The federal government on Thursday formally banned the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), whose supporters staged three days of violent protests across the country this week after the arrest of their leader.
A notification declaring TLP as a proscribed organisation was issued by the Ministry of Interior shortly after the federal cabinet approved a summary to ban the party.
The notification said the federal government "has reasonable grounds to believe that Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan is engaged in terrorism, acted in a manner prejudicial to the peace and security of the country, involved in creating anarchy in the country by intimidating the public, caused grievous bodily harm, hurt and death to the personnel of Law Enforcement Agencies and innocent by-standers, attacked civilians and officials, created wide-scale hurdles, threatened, abused and promoted hatred, vandalised and ransacked public and government properties including vehicles and caused arson, blocked essential health supplies to hospitals, and has used, threatened, coerced, intimidated, and overawed the government [and] the public and created sense of fear and insecurity in the society and the public at large".
"Therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 11B(1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, the Federal Government is pleased to list Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan in the First Schedule to the said Act as a proscribed organisation for the purposes of the said Act," it added.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad earlier, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid announced that the government would also take measures for TLP's dissolution, saying a separate summary will be moved in the cabinet in this regard tomorrow. He said after the summary's approval in the next two to three days, a reference will be filed in the Supreme Court for the party's dissolution.
The minister said the government had "tried its best" to resolve matters through negotiations but TLP's "intentions were very horrifying. They did not want to step back from their agenda for April 20 at any cost."
He lauded the services of police and other law-enforcement personnel to restore peace, saying as many as 580 police personnel had sustained injuries and at least 30 cars had been destroyed during the violence.
The government had announced it would move to ban the TLP, whose leader had called for the expulsion of the French ambassador, on Wednesday. Saad Rizvi was detained hours after making his demands, bringing thousands of his supporters to the streets in cities across Pakistan.
Two police officers died in the clashes, which saw water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets used to hold back crowds.
Speaking alongside Rashid, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said he had been engaging with the TLP for the past two years and it was the government's effort to bring it into the system as a "mainstream political party".
He said the government had never backtracked from its commitment to present a resolution in the National Assembly, adding that it was proposing a draft whose diplomatic repercussions would be minimum and which would not push the country into an international crisis.
While negotiations were underway in this regard, Qadri said, the government found out through informed sources that the TLP was also making "full preparations" to stage a sit-in at Faizabad in Islamabad on April 20.
He said the party had issued a call to its workers to gather at its former chief Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi's grave and then stage a long march towards Faizabad. "They did not need or have the moral standing to issue such a [call] without the negotiations having concluded," the minister added.
He said the government had even offered to form a parliamentary committee that along with the TLP could produce a draft with consensus, but that the TLP leadership did not agree to this either and were insistent that only their demands be met.
"It is not the job of governments and states to plead and request but as an elected democratic government, we made full efforts through negotiations and requests to somehow make them understand and convince them."
Referring to Rizvi's arrest, the minister said political leaders, religious leaders and business personalities were regularly arrested but "the kind of reaction shown [by TLP] cannot in any way be called moral or religious."
"We understand that the protection of Namoos-i-Risalat is the responsibility of Pakistan being the most important member of the Islamic world and it will do the same on every forum of the world."
Answering a question, Rashid suggested the expulsion of the French ambassador could not be done because it would have "complicated" matters with the European Union.
He said action would be taken against the people who had been booked for violence and that there would be "no concessions".
Asked by a reporter about the possibility that the TLP could re-surface under a different name after the ban, Rashid said it was a valid concern. "We are trying to find a solution for this as well," he added, suggesting that the government would aim to target individuals as well.
In response to another question, Rashid said: "All French citizens are safe here. There is no threat."
He said a resolution will no longer be introduced in the National Assembly which the TLP had demanded.
Govt moves to ban TLP after reign of terror
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 Rizvi's detention.
Interior Minister Rashid had announced the decision to ban the TLP on Punjab government’s recommendation under the anti-terrorism law.
A senior police official had quoted sources in the government as saying that authorities had started backdoor talks with the TLP to reach a ‘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 on Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan said it was the responsibility of the state to ensure protection of public against riots and also establish the writ of the state. Therefore, he added, the government had decided to ban the TLP in the larger interest of the public and state.
With additional reporting by Shakeel Qarar.