Wednesday, February 10, 2021
ISLAMABAD: Islamabad Police have temporarily halted the ongoing operation against protesting government employees in a bid to disperse the crowd which was moving toward the Parliament House located at the Constitution Avenue, sources said Wednesday.
The protesters have gathered around D chowk as well as China chowk, while Islamabad authorities have blocked the way towards the Parliament with containers. According to sources, demonstrators started bypassing the containers because of which the police once again had to resort to tear gas shelling to disperse them.
Because of the tear gas, some police and Rangers personnel also had to retract for a while.
The protestors have demanded that the containers be removed or else they would remove it themselves.
The federal government employees are demanding a raise in their salaries and had gathered today after their leader Rehman Bajwa and nine others were arrested overnight.
Following the arrests, the government workers in the federal capital had announced they would march towards the Parliament House from Pakistan Secretariat for their demands and the release of their leaders.
The police had resorted to tear gas shelling after they made a move towards the Parliament. The protesters at one point had also encircled Federal Minister for Information Shibli Faraz.
At one point the protesting employees also closed the doors to the secretariat bringing the government machinery to a halt.
At least two dozen protesting employees were taken into custody under Section 16 of the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance (MPO).
The government employees were protesting against the income disparities between various federal government employees. They have been demanding a 40% increase in their salaries.
The protesters have received support from government employees over grade 17, who have also demanded an increase in their salaries.
The All Pakistan Clerks Association and government employees of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh are also supporting the protest.
Speaking on the matter, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed told Geo News that the government dealt with the protesters "correctly" and that it was the demonstrators that had "gone back on the agreement."
“We dealt with this correctly we are increasing the salaries of 95% of employees at an average of 40%,” the minister told Geo News when asked about the situation.
Rasheed blamed the protestors for going back on the agreement they had made with the federal ministers. He claimed that the government had agreed to increase the salaries of the government employees from grade 1-16.
He said when the government was about to issue the notification in this regard, the protesters demanded that the salaries of employees from grade 17- 22 should also be increased which, he said, will add the burden of billions of rupees to the exchequer.
The interior minister also claimed that the protestors have the support of the officers. He also refused to the demand of increasing the salaries of provincial officers, clarifying that it was not in the domain of the federal government.
“The matter will be resolved [if] they go back to their initial demands,” said the interior minister.
Sources told Geo News that a two-member committee, comprising interior and defence ministers, tasked with dealing with the protestors is in contact with the finance ministry over the raise.
Officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, say that the committee has recommended that there should be an increase of 25% in the salaries of officers from grade 1-16 on an ad hoc basis.
They also said that the finance ministry may finalise the proposal by tonight or tomorrow and send it to the prime minister and adviser on finance for approval.
The sources say that Sheikh Rasheed and Pervez Khattak are pushing for the increase so an immediate relief could be provided to protesters and the situation gets under control as the federal government was not functional.
Meanwhile, Awami National Party leader Ameer Haider Hoti said that the demands of the government should be met as he condemned the police assault on them.
Hoti, taking a jibe at the Centre, said that “instead of giving Rs50 million in political bribe”, the government should focus on the government employees’ salaries.
The ANP leader said that he condemns "all sorts of horse-trading" and demanded that people named in the Senate elections 2018 scandal should be removed from office, while an inquiry should be initiated against them.
Similarly, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto condemned the arrests and "violence of the Law Enforcement Agencies against government employees".
In a statement issued by PPP's media cell, the party chairman demanded the "selected government" to accept the legitimate demands of the government employees and release all arrested individuals.
"Instead of listening to the demands of poor employees, the state has resorted to using power against them," he said, adding that the PPP had “doubled” employees’ salaries during its term.
Claiming that the incumbent government has made a record increase in the electricity prices instead of giving incentives to employees, he said that he "stands in solidarity with the protesters."
Condemning the attack on protesters, former president Asif Ali Zardari also said that PM Imran Khan "cannot do anything for the masses except exploiting them."
Akin to the PPP, PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz asked the authorities to stop using tear gas shelling and sticks to disperse the protesters.
"For God's sake, stop this merciless torture," Maryam Nawaz tweeted."These are not the enemies, but poor Pakistanis demanding their rights."
According to Geo News’ anchorperson Hamid Mir, the Islamabad Police fired expired tear gas shells at the protesters.
“These shells have expired as their manufacturing date is 2016, and their shelf life is four years,” Mir said, adding that the authorities should probe the matter.
He further said it was "written on the shells that they should not be fired directly at the people as it could cause serious injury or even death."
Rukhsana Anwar, President of the National Programme Health Employees Federation Pakistan, says that 1,500 female healthcare workers also went to D Chowk to join the protest, adding that the government has called them for negotiations.
Female healthcare workers had protested in October as well after which the government had signed an agreement with them, promising pension and gratuity, to look into their service structure within three months, and provide security and uniform salaries.
“None of the promises was kept,” said Rukhsana.