• French embassy advises its citizens to leave Pakistan
• PM vows to maintain writ of state
ISLAMABAD: As the government slapped an expected ban on the ultra rightwing Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) for its involvement in terrorism on Thursday, the French embassy, apparently fearing reprisals, advised the French citizens to leave Pakistan.
The announcement for placing the TLP on the list of banned organisations was made by Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed at a joint press conference with Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri.
The development followed three days of countrywide violent protests by the TLP activists after the arrest of their leader. Expulsion of French Ambassador to Pakistan was one of the key demands of the protesters.
“The French embassy has sent a recommendation to its citizens to leave Pakistan. It is a recommendation based on a precautionary approach given the situation of the last few days. The embassy remains open. We are working. However, we would work with a limited staff of diplomats,” Wagner Veronique, a spokesperson for the French Embassy in Islamabad, told Dawn.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan said the government would maintain the writ of the state at any cost and no group would be allowed to take law in its own hands.
Presiding over a meeting on security and law and order, he said the nation was proud of security forces’ personnel who sacrificed their lives in maintaining law and order during the TLP’s violent demonstrations.
Sheikh Rashid gave a briefing to the PM on the LTP’s countrywide demonstrations.
A notification declaring TLP a proscribed organisation was issued by the Ministry of Interior shortly after the federal cabinet through circulation 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, [has] acted in a manner prejudicial to the peace and security of the country, [was] 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 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 organization...”
Copies of the notification have been sent to authorities concerned, including the secretaries of different ministries and divisions, State Bank governor, Election Commission of Pakistan secretary and director general passports.
The National Counter Terrorism Authority swiftly added the TLP to the list of banned terrorist organisations taking the total number of such outfits to 79.
Sheikh Rashid said the government would also take measures for the TLP’s dissolution, saying a summary in this regard would be moved in a cabinet meeting. After the summary’s approval in the next two to three days, a reference will be filed in the Supreme Court to seek the party’s dissolution.
The minister said the government had tried its best to resolve matters through negotiations but the TLP’s “intentions were horrifying”. They did not want to step back from their agenda for April 20 at any cost”.
He lauded the services of police and personnel of other law enforcement agencies to restore peace, saying as many as 580 policemen had suffered injuries and at least 30 cars destroyed during the violence.
The government had announced on Wednesday that it would ban the TLP, whose leader had called for the expulsion of the French ambassador. Hafiz Saad Rizvi was detained hours after making his demands, bringing thousands of his supporters to the streets in cities across Pakistan. Two police officers were killed in the clashes, which saw water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets used to hold back crowds.
Speaking along with Sheikh Rashid, the minister for religious affairs said he had been engaging 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.
Noorul Haq Qadri said the government had never backtracked from its commitment to present a resolution in the National Assembly on the TLP’s demands, 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, Mr Qadri said, the government found out through informed sources that the TLP was making preparations to stage a sit-in at Faizabad on April 20.
He said the party had issued a call to its workers to gather at the grave of its former chief Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi 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 prepare a draft resolution with consensus, but the TLP leadership did not agree to this either and were insistent that their demands must be met.
“It is not the job of governments and states to plead and request but as an elected democratic government, we made efforts through negotiations and requests to somehow convince them.”
Referring to Saad Rizvi’s arrest, the minister said political leaders, religious leaders and business personalities were often arrested but the kind of reaction shown [by TLP] could not in any way be termed “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 so at every forum of the world,” he said.
Answering a question, Sheikh Rashid suggested that the French ambassador could not be expelled because it would have “complicated” matters with the European Union.
He said action would be taken against those people who had been booked for violence and that there would be “no concessions”.
Asked about the possibility of the TLP re-surfacing under a different name after the ban, the minister said it was a valid concern. “We are trying to find out a solution to this as well,” he said, suggesting that the government would target individuals as well.
In response to another question, Mr Rashid said: “All French citizens are safe in Pakistan. There is no threat to them.”
He said a resolution would no longer be tabled in the National Assembly which the TLP had demanded.
Meanwhile a senior official of the ministry of religious affairs told Dawn that serious efforts had been made to placate the TLP leadership since the start of April.
“Not only officers from various government departments were involved in discussions with the TLP leadership but several key leaders of Barelvi school of thought also tried to persuade Saad Rizvi,” the official said.
Since the minister of religious affairs too belonged to Barelvi school of thought, he tried to use his personal influence over the TLP leadership, the official said.
Sources said among those who tried to convince Saad Rizvi to call off the march scheduled for April 20 included Pir Raghib Naeemi, Sahibzada Hamid Raza of the Sunni Ittehad council, Pir Gulzar Naeemi, member of National Commission for Minorities, and several Mashaikh of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Sources said it was due to government efforts that there was no resistance to the government decision to ban the TLP.
“None of the senior clerics among the Barelvi school of thought, Pirs and Mashaikh in Punjab, KP or Sindh has opposed the decision to ban the TLP, because they were all turned down by the young TLP leadership during the past two weeks,” a source said.
In a latest move to keep the ulema in the loop, the religious affairs minister hosted an Iftar-dinner in the honour of religious scholars and ulema where the interior minister briefed them on the reasons for banning the TLP.
Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2021