ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal on Saturday morning ordered the district administration to defer by 24 hours an operation of security forces against protestors camped out at the Faizabad Interchange.

The minister's orders to allow the protestors 24 hours more to disperse before taking action came shortly after a heavy contingent of Islamabad Police, Frontier Corps and Rangers personnel - equipped with tear gas and shell guns - arrived at the Faizabad Interchange early on Saturday morning. Television footage had shown the security personnel dressed in riot gear.

In a continuing effort to find a peaceful solution to the protest, which has disrupted life in Islamabad and Rawalpindi for over a week, the minister appealed to the religious leaders and asked them to call off the protest.

Iqbal urged the religious leaders to end their sit-in for the sake of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) so that the city may be protected from harm.

He added that it was a legal obligation on the protestors to adhere to the orders of the Islamabad High Court, which had a day earlier directed the capital administration to clear the Faizabad Interchange within 24 hours.

The deadline set by the Islamabad High Court lapsed this morning while the possibility of a showdown between the government and the protestors loomed. Tension at the Faizabad Interchange, which had remained high in the morning, appeared to have quelled a little after Iqbal's orders were issued.

The protesters 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'.

On Thursday, the National Assembly had passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2017 to restore Khatm-i-Nabuwwat laws to their original form and make sections relating to it "more effective." Sections 7B and 7C of the Conduct of General Elections Order, 2002 were also restored to their original form via the bill.

Section 7B states that the status of Ahmedis remains as stated in the Constitution of Pakistan, while section 7C states that if an enrolled voter's belief in the finality of Prophet Muhammad's prophethood is contended, they shall have to sign a declaration reaffirming their belief, failing which their "name shall be deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters in the same electoral area as non-Muslim."

In his appeal to the religious hardliners at Faizabad Interchange, Iqbal said that the 'strengthening' of Khatm-i-Nabuwwat clauses by the Parliament was "historical". He assured the protestors that the clauses "will not be changed till the Day of Judgement".