LAHORE: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said that as decided in a renewed agreement with the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, his government would take the matter to parliament before April 20, the new deadline set for the implementation of the TLP’s demands.
The TLP had been threatening to stage a sit-in in Islamabad to protest against the PTI government’s failure to implement the agreement reached with it on Nov 16, which included demands like “expelling the French ambassador, severing ties with France and boycotting French products”, within three months through parliament.
“We will do it. However, I want to tell the TLP people that no other government has done as much as this government to check this menace. We are not doing it for the TLP but because it is part of our faith. This (blasphemy) is a planned conspiracy, which keeps repeating itself in the West and disturbs peace.
“I was the one who wrote to the OIC, to the United Nations and heads of Islamic states to take up the issue. Only I and (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan took up the matter on the world forums. Unless 20 to 25 heads of Muslim countries take up and pursue it seriously, international impact required to do the job may not be created,” he said.
The prime minister was speaking during an interview to a TV channel after the government held negotiations with the TLP as a result of which the religious outfit agreed to postpone its protest till April 20 and allow the government more time to implement the agreement it had signed last year.
Agreement reached between government and religious outfit to meet demands by April 20
The prime minster reminded the TLP that it must not forget that no one had done more than him to internationally highlight the issue of blasphemy, not because of the TLP but because it was an article of his faith.
As the three-month deadline, falling on Feb 16, neared, the government engaged the new TLP leadership, after the death of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, to give it time for meeting their demands. After getting an additional guarantee (from the prime minister), the TLP agreed to postpone its protest and allow time (till April 20) to meet “all its demands or risk the TLP returning to Islamabad for protest”.
The agreement was signed by Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid and Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri from the government side and by Mohammad Shafiq Amini, Ghulam Ghous Rizvi and Ghulam Abbas Faizi on behalf of the TLP.
Thursday’s agreement is an extension of the previous one, signed on Nov 16, 2020, when the TLP picketed Faizabad interchange, cut off the twin cities from each other and the rest of the country to protest French President Emmanuel Macron defending his country’s freedom of speech in the wake of killing of a teacher who had shown blasphemous caricatures of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).
As the deadline of Feb 16 neared, the federal government went into talks with the TLP on the issue. According to the TLP, the government team expressed its inability to “implement” the agreement and wanted the TLP leadership to stop protesting it. “The TLP, however, refused to budge and warned the government to act or risk protest,” said a video message released by the party.
After protracted rounds of negotiations, the government team agreed to meet all the demands by April 20. However, the TLP wanted to have additional guarantees because “it were the same ministers who had signed the previous agreement but were unable to implement it. The TLP wanted the prime minister himself to be part of the agreement and commit himself to the cause,” the video message said.
According to a Dawn.com report, the new agreement said: “Negotiations have been going on between the Government of Pakistan and TLP on this problem for a month during which the government has reaffirmed its resolve. Terms of the [previous] agreement will be presented in parliament by April 20, 2021, and decisions will be taken with the approval of the parliament.”
It also said that names of TLP members that had been placed on the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) would be removed.
According to the ATA 1997, any individual placed on the Fourth Schedule or watch list is bound to inform the respective police station before leaving their hometowns and after return and about their activities.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2021