The 22-day long Faizabad Dharna anti-Ahmedi protest disrupted all aspects of life in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. It was too well planned and organized to be called "spontaneous". Protesters were provided with food and all other supplies they needed to sustain it for over three weeks. The question is: Who was behind this protest? Was it just the Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasoollullah (TLY) activist mullahs seen on TV screens yelling out abuses at others? Was it the military or its intelligence agencies? Or was it politicians? Let's try and answer these questions.
Faizabad Interchange Near Islamabad
It's important to understand the recent context to see who might have been behind these protests. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been up in arms against the military and the judiciary since he was removed from office by the Pakistan Supreme Court in August this year. The point person leading this campaign on his behalf is his daughter Maryam Nawaz. The purpose of this effort is to bring about open confrontation with the military. In the end, Nawaz and Maryam hope to prove that they are victims of a conspiracy by the military and the judiciary against democracy.
Sequence of Events:
A few weeks ago, people linked to the PMLN social media wing, managed by Maryam Nawaz, tweeted a picture of General Javed Qamar Bajwa’s father’s grave allegedly located in an Ahmadi cemetery.
The ruling PMLN propaganda against General Bajwa's faith was followed by Maryam Nawaz's husband Captain Safdar's hateful anti-Ahmadi speech in parliament in which he demanded a “ban on recruitment of Qadianis [Ahmadis] in the armed forces." This drew a sharp response from Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor who said the following in a tweet:“When we put on the uniform we are a Pakistani soldier only, irrespective of our religion, irrespective of our province and irrespective of our clan,”
Law Minister Zahid Hamid introduced Election Act, 2017 in which the words in Form-A “I solemnly swear” had been replaced with “I believe”.
Sections 7B and 7C of the Conduct of General Elections Order, 2002, which relate to the status of Ahmadis, had also been omitted in the Election Act, 2017.
This caused a firestorm among the rightwing religious groups which, contrary to the advice of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, was exploited by Maryam and Nawaz Sharif to ignite protests leading up to the Faizabad Dharna.
Faizabad dharna participants demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid as a condition for ending their protest. Maryam Nawaz, through her close confidant and minister Maryam Auranzeb, strongly opposed the resignation demand. At the same time, there are reports that traders and merchants close to Maryam and Nawaz Sharif continued to feed and sustain the protest at Faizabad.
Instead of reaching a deal with the dharna participants, the federal government resorted to the use of force that failed to disperse the protest. In fact, the government action resulted in nationwide expansion of the protests. Then the federal government called the Army to bring about a confrontation between the military and the protesters.
Pakistan Army's Role:
To its credit, the Pakistan Army understood the game being plated by Nawaz Sharif and his daughter. Instead of using force against the protesters, the Army chief General Bajwa brokered a deal that forced the government to fire its Law Minister Zahid Hamid that brought an end to the protests.
The Faizabad dharna was orchestrated by Maryam and Nawaz Sharif to create chaos and force military intervention. It started a few weeks ago when people linked to the PMLN social media wing tweeted a picture of General Bajwa’s father’s grave allegedly located in an Ahmadi cemetery. Then Nawaz Sharif's son-in-law Captain Safdar Awan made a hateful anti-Ahmadi speech in parliament to whip up anti-Army hysteria. Then came the 22-day long Faizabad dharna. Maryam and Nawaz Sharif were seeking to use the Army against this dharna and force a military takeover of the government to justify their claims of victimhood to gain public sympathy. Fortunately, the Army thwarted this conspiracy and brought the protest to a peaceful end.