Policemen walk past a burning van torched by TLP protesters in Rawalpindi on Wednesday.—AP
Policemen walk past a burning van torched by TLP protesters in Rawalpindi on Wednesday.—AP

• Rashid says summary being sent to federal cabinet for approval
• Two killed, 700 more held
• Police averse to any backdoor talks with law-breakers

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: While ongoing clashes between activists of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and police claimed two more lives and left many others injured on a third consecutive day, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid on Wednesday announced the decision to ban the party on Punjab government’s recommendation under anti-terrorism law but added that the summary would be sent to the federal cabinet for its approval.

A senior police official quoted sources in the government as saying that authorities had started backdoor talks with the TLP to reach ‘settlement’ but said it would have a ‘devastating and demoralising effect’ on the police force that had sustained injuries and even deaths just to ensure the writ of law.

Most of the highways, motorways and thoroughfares blocked for the past few days were cleared by law-enforcement agencies in a joint operation by Wednesday evening, while police high-ups said a final operation would be launched during the night to clear all remaining roads as well.

Talking to media in Sargodha, Prime Minister Imran Khan said it was the responsibility of the state to ensure protection of public against riots and also establish writ of the state. Therefore, he added, the government had decided to ban Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan in the larger interest of the public and state.

While condemning the violence, vandalism and ransacking of public and private properties and attacks on policemen, the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) criticised the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government for what it said abdicating its responsibility.

However, the interior minister defended his government, saying it intended to honour the previous agreement made with the TLP. “I have never supported this party nor had ever met Khadim Hussain Rizvi (former TLP chief),” he claimed, adding the ban was being imposed due to TLP’s “character” and not due to any political compulsion.

“A single political party cannot lay claim to the matter of Namoos-i-Risalat as it is an issue close to the hearts of all 200 million people of this country,” he said, adding that as far as the matter of Khatm-i-Nubuwat was concerned, he was ready to sacrifice his life for that.

Mr Rashid said: “If there ever were any arrests warrants issued against me, or any other politician, we abide by them. We don’t ask our supporters to go on a rampage.”

During the past three days, half a dozen people including police officials have been killed and scores of people injured after protests broke out in different cities against the detention of TLP chief Saad Hussain Rizvi. In November last year, the party had staged a sit-in in Rawalpindi demanding expulsion of the French ambassador over the publication of blasphemous caricatures. However, the group ended its protest after reaching an ‘agreement’ with the government, claiming that all its four demands had been accepted. A copy of the handwritten agreement, carrying signatures of then interior minister Ijaz Shah and the deputy commissioner, Islamabad released on the occasion said the government would take a decision from the parliament regarding the expulsion of the French ambassador within three months, would not appoint its ambassador to France and release all arrested workers of the TLP.

In Punjab, police fought running street battles with TLP protesters on Wednesday during which a police constable and a worker were killed and many others injured.

So far, nearly half a dozen people have been killed across the country while the protesters also set fire to two police mobile vans, two armoured personnel carriers and around five motorcycles in different areas.

During the street battles on Wednesday, two hospitals in Lahore also came under attack as policemen tried to take cover. One of the policemen who ran to the elevated metro bus track, was grabbed and thrown down close to Chungi Amer Sidhu on Ferozepur Road, which has been blocked for the last 72 hours.

As the multiple operations against the violent protesters intensified, most of the roads were cleared for traffic by the evening after the police arrested 700 more law-breakers from different parts of Punjab, taking total number of arrests in the past three days to 2,200. However, the TLP claimed that its 7,000 workers were arrested and over 1,000 injured.

One of the police officials said: “By Thursday (today) morning, normalcy should return to the highways and even city roads as the Rangers and police have chalked out plans to get them cleared.”

In Lahore alone, police launched six clearing operations during which it arrested 300 miscreants.

Meanwhile, a sessions court in Lahore remanded 15 TLP men to judicial custody for attacking police, damaging public and private properties and violence.

Earlier, a TLP worker was killed and 19 were injured during an operation to recover one Pakistan Rangers and four police officials who had been taken hostage on Tuesday night, adds our Bahawalnagar correspondent.

Rescue officials said the protesting TLP activists took security officials hostage during their protest near Niaz Shaheed check-post, Mari Mian. The operation also left 23 police officials injured because of stone-pelting by TLP activists. The rescue officials said one Rangers personnel and two policemen were rescued from the TLP activists, while two more police constables were yet to be recovered.

In Karachi and other parts of Sindh, things return to normalcy after three days of violent protests as all roads had been cleared for traffic late Tuesday night.

During the violence, however, five protesters were killed and 18 others including 12 policemen injured. Besides, two APCs, two mobile vans and five motorbikes were burnt as police managed to arrest 263 protestors across the province and registered total 15 FIRs against them under relevant sections of laws.

Violent protests were also reported from six areas in Hyderabad, six in Mirpurkhas, two in Shaheed Benazirabad, two in Sukkur and one in Larkana division.

After law enforcement officials cleared the major thoroughfares after sporadic clashes with protesters in different cities, the interior minister announced at a press conference that the Punjab government had recommended a ban on the TLP and a summary to this effect would be sent to the federal cabinet for approval.

The ban would be placed under Section 11 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, he added.

Mr Rashid said the government wanted to move a resolution in the National Assembly and wanted to form a consensus on it but the (TLP) men were bent on marching to the Faizabad Interchange. “Our efforts to convince them failed,” he said, while admitting that the government was not prepared for the situation though the TLP “was well prepared”.

He said the well-prepared miscreants had snatched a rifle from a police officer and used it to fire at others in one of the protests. He said the protesters also disrupted the supply of oxygen to hospitals at a time when it was direly needed for the treatment of Covid-19 patients.

Regarding the resolution to be moved in the parliament, Mr Rashid said a resolution that did not portray Pakistan as an extremist country would be presented. He said: “We are politicians who have always indulged in politics, but never has killing, maiming or dragging police officers off motorcycles been a part of politics”.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2021

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