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Pakistan court slams Army for mediating with protesters

IANS | Islamabad |

The Islamabad High Court on Monday strongly criticised the Pakistan Army for mediating between the government and anti-blasphemy protesters, who have been blocking a key highway for 20 days demanding the resignation of the country’s Law Minister over the recent amendment to a federal law that referenced to Prophet Mohammed.

The government finally caved in to the demands of the hardline Islamist protesters, led by the Tehreek-e-Labaik party, earlier on Monday with the resignation of Zahid Hamid and the release of arrested protesters, Efe news agency reported.

“Who is the Army to play the role of mediator?” asked judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui during a hearing where Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was summoned to explain the developments related to the Islamist protests that have been roiling the country for over three weeks, court spokesperson Adnan Majeed told Efe.

The judge expressed alarm that the agreement was signed by an Army officer, Major General Faiz Hameed, among others, according to a court order accessed by Efe.

This is the same court that had ordered the government on Saturday to clear the highway blockade by the protesters, who considered the amendment — that was withdrawn later — an act of blasphemy, a serious crime in Pakistan that carries the death penalty.

Following the order, the Pakistani police had cracked down on the protesters resulting in clashes that killed six people and injured hundreds, but failed to disperse the protesters.

The government had subsequently ordered an Army deployment to control the situation. However, Siddiqui confirmed on Sunday that Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa played the role of a mediator instead of deploying troops to control the situation.

“The Army needs to stay within their Constitutional duties, it is baffling how the Army remained neutral in the office of law-breaking protesters in the country,” the judge said.