Days after police in Islamabad fired tear gas on protesting government employees, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Sunday made light of the incident, saying it was "necessary to test the tear gas as it had been unused for a long time".
Addressing a ceremony in Rawalpindi, he said that the capital's police "fired a little tear gas", adding that it was necessary to test it since the tear gas canisters had been unused for a long time.
"Only a little was tested, not a lot," he claimed.
Last week, Islamabad police had fired over a 1,000 tear gas shells at the protesters to disperse them. The protesters, who were government employees, were demanding an increase in their salaries in accordance with the prevailing inflation.
Protesting under the umbrella of All Government Employees Grand Alliance, the public servants had announced a sit-in at Pakistan Secretariat till their salaries were increased.
Security personnel and protesters had clashed throughout Wednesday in the capital's heavily guarded Red Zone. However, the protest had ended the next day after a government committee succeeded in negotiations with the protesters, agreeing to increase the basic pay of federal government employees from grades 1 to 19 by 25 per cent.
Rashid, who was part of the government committee, said today that the "real problem" was not the tear gas shelling but the pay raise that "amounts to billions of rupees in this time of inflation [and is a burden on the] treasury".
'Army did jihad against Covid-19'
Rashid said the country had "nearly gotten out" of the coronavirus pandemic and gave credit for bringing the situation under control to Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Pakistan Army, who he said had done "jihad against Covid-19".
He referred to four soldiers who were martyred in a terrorist attack on an army check post in South Waziristan on Thursday night, saying that they gave their lives for Pakistan. "People who utter bad words against this great army should have their tongues pulled out," he added.
The interior minister termed frequent martyrdoms of soldiers in terrorist attacks "a plot to destabilise the country from within".
"India knows that if it comes to Pakistan's borders, 200 million people would think it a matter of pride to give their lives along with the army's soldiers."
Rashid said those who had opposed the creation of Pakistan were "trying to create chaos and political destablisation". He said he was saddened especially by the PML-N whose leader and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has criticised the security establishment in recent speeches.
"No PML-N member can say anything against army. If he does, he is not a [member of the Muslim League]."
PDM's long march
Talking about the 10-party opposition alliance — Pakistan Democratic Movement's (PDM) — long march to Islamabad on February 26, the interior minister said they would be 'welcomed' if they followed the law and the Constitution.
"I want to tell the whole PDM that if you [remain] within the limits during the long march here, there will be no problem, no obstacle. If you want to come to Islamabad while remaining within the limits of the law, come 10 times because you will have to return. You do not have the strength."
Referring to the PTI's 126-day long sit-in in 2014, he termed it "the most difficult thing I have done in my life".
In an apparent warning to the opposition, Rashid said that if the PDM came to Islamabad but did not remain within the limits of the law and the Constitution, then "Islamabad will be Islamabad [and] do not say you were not told."
Answering a question about the upcoming Senate elections, Rashid said that whether the elections were held through secret voting or open ballot, "bikne wale bikte hain (those who are ready to be bought will sell their votes)", adding that there was no place in the country for those who sold their votes or spewed nonsense.