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Zahid Hamid under mounting pressure after protesters refuse to budge

Zahid Hamid

GVS Analysis |

Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, along with Minister of State for Religious Affairs Pir Aminul Hasnat addressed a press conference, on Sunday (Nov 19) in which both called on the protestors of the Tehreek-e-Labaik-e-Ya-Rasool-Allah (TLY) – who are blocking the Faizabad interchange between Rawalpindi and Islamabad – to withdraw peacefully.

Iqbal stated that the government and law enforcement agencies were more than capable of dispersing the protestors but had refrained from doing so since the grievances of the protestors were not political rather, religious in nature. According to Iqbal, owing to the sensitive nature of this issue, the government was exercising patience and engaging in compassionate negotiations.

While responding to questions, Iqbal claimed that his mother Nisar Fatima (who served as an MNA from 1985 to 1988) initiated the first laws for Namoos-e-Risalat (SAW) and no one could cast a shadow on his faith.

The Interior Minister then made an emotional appeal, saying that all Muslims were lovers of the Prophet (PBUH), “Ashiq-e-Rasool”, and that these sentiments were not shared solely by the “Tehrik-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah” (TLY) protestors.

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While responding to questions, Iqbal claimed that his mother Nisar Fatima (who served as an MNA from 1985 to 1988) initiated the first laws for Namoos-e-Risalat (SAW) and no one could cast a shadow on his faith.

Both the ministers reiterated that they could not demand the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid since there was no hard evidence against him and only the inquiry committee report (which is not public) could shed light on his role in the controversy.

However, the religious protestors of TLY have focused their demands around the resignation of the Law Minister, it being the driving force of their movement.

They have asked the inquiry committee to determine the culpability of the Law Minister regarding the initial amendments made, in the first week of October, in the laws, related to the oath of finality of the prophethood of Prophet (PBUH) for electoral candidates. (Election Act 2017) The protestors also demand that the inquiry committee identify all individuals who had a part in making these changes.

Their demands have put the government in a difficult position since the Elections Act 2017 made explicit changes to the provisions relating to the status of Ahmadi’s and the oath of finality as laid out in the Article 7 of Conduct of General Elections Order 2002.     

When the National assembly passed the Elections Act on 2nd October, copies of the Elections Act 2017 showing these changes began circulating on social media. There was an explicit change in wordings of Form-A – which is submitted at the time of election by candidates – which turned it into a declaration form instead of a sworn affidavit (an affidavit puts a candidate under oath)

It has become obvious that these amendments could not be attributed to a mistake because they were deliberate and precise acts on part of the Law Ministry.

Through the Elections Act 2017, the words in Form-A “I solemnly swear” had been replaced with “I believe” in a clause addressing a candidate’s belief in the finality of the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and it had been made not applicable to non-Muslim candidates.

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Sections 7B and 7C of The Conduct of General Elections Order (CGEO), 2002, which defined the status of Ahmadis, had also been omitted from Elections Act 2017.

Section 7B says that the status of Ahmadis remains as stated in the Constitution of Pakistan, while section 7C states that if an enrolled voter’s belief in the finality of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) prophethood is questioned, they shall have to sign a declaration stating so, failing which their “name shall be deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters in the same electoral area as non-Muslim.”

It has become obvious that these amendments could not be attributed to a mistake because they were deliberate and precise acts on part of the Law Ministry.

This fact becomes more pronounced given the Nov 16th amendment (Amended Election Act 2017) which brought back Article 7B and 7C in the form of an amendment to Section 48 of the Elections Act 2017. The restoration of the original Act, through Section 48-A, proves that it was deliberately omitted and that the omission could not have been a “clerical error” – as was initially claimed by the law minister and the government.

Political commentators have acknowledged that the protestors do, in fact, have a point. Who took these definite steps to omit the law in question?

The Chief Minister of Punjab Shehbaz Sharif himself had previously stated that whosoever was responsible should be sacked.

However, his spokesperson, Malik Ahmed Khan, is attempting to backtrack. He along with other PML-N representatives, while speaking on TV programs, has stated that Zahid Hamid is a devout Muslim and believes in the finality of the Prophet (PBUH).

On Monday, an international conference on CPEC is also taking place in Islamabad. Govt. thus remains in a fix – and its explanations, for what happened in the first week of October, are not being bought by the protesters.

Yet, the question is not of the Law Minister’s beliefs. He and his Ministry must take responsibility for these amendments. There can be no doubt that these were deliberate steps. The omission of the phrase “I believe” could have amounted to carelessness on the part of drafters inside the ministry, but the omissions in Election Act 2017 and reinsertions of 7-B, and 7-C through “Amended Election Act 2017” clearly shows that section seven of the CGEO 2002 was expressly repealed.   

Protesters continue to block Faizabad interchange, between the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi; a situation that affects the lives of around a million commuters that travel daily between cities and towns of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Murree, Taxilla, Wah, Rawat and dozens of other small towns and housing societies. On Monday, an international conference on CPEC is also taking place in Islamabad. Govt. thus remains in a fix – and its explanations, for what happened in the first week of October, are not being bought by the protesters.

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