Cabinet unhappy with Faizabad sit-in report

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Report accused then CM Shehbaz of choosing to protect vote bank instead of preventing TLP sit-in from taking place

ISLAMABAD:
The federal cabinet expressed displeasure on Tuesday on a report of the Faizabad sit-in, which had not only given a clean chit to the spy agencies and ex-spymaster but also held the prime minister responsible for letting the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) protestors enter Islamabad without any resistance due to “apprehension of losing their vote bank”.

The cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, expressed its dissatisfaction over the report of the inquiry commission probing the Faizabad sit-in by observing that the commission had not adhered to its Terms of Reference (ToR).

The three-member commission probing the Faizabad sit-in matter had exonerated the spy agencies as well as former spymaster Lt Gen (retd) Faiz Hameed, stressing that high-ups of the then government did not accuse officials of the agencies of extending facilitation to TLP protestors in 2017.

Instead, the commission held the political leadership, including the then Punjab chief minister – now the prime minister – Shehbaz Sharif, among others, responsible for letting the TLP protestors enter Islamabad without any resistance due to “apprehension of losing their vote bank”.

In November last year, the government had formed the commission to identify those who planned, financed, and supported a sit-in in the Faizabad area which disrupted lives in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad between November 6 and November 27, 2017.

However, during the federal cabinet meeting, PM Shehbaz expressed dissatisfaction over the report and noted that it didn’t remain within the stated ToRs. Subsequently, the cabinet directed to constitute a special committee of the cabinet that would submit its recommendations in this regard.

As per the official statement, the Attorney General for Pakistan submitted the inquiry report on the Faizabad incident and gave a detailed briefing to the cabinet. However, the cabinet didn’t approve it and tasked the special committee to give fresh recommendations.

In its report, the commission had observed that high-ups of former provincial and federal governments did not accuse the agencies or any other officials of facilitating the TLP protestors and that no such evidence was brought before it.

“Since no one including the former prime minister, former interior minister, former law minister, and former chief minister of Punjab, accused intelligence agencies or any other official of the agency for extending facilitation to the protestors nor other evidence was brought forward, therefore, the commission could not connect any organisation or state official in supporting TLP to organise dharna,” the report read.

According to the report, then prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Law Minister Zahid Hamid, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief Aftab Sultan were asked specifically about the alleged role of agencies in facilitating the march.

“They all denied the role of any organ or person of the state to have indulged in such an activity,” the report stated. It added that Iqbal told the commission that having no other alternative; the federal government used the services of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in order to reach out to the leadership of the TLP and sign an agreement that ended the protest.

It noted that Lt-Gen (retd) Faiz Hameed, who was a major general at that time, holding the post of director general (C) in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had to sign the agreement on the behalf of security establishment as a mediator between two parties with the permission of then ISI chief and then chief of army staff.

Based on the available record, the commission said, it appeared that the Faizabad sit-in was more due to lack of courage of conviction of the leader handling the issue and in particular the Punjab government, saying it is the reason both the provincial and federal governments dithered in tackling the issue at the initial stage.

The report also said that the record suggested different stances of the federal government and Punjab government to deal with the issue. While Abbasi initially persuaded the Punjab government to contain the protest in its limits, Chief Minister Shehbaz “advised to let them proceed to Islamabad”.

The commission was led by Syed Akhtar Ali Shah, a former civil servant, who also served as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s police chief. It included Tahir Alam Khan, a former IG of ICT, and Khushal Khan, an additional secretary at the Ministry of Interior.

In its report spread over 149 pages, 57 annexures and sub-annexures and one appendix, the commission also highlighted a lack of coordination between Rawalpindi and Islamabad police departments, as a result, seven people were killed and 277, including police and Frontier Constabulary officials, were injured.

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