The Pakistan Army on Sunday morning said that it is "fully ready" to assist the federal government in an operation against protesters who remain camped out at the Faizabad Interchange even after a day-long crackdown by law enforcement agencies.
On Saturday, an operation was launched by the Islamabad police, with the help of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel and other law enforcement agencies, against religious protesters who had all but paralysed the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi for over a fortnight.
Saturday's operation culminated with the Interior Ministry sending out a formal requisition for the deployment of military troops in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
By daylight on Sunday, there was no sign of armoured vehicles or soldiers on the streets. Social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, which had been suspended a day earlier remained restricted. Private television broadcasts remained blocked as well.
In response to the government's request for assistance with the operation, the Army — in an official letter to the Interior Ministry — said that it was prepared to cooperate with security personnel in keeping with Article 245 of the Constitution to protect the life and property of the residents of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
However, the letter states that before troops are deployed, there are a "few aspects meriting deliberation", such as how the "police has not been utilized to its full capacity" in dealing with the religious protesters.
It points out that "the Pakistan Rangers have not been given written instructions."
The letter also highlights that the Army is not a force traditionally used to disperse crowds or protesters, adding that the terms of the military's deployment in the twin cities need to be clarified in keeping with orders passed by the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court earlier this week.
On Friday, the IHC, displeased with government inaction against the Faizabad protesters, had pointed out that the participants of the sit-in could be dispersed using options other than bullets.
Similarly, the SC on Thursday had said that the efforts of the government to avoid loss of life by refraining from launching its operation against protesters were commendable. However, the apex court had added that "it does not follow that protesters can only be removed by firing upon them."
Protests continue on Sunday
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 have been calling for the sacking of Law Minister Zahid Hamid 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'.
Earlier, protesters gathered near Kachnar Park in Islamabad set police vehicles alight early Sunday morning, police said.
Five motorcycles and one car belonging to the police personnel were set alight by the protesters, police said, adding that the vehicles were personal property.
The protest participants also pelted police personnel deployed in the area with stones.
However, as the police have not been issued instructions to take action against the protesters so far today, the latter's actions were not met with any retaliation by the forces.
Between 50 and 60 protesters have gathered at the Taramri Chowk on Islamabad's Lehtarar Road, which has been blocked.
Protest participants also picked up two police officials from Islamabad's Sohan area, police said.
According to officials, negotiations are underway with the protesters for the return of the two officials.
Unrest in Karachi
Saturday's unrest in Islambad had spilled into cities across the country, including Karachi where roads were blocked and demonstrations were held.
Shahrah-e-Pakistan remained blocked on Sunday with oil tankers lined up along the highway since 2am.
A large number of protesters gathered at Numaish Chowrangi told DawnNews that they would continue their demonstrations until either their leaders in Faizabad told them to stop or their demands for Law Minister Zahid Hamid's resignation were fulfilled. The protesters continued to chant anti-government slogans.
A day earlier
A day earlier, at least six were killed and hundreds were wounded as violent clashes broke out between law enforcement personnel and protesters camped out at the Faizabad Interchange.
Finally acting upon court orders, the Islamabad police, with the help of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel and other law enforcement agencies, had launched an operation against protesters, who had amassed at the Faizabad Interchange ─ which connects Islamabad to Rawalpindi ─ on November 8. Around 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear took part in the clearance operation.
A timeline of the crisis that has gripped Islamabad for the past 18 days
The operation was launched after several attempts by the government to hold talks with the protesters failed, with the latter remaining adamant on the matter of the law minister's resignation.
The use of tear gas, rubber bullets and batons by security personnel met with fierce resistance by protesters, who increased in number as the operation continued through the day.
At least 150 protesters were arrested before security forces withdrew.
Protests spread to other cities
Unrest in the federal capital spilled over to Karachi, as protesters loyal to the same religious parties took to the streets condemning the Faizabad operation. The protesters blocked roads and demonstrated at the Numaish traffic intersection in the city's busy Saddar area.
The protests later spread to other parts of the city, including Teen Talwar, Boat Basin, NIPA, Shahrah-i-Faisal near Stargate and Nursery, Hub River Road and Hassan Square, where both tracks of the road were closed for traffic.
At least 12 people were reportedly injured in skirmishes with police at Stargate and Nursery.
A large number of religious parties also took out rallies and staged demonstrations in Umerkot, Mithi, Sujawal and other towns of lower Sindh to register their protest against the ongoing operation against the protesters in Islamabad. They vowed to continue their protests.
Protest demonstrations were also held at Badin Press Club, Lahore's Imamia Colony and other settlements along the GT Road. Roads from Lahore to Gujranwala and Faisalabad were also closed.