Deal struck with anti-blasphemy protesters but Pakistan's minorities now gripped with fear!

Pana Medley by several marooned coaches after riots across Pakistan brought the country to a standstill.

Pakistan was in turmoil over the weekend as hundreds of thousands of protesters rioted across the nations cities and villages. The situation reached such dangerous levels that the army had to be called in to bring things back under control. Last night in a dramatic turn of events the Minister for Law whose resignation was the main target of protesters, quit from his post.  Even then Pakistan minority communities say they do not feel safe.

Anti-blasphemy demonstrators began the campaign two weeks ago after a firebrand Islamic cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi first called for protests over a change in the electoral oath for lawmakers that once confirmed the finality of the prophet Muhammed. Although no significant change has been made in the Bill regarding Khatm-e-Nabuwat (Finality of the Prophet) with exception of moving it from point number (i) to point number (iii) and changing the wording from ‘solemnly swear’ to ‘declare’, the reaction has been untamed fury. The offence to Muslims in Pakistan was compounded by the statement itself being relegated from first position to third position on the new form. Read the full story and read the forms that are written in English (here).

At least six people were killed and over 250 wounded as law enforcement agencies finally acted under court orders provided to them on Saturday 25th November, to disperse protesters who had camped out at Islamabad’s Faizabad Interchange for nearly three weeks.

Those were killed identified as Hafiz Mohammad Adeel, Jahanzaib Butt, Abdul Rehman, Mohammad Sharjeel, Zohaib Ahmed and Mohammad Irfan.

A number of senior police officials, nine police officers and a polio vaccinator were also injured in the day-long clashes.

The interior ministry on Saturday evening issued a notification regarding the deployment of Pakistan Army in the federal capital after fierce clashes between security forces and Tehreek-e-Labaik activists turned violent.

On Sunday things escalated beyond comprehension and the whole country of Pakistan was brought to a standstill as protests erupted in major cities across the nation.  Our travelling Missionary from the UK Leighton Medley shared his experience of the effects of the protest, he said:

"At the moment the situation in Pakistan is dire. Once again, nationwide protests over the constitutional oath, despite the government correcting their position with law minister apologising, have turned ugly.

A policeman was killed in Islamabad yesterday, and now there is a nationwide curfew of all the major cities. Karachi experienced another bomb blast this morning, where 4 people including a child were killed. As for us , we have been marooned at Kalar Kahar service station, around one hours drive from Rawalpindi, where the situation was grave yesterday. So much so that Mehwish Bhatti [BPCA Lead Officer in Pakistan}, was trapped in a taxi for 4 hours surrounded by protesters near her home. Here in Kalar Kahar, we are surrounded by coaches and trucks, stranded because of the unrest.

Yesterday, we were fine and met some other Christians to fellowship with, but there was a growing sense that this situation is only going to worsen. Worsen it did, and if it hadn't been for an answer to prayer for a taxi, we would still have been stuck at Kalar Kahar, instead of arriving at Rawalpindi safe by God's grace.

Despite being dressed in Asian garb Leighton was particularly noticeable.

We were afraid in the coach park, as far too many people were taking an unhealthy interest in us, and we did not know who to trust. Thankfully we are in a PC hotel now, after much stress and anxiety. We are tired, somewhat traumatised after a hair raising journey, but thankful to God for His gracious providence. Unfortunately, after speaking to some local people, the sense seems to be that Pakistan has to grow up and fast, if it ever wants to be taken seriously on the world stage.

As usual, conspiracy theories abound, like the military being behind most of these protests, due to their lack of action, but I think more likely, the religious establishment is once again flexing its muscles, by using the illiterate masses to do their dirty work.

Again, it's a crucial time for Pakistan and one feels the unease amongst the minority communities as the Islamists ramp up the pressure. There is no doubt, that due to recent events in Turkey, they are feeling emboldened and the clash of world views, between the secular west and the Muslim world, is only going to get hotter. Right now as Christians, we need unity and prayer, trusting in the Word and building up our communities. So we can bring effective cultural change to Pakistan, it is happening in Iran, there is no reason why it can't happen here also. Let's through the gospel, try to make it a reality.

Today (Monday 27th November), the protests have quietened down after the Minister of Law officially resigned from his post.  However the minority communities of Pakistan are now living in fear of the extremists that surround them.

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:

"By God's grace we were able to get Leighton to safety but fears for minorities living in Pakistan remain high. 

"The fact that slight alterations on an electoral registration form for MP's can cause such havoc in the country, resulting in the resignation of a law minister in order to restore peace throughout the country, illustrates the widespread radicalisation of Muslims in Pakistan.

"The agreement reached between the government of Pakistan and protesters is a huge regression for the country. It cements the influence of Islamists and bodes ill for a fair supreme court trial for Asia Bibi due to a clear agreement to remove any leniency for registered blasphemy cases. Democracy has failed.

"With such a prevalent backdrop of intolerance what chance for survival do minorities have? Very little if you ask me."

"Even then Christians continue to fail asylum appeals in westeren nations ever willing to defend Pakistan who are ostensibly allies in the war against terror and have intrinsic trade agreements with all western nations and the European Union. 

"I am praying the sociopolitical conditions in Pakistan alter soon.  My greatest fear is that as a nuclear nation, if Pakistan  should ever fall into the wrong hands, this could have extremely far reaching consequences.

"The pathetic response by military forces and the Government of Pakistan in dealing with this matter, have done nothing to inspire me with any confidence."

Dawn Newspapers detailed the content of the agreement reached between the Government and Protesters:

The government has agreed to the following demands of Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) in order to end the sit-in, according to a document circulating
among journalists bearing signatures of the protest leaders and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, among others.

Remove Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid from his position immediately. "Tehreek-i-Labaik will issue no fatwa[religious decree] of any kind against

The report prepared by Raja Zafarul Haq-led committee will be made public within 30 days and whoever is named in the report for being responsible for
the change in the election oath will be acted against under the law.

All protesters arrested between November 6 until the end of the sit-in from across the country will be released within one to three days according
to legal requirements. The cases registered against them and the house arrests imposed on them will be ended.

An inquiry board will be established to probe and decide what action to take against the government and administration officials over the operation
conducted by security forces against protesters on Saturday, November 25. The inquiry should be completed within 30 days and action will be taken against
those found responsible.

The federal and provincial governments will determine and compensate for the loss of government and private assets incurred from November 6 until the
end of the sit-in.

The points already agreed to concerning the Government of Punjab will be fully implemented.

The document ends by crediting Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and his representative team for their "special efforts" that led to the agreement
being signed.

"We are thankful to him [Gen Bajwa] for saving the nation from a big catastrophe," the document concludes.

Besides the interior minister, the document bears the signatures of TLY leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Interior Secretary Arshad Mirza, two other protest
leaders and Maj Gen Faiz Hameed, who facilitated the agreement.

In addition to the above, the following demands of TLY have also been accepted by the government, according to Khadim Hussain Rizvi:

A board of clerics led by Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri will be set up to probe remarks made by Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah against the persecution

Ahmedis. Sanaullah will have to accept the decision made by the board.

No difficulty will be faced in registering cases under clause 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (blasphemy law)

No leniency will be given to those convicted by courts for blasphemy

No ban will be imposed on the use of loudspeakers

The foreign and interior ministries will take steps for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui after taking her mother and sister in confidence

The holiday of Iqbal Day on November 9 will be revived

Two representatives of Tehreek-i-Labaik will be included in the panel assigned to decide changes in the textbook board. The officials will push for
inclusion of

translation of the Holy Quran and chapters about Seerat-un-Nabi (PBUH) and Muslim leaders.

The chehlum of martyrs will be held on January 4 at Rawalpindi's Liaquat Bagh

Every year, November 25 will be observed as "Martyrs of Prophet's honour day"

The law minister's resignation was the chief demand of the agitating parties, who have been staging a protest sit-in — today being its 20th
day — in the capital to press the government for his removal.

According to PTV, the minister presented his resignation to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to bring the country "out of a state of crisis".

Abbasi has accepted the minister's resignation and a notification in this regard will soon be issued by the Cabinet Division, Dawn News reported.

"I made the decision to resign in a personal capacity," Hamid was quoted as saying by government sources.

Hamid reiterated that the Elections Act 2017 had been prepared with the consensus of all parliamentary political parties.

The protesters amassed at the Faizabad bridge belong to various 'religious' parties, including the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik
Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST), and had been calling for the sacking of the law minister and strict action against those
behind the amendment to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017 ─ which had earlier been deemed a 'clerical error'.