ISLAMABAD – The Pakistan government deployed on Saturday an army unit after a police operation failed to end an anti-blasphemy sit-in by a hardline Islamist group, which has been blocking a key highway for around two weeks.
Some 230 people, including 100 police officers, were injured on Saturday after Pakistani security forces cracked down on the demonstrators, who demand the resignation of the country’s justice minister.
“The federal government is pleased to authorize deployment of sufficient number of Pak army troops to be determined by the Commander 111 Brigade, in aid of civil power to control law and order situation in Islamabad Capital Territory,” an order issued by the interior minister said.
In a phone call, Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa offered Prime Minister Shahid Khagan Abbasi the military force needed to take care of the situation.
“COAS telephoned PM. Suggested to handle Isb Dharna peacefully avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest & cohesion,” army spokesman Gen. Asif Ghafoor tweeted.
The phone call came after some 5,500 security forces failed to disperse followers of cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party, who demanded the resignation of Justice Minister Zahid Hamid.
After hours of clashes that spread to other cities, police ended the crackdown.
The protests erupted after the Pakistani Parliament approved on Oct. 2 an amendment to the electoral law eliminating an oath public servants had to take before assuming office, and in which they expressed their belief in Mohammed as the last prophet of Islam.
Following massive protests by hardline Islamists, Parliament reinstated the article three days later and Hamid issued a video to pacify the protesters.
The hardliners, however, insisted the amendment was a blasphemy and have been demanding Hamid’s resignation ever since.
The Tehreek-e-Labaik party was formed 18 months ago after the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, convicted for killing Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab province, who had demanded a change to the country’s anti-blasphemy law.