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, which had been holding a sit-in outside the Punjab Assembly, concluded their protest around midnight in early December after the government convinced them to withdraw their main demand of the resignation of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah from his post.
However, the sword of Damocles still hangs over the government ‘s head as Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) led by Tahirul Qadri is calling for resignations of Rana Sanaullah and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, besides PML-N estranged leader Pir Sialvi.
Amid growing demands of action against the people responsible for Model Town incident and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah for his remarks on a religious minority community, the government may suffer another setback before the General Elections 2018.