Leaders of the opposition Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) reportedly agreed to end a sit-in demonstration at the Faizabad interchange between the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi on Monday, November 16, following two days of clashes with security forces. Thousands of TLP supporters had reportedly joined the demonstrations calling for the severance of diplomatic ties with France over the country's response to recent Islamist attacks, with almost 2,000 gathering at the Faizabad interchange after police blocked routes into central Islamabad with shipping containers to prevent protesters from entering the capital. Following violent clashes between protesters and security forces on Sunday, November 15, in which hundreds of tear gas canisters were fired to disperse crowds when police officers were allegedly attacked, further unrest erupted on Monday morning after more than 3,000 security forces personnel were deployed to control the demonstrations.
Government representatives were reported to have negotiated an end to the protest with TLP leaders on Monday afternoon, but it is currently unclear whether any concessions were made to the group. It is also currently unclear whether further splinter demonstrations will be held in the medium term.
Even as protesters disperse, residual disruptions are likely in Islamabad and Rawalpindi in the near term, as main routes into the city, including Soan Bridge, Kutchery Chowk, Mareer Chowk, Liaquat Bagh, Shamasabad, Rehmanabad, Double Road, Adiala Road, Chur Chowk, and I.J. Principal Road, remained blocked on Monday evening. Mobile telecommunications networks also remain unavailable in some areas, having been suspended during the initial clashes on Sunday.
Tensions over the response of the French government to recent Islamist attacks and terrorism in the country have been increasing since the murder of teacher Samuel Paty by an alleged Islamist extremist in the northern Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on October 16. The attack prompted an outpouring of support in France and a strong response from the government which saw dozens arrested and several organizations and mosques closed in a widespread crackdown on alleged Islamic extremism. However, comments from President Emmanuel Macron regarding religious rights and freedom of expression and the display of controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad at solidarity rallies following the attack have since prompted accusations of Islamophobia from several Muslim political and religious leaders around the world.
Dozens of protests over the crackdown and French government policies have since been held outside French embassies and consulates in multiple countries over the last week, including Turkey, Bangladesh, Iran, Mali, Mauritania, Libya, Pakistan, and Indonesia, some of which have drawn thousands of participants. There have also been widespread calls for a boycott of French goods, particularly foodstuffs, in Muslim-majority countries, with the protest being supported by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and several other Muslim leaders.
Those in Rawalpindi and Islamabad are advised to monitor the situation, avoid all protests and political gatherings as a precaution, anticipate residual travel and communications disruptions, and heed all directives issued by local authorities.
Although protesters have been prevented from reaching the French embassy, the site is likely to remain a high-risk area for demonstrations in the medium term. Travelers should be aware of an elevated threat against French nationals and interests in Pakistan and other countries in the region and should exercise a heightened level of vigilance.
Copyright and Disclaimer