During the late evening hours (local time) of Friday, November 2, the leaders of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) reportedly signed an agreement with the government to halt nationwide protests after officials promised to initialize the process to place Asia Bibi's name on the Exit Control List (ECL). The government has also agreed to allow petitioners to file reviews of the Supreme Court's decision in the blasphemy case and to release all prisoners arrested during protests. Meanwhile, Tehreek-i-Labbail Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) Ashraf Jalili faction, an offshoot within the TLP, claims it was not a signatory of the deal.
Protests persisted during the daytime hours on Friday, as demonstrators marched through the streets of Karachi (Sindh province), Lahore (Punjab province), Islamabad (Capital Territory), Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province), and other cities. Authorities also arrested over 200 people in Punjab province, including in Okara, Faisalabad, and Kasur. Demonstrators blocked access roads to Allama Iqbal International Airport (LHE) in Lahore, delaying some flights, while access roads to Jinnah International Airport (KHI) in Karachi and Islamabad International Airport (RWP) were clear on November 2. Additionally, officials with the Pakistan Railways indicated train service had resumed normal schedules on Friday.
The Motorway Police reported the M-1 highway from Peshawar to Islamabad was briefly blocked but has reopened to all traffic. The M-2 highway is partially closed; the section of road between the Islamabad toll plaza to Kot Momin (Punjab province) section has reopened. All traffic on the M-3 and M-4 highways remains suspended.
Despite the agreement between TLP and the government and calls from religious groups such as the Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat to remain calm, protests may continue over the coming days. An increased security presence and traffic disruptions are likely throughout Pakistan. Clashes between demonstrators and security forces cannot be ruled out.
On October 31, the Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman previously sentenced to death on blasphemy charges prompting nationwide protests and civil disobedience resulting in clashes with security forces, and roadblocks, and rail and flight disruptions across the country. Among calls to carry out the sentence of Bibi, Islamist groups have demanded she be prohibited from leaving Pakistan, by placing her on the ECL, so that petitioners have a chance to file reviews challenging the Supreme Court's decision. The government previously pledged to refrain from adding Bibi's name to the ECL.
The Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) publicly warned the government and judiciary against overturning Bibi's death sentence, threatening to stage massive protests should the sentence not be upheld.
The TLP was founded in 2015 and has increasingly been gaining popular support, as demonstrated by the results of the July 2018 general elections. Protests held by the TLP in 2017 demanding the stricter enforcement of blasphemy laws led to a blockade on Islamabad, which lasted for three weeks and resulted in the resignation of the federal law minister.
Individuals in Pakistan are advised to closely monitor developments, prepare for associated transportation disruptions (including flight delays and cancelations), minimize nonessential movements, be prepared to shelter in place, avoid all demonstrations due to the risk of violence, and refrain from discussing sensitive religious and political topics in public.
Copyright and Disclaimer