LAHORE: Top leaders of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), including its chief Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, sat down on Saturday to weigh all options in dealing with the demands put forward by the protesting Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) party, even the possibility of Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation.

Mr Sharif presided over a meeting called at his Jati Umra residence here in Raiwind, which was attended by Mr Abbasi, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Senator Pervaiz Rashid, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Railways Minister Saad Rafique, Kashmir Affairs Minister Barjees Tahir, State Information Minister Marrium Aurengzeb and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah.

According to a source in the party, Mr Iqbal briefed Mr Sharif about the government’s plan to end the sit-in by the TLYRA at Faizabad through use of force. “Mr Iqbal was confident that the law enforcement agencies under his ministry would manage to end the sit-in and control the law and order situation in the country. Shahbaz Sharif also told the party chief about the arrangements his government had made in Punjab to handle any untoward situation in the wake of the Faizabad police operation,” he said.

Interior minister briefs Sharif on govt plan to end sit-in

The meeting lasted more than three hours during which the participants were informed that the police had failed to disperse the protesters and that the agitation had spread to other areas of the country, especially in Punjab.

Party sources said that the participants of the meeting had directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to take private new TV channels off the air and to block social media networking sites — Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

“The participants of the meeting sensed the failure of the operation and tried their best to control the damage by blocking media coverage and social media,” said another PML-N insider, adding that Shahbaz Sharif, too, chose not to issue orders for a crackdown on protesters in Lahore or elsewhere in the province, considering the sensitive nature of the matter. “This is the main reason why the protesters were able to roam around freely, instilling fear among citizens.”

At one point in the meeting, the PML-N leaders mulled over whether the law minister should tender his resignation to pacify the protesters who have held the capital city hostage for over two weeks. “However, the party chief deferred the matter telling other participants to watch the situation closely before arriving at any decision,” he said.

On the other hand, the interior minister claimed that the religious parties protesting in Islamabad had “contacted India”. He told DawnNews: “We are investigating the matter. They have inside information and resources that are being used against the state.”

Mr Iqbal added that the TLYRA had a lot of resources at their disposal. “The protesters fired tear gas shells at security forces and also cut the fibre optic cables of cameras monitoring their protest.”

The interior minister further said that the government had tried to end the sit-in in order to comply with the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) orders to the capital administration to evict the protesters from Faizabad. “We are all Muslims and we believe in Khatm-i-Nubuwat. There is no threat to Khatm-i-Nubuwat. If you want to do your politics, do it, but why are you using this issue to incite hatred?” he questioned.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2017

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