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November 2, 2018
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Protests over Asia’s acquittal keep Karachi paralysed for a second day

Karachi

November 2, 2018

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Karachi remained paralysed for the second consecutive day on Thursday as protest demonstrations and sit-ins continued at over two dozen locations across the metropolis against Asia Bibi’s acquittal in an eight-year-old blasphemy case a day earlier.

Law enforcement agencies have beefed up security following the call for a countrywide strike on Friday (today) by 14 religious parties, including the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).

Schools across Karachi remained closed on Thursday, and due to uncertainty prevailing in the city after the strike call, the institutes would not be reopened today. Universities were also affected because of a sense of insecurity.

Attendance at government and private offices was minimal, while the number of public transport vehicles remained short. Some of the localities wore a deserted look due to the closure of markets and filling stations.

The city’s overall situation was the same as it was a day earlier. Contingents of law enforcement agencies were deployed near all the protest sites to avoid any untoward incident.

Security officials have been asked to stay extra vigilant as well as prepared to take any possible action if the peace of the city were to be disrupted today.

“More contingents from the reserve police as well as different units have been called in to keep on standby,” a senior police officer told The News. Another officer said that the police have done their homework and are ready to deal with any situation.

The law enforcers have been asked to increase police deployment at the city’s major mosques, as large demonstrations are expected outside different mosques after the Friday prayers.

Sindh police chief IGP Dr Syed Kaleem Imam has ordered strengthening his department’s strategy to deal with any situation. He has also directed increasing the security of sensitive installations, mosques, Imambargahs and places of worship of non-Muslims.

Bandwagon

After the TLP began demonstrating across Karachi following the Supreme Court’s order to release Asia, other religious and sectarian parties jumped on the bandwagon and organised their own protests in different parts of the metropolis.

As the TLP continued protesting for the second consecutive day, almost all of the other religious parties, which previously seemed to be limited to issuing press statements to condemn the acquittal, also showed their presence on the city’s roads with their rallies.

The Milli Yakjehti Council — an alliance of several religious groups, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Jamaatud Dawa — have announced that they would observe a strike today.

The banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) also organised a protest rally at Lasbela Chowk on Thursday. A journalist claimed that ASWJ chief Maulana Aurangzeb Farooqi was not allowed to speak to a TLP sit-in outside the Karachi Airport at the Star Gate.

The Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the JI’s student organisation, also organised a protest on Thursday, while the JUI-F and the Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nubuwwat held a major demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman is likely to speak to a rally at MA Jinnah Road today.

Analysts who study religious parties believe that the TLP has been leading the protests against Asia’s acquittal across the country, and that the conspicuous absence of other religious and sect-based parties on the issue has been felt from the beginning.

The TLP, a Barelvi group with extreme views that operated as the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, was formed two years ago to run a campaign for the release of Mumtaz Qadri, who was convicted and executed for the murder of the then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.

Since then, the group has successfully been exploiting the issue of blasphemy and its aggressive stance has attracted a significant number of like-minded people to the group.

After succeeding in finding popularity among Barelvis, the group focused on electoral politics with the hope to become an influential stakeholder and emerged as a key stakeholder in the city’s politics by securing a significant number of votes in July’s general elections and winning two Sindh Assembly seats from Karachi.

Analysts believe that Barelvi groups, especially the TLP, have started politically exploiting the issue of blasphemy, as Qadri’s execution and Asia’s release have provided them with an opportunity to show their strength to counter the growing influence of Deobandi and Ahle Hadith groups in the country.

“The TLP’s aggressive stance caused a dent in the electoral support base of religious parties, especially the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal’s component parties, such as the JI and the JUI-F, by securing thousands of votes in each constituency,” said a journalist covering religious parties.

According to analysts, this is the reason that all the other religious parties have been, in a way, forced to show their presence in the ongoing protest against Asia’s release.

New Karachi clash

In the wee hours of Thursday, two men were gunned down and nine others, including two teenagers, injured during a clash between two sectarian groups in the New Karachi neighbourhood.

The deceased were identified as Shahbaz Shahid, 26, and Shahid Mian, 30. A TLP spokesman claimed that both the men were affiliated with their party.

Ahmed Raza, 16, Zubair Abid, 18, Bilal Raza, 20, Aslam Ghafoor, 22, Muhammad Afsar, 23, Yasin Iqbal, 24, Naveed Rafiq, 25, Abdul Wahab, 30, and Riasat Mumtaz Ali, 52, were injured in the clash.

The funeral prayers of the deceased were offered at different mosques in New Karachi, following which they were laid to rest at the local graveyards.

TLP leader Omar Farooq led the funeral prayer of Shahbaz Shahid. Besides family members, relatives and neighbours, a large number of party leaders, workers and supporters attended the funeral.

The participants of the funeral procession also held a protest demonstration, shouting slogans to condemn the incident. Contingents of police and Rangers were called in to avoid any untoward incident.

Bilal Colony police claimed that the clash had erupted in the Sindhi Hotel locality between two groups. They said the situation turned violent after a group of mourners passing through the area asked the group protesting against Asia’s acquittal to give them way to move forward.

Police said that an exchange of heated words resulted in a fight with sticks and stones, during which some unidentified people opened fire on the groups.

A contingent of law enforcers was immediately called in, following which batons and tear gas were used and aerial firing was carried out to disperse the miscreants.

The victims were taken to different hospitals, including the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital. No case was registered until the filing of this report because the police said they were waiting for the victims’ families to file their complaints.

Bilal Colony SHO Malik Afzal said the police are yet to determine by whose firing the victims were killed. “We have collected evidences, including the empty bullet shells, for ballistic cross-matching.”

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