Elusive peace in Rawalpindi and Islamabad

Sabir Shah
Thursday, Oct 28, 2021

LAHORE: On their way to Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan have again reportedly triggered a lot of mayhem and violence in the small towns located along the Grand Trunk Road.

Following the killing of a few cops, the government has accused them of opening fire on law enforcers.

If not stopped, sympathisers of this religious group may again shatter the mental peace of the residents of the twin cities, who are otherwise used to witnessing blocked roads and ensuing traffic muddles.

However, those residing in Rawalpindi and Islamabad have been used to seeing protesting lawyers, students, politicians, religious activists, members of sectarian groups, doctors and journalists blocking their roads every now and then!

In April this year, when the supporters of this religious outfit paralysed life across numerous cities of the country, Rawalpindi and Islamabad were no exceptions.

Earlier, on February 17 this year, the same religious group had called off protests after the government had assured it of tabling its demands in parliament for approval, but not before causing a lot of agony.

In November 2020, this particular group had staged a sit-in in Islamabad against the publication of blasphemous caricatures in a French magazine.

Unsuccessful attempts on lives of General Musharraf and Sheikh Rasheed, the Lal Masjid siege and the consequent loss of life, the resultant Army operation, the attack on students and officials of Army Medical College near the General Headquarters, the October 2007 blast splattering the check-post outside the residence of the-then Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Tariq Majeed, the November 2007 attack on ISI officials going to work, the February 4, 2008 attack on students and officials of Army Medical College, the assassination of Pakistan Army's top medic Lt. General Mushtaq Baig on February 25, 2008, dozens of suicide attacks on mosques, worship places and in key markets, and the October 2009 attack on GHQ are still fresh in memories of the local populace.

Rawalpindi and Islamabad have literally remained under siege for at least 175 days due to some major sit-ins staged on their soils since January 14, 2013 at least.

Invasions of rebellious crowds from both political and religious outfits have threatened the Pakistan People’s Party and the PMLN governments in the past.

Some highly sensitive Islamabad buildings like the Parliament House, Supreme Court of Pakistan, the President House, Prime Minister’s House, Radio Pakistan and Pakistan Television Corporation etc in Islamabad have also come in way of these charged protesters. And now, it is the Imran Khan-led PTI government facing them!

Rawalpindi’s soil, in particular, still stands soaked with the blood of two Pakistani Premiers, Liaquat Ali Khan and Benazir Bhutto, in 1951 and 2007, respectively.

History of disturbances in Rawalpindi is at least 95 years old, when antagonism between the Hindus/Sikhs and the Muslims had led to numerous killings and had sparked communal violence.

Historic accounts show that Muslims here had clashed with the local Sikhs, who had reportedly taken out a procession in which loud music was being played.

Stone-pelting soon followed and the sky was half lit up with flames within minutes. Many business hubs, including the grain market, were set on fire.

Rawalpindi thus has a long history of communal rioting, conspiracies and protests.

Islamabad had never existed at that time.

During February-March 1947, Rawalpindi had also served as one of the breeding grounds for the Partition Riots.

As has been the claim of Muslims in India, the Sikhs and Hindus had also registered complaints regarding mass destruction, arson, rapes and forcible conversions etc.

In 1951, Rawalpindi was home to the attempted Soviet backed coup against the government of Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Pakistani Premier.

The coup plan, known as the "Rawalpindi Conspiracy” had led to conviction of 11 military officers and four civilians after a log trial.

Rawalpindi also witnessed unrest on numerous occasions since 1953, when the first-ever Martial Law was imposed in parts of Punjab during the anti-Qadiyani movement, after rioting, loot, arson and dozens of murders had disrupted life.

On March 6, 1953, the Ahmadiyya Noor Mosque in Rawalpindi was attacked and set on fire by a mob. A printing press belonging to an Ahmadi was also set ablaze.

Remember, these 1953 riots had led to unprecedented political consequences as the-then Punjab chief minister Mumtaz Daultana and prime minister Khawaja Nazimud Din were ousted.

The tranquility of Rawalpindi, in particular, was also disturbed during the Pakistan National Alliance-led opposition movement of 1977 against the-then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Numerous national religious outfits like the Maulana Maududi-led Jamaat-e-Islami had held rallies and processions across the country, including Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

The anti-Bhutto politicians had demanded the-then Premier’s resignation, while accusing him of rigging the 1977 polls.

On November 21, 1979, an enraged mob had stormed the US embassy in Islamabad and set ablaze the whole building following a radio report that the United States had bombed the Masjid al-Haram at Mecca. Two Americans had perished in this attack along with two Pakistani staffers.

On July 4-5, 1980, the Shia community had marched on Islamabad to protest the enforcement of the Zakat and Ushr Ordinance by the-then president, General Ziaul Haq.

An effective siege that had literally paralysed the bureaucracy in the Capital, had forced the government to accept the protesters’ demands and declare them exempted from paying Zakat.

In 1992, late Benazir Bhutto had announced a long march against the Nawaz Sharif’s government, whereby levelling allegations of electoral rigging and corruption. The November 1992 long march also saw the participation of Jamaat-e-Islami under Qazi Hussain Ahmad, who was seen rubbing shoulders with the key national politicians in this anti-Nawaz Sharif campaign.

However, the Sharif government using state power had cracked down on it and arrested several leaders. This march was hence successfully suppressed.

During Benazir Bhutto’s second term, the October 27, 1996, protests spearheaded by the Jamaat-e-Islami and other political entities had reaped their desired objective of toppling a sitting government in the quickest time.

Just a week later, on November 4, 1996, Benazir’s government was dismissed by President Farooq Leghari on charges of corruption.

In February 2006, violence had also erupted here following the publication of blasphemous caricatures in Denmark.

Several people lost lives and a lot of loss to public and private property was inflicted. The major chunk of the several thousand demonstrators comprised of zealots hailing from religious organisations.

In Islamabad, protesters had attacked the Foreign Ministry building, as well as Telenor offices.

On January 14, 2013, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief, Tahirul Qadri, had chosen the cold, chilly and wet January for his long march against the then ruling Pakistan People’s Party government.

During the 126-day long PTI-PAT August 2014 Azadi March, while Imran Khan’s loyalists had showed a lot of grit, Tahirul Qadri’s “religiously-motivated” followers had also sent ripples down the spine of the Nawaz Sharif government.

On Nov 8, 2017, a 22-day long sit-in was organised by the Tehreek-e-Labaik and the Sunni Tehreek in Islamabad, after the PMLN government and the protesters signed an agreement, facilitated by the Pakistan Army.

However, the truce was reached following Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation.

On Oct 27, 2019, Maulana Fazlur Rehman had led an 18-day-long Azadi march on Islamabad. He had vehemently opposed Premier Imran Khan and demanded his resignation.

In September 2020, thousands of protesters had rallied in anti-France demonstrations across Pakistan, including the twin cities under review, as anger had swelled over a satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s decision to republish the blasphemous caricatures.

In 1968, when the then president General Ayub Khan had decided to celebrate his "Decade of Development," the National Student Federation had led students protest throughout the Pakistani cities, including Rawalpindi.

It was in Rawalpindi, on November 7, 1968, that the police had opened fire on a student rally against the government.

Three students were killed. This repression had led to the eruption of nationwide student protests and a civil disobedience movement against the Ayub regime.

In mid-80s, during the anti-Zia movement, Benazir Bhutto and other leaders were arrested, leading to protests in Rawalpindi as well. On April 10, 1988, the Ojhri Camp disaster had rocked Rawalpindi, killing more than 1,300 people.

In 2007, Rawalpindi's lawyers had also protested against the Presidential reference and manhandling of the then deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. In June 2012, tens of thousands of people--mostly traders--had protested against unscheduled power load-shedding and price hike on Rawalpindi's streets.