• Negotiators break their fast, offer taraveeh with TLP chief, brother in jail
• Third round of negotiations fails to get planned march on capital cancelled

LAHORE: Over-seven-hour-long three rounds of talks between a government team and Saad Rizvi, head of the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, at Kot Lakhpat jail here on Monday remained inconclusive as the latter could not be convinced to record a video message for TLP activists to end their plans of a long march on Islamabad.

However, the two sides agreed to meet again late in the night at Punjab Governor House to discuss and finalise which of the demands put forward by the TLP chief as a prerequisite for terminating the outfit’s protest plan could be accepted by the government.

Punjab Quran Board (PQB) chairman Hamid Raza, Sunni Tehreek’s Sarwat Ijaz Qadri, former lawmaker belonging to the Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan Abul Khair Mohammad Zubair and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MPA Mian Jalil Ahmed Sharaqpuri represented the government side in the talks.

Anas Rizvi, younger brother of Saad Rizvi, also accompanied them to jail where they broke their fast and offered taraveeh prayer with the TLP chief.

In a brief talk before leaving the jail, Hamid Raza told the media that there had been progress in the parleys and hoped that the fourth round, to be held at Governor House, would be conclusive. He claimed that the TLP chief had appealed to his party activists to remain peaceful.

However, his brother, Anas Rizvi, didn’t face the media and went with Sharaqpuri, a disgruntled leader of the PML-N, in the latter’s jeep.

In a late-night unconfirmed audio message purportedly from TLP Central Majlis-i-Shura, its member Shafiq Amini said his party had decided to call off the protest, except for at the party’s headquarters in a Lahore mosque. According to the message shared on the official WhatsApp group of the outfit, he directed party workers in the entire country, wherever they are protesting, to terminate it.

A TLP spokesperson earlier told Dawn that they would end their protest plan only after their leader Saad Rizvi would directly speak to them and that they would not rely on any message conveyed through any third person, whether a government official or a mediator, for the authorities had earlier been circulating a bogus letter of the incarcerated party chief.

While the two sides had agreed to have a fourth round of talks at Punjab Governor House where Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri and Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat would also be part of the negotiation team to draft an agreement that could satisfy the chief of the outlawed group, some unverified sources claimed that the negotiators in the early hours of Tuesday moved from Governor House to Corps Commander House in Lahore.

In an earlier round of talks in the wee hours of Monday, the government had secured release of seven officials of the Pakistan Rangers and Punjab Police. Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar, Inspector-General of Police Inam Ghani as well as a senior official of the Rangers held the negotiations with the TLP leaders.

Police say the seven officials, including DSP Umar Farooq Baloch, had been kidnapped by the TLP activists during an attack on Nawakot police station and taken to Masjid Rehmatul Lil-Aalameen, main centre of the proscribed outfit, on Sunday.

The Lahore police registered a case under anti-terrorism charges against TLP men for kidnapping the security personnel. Charges under 14 sections of the Pakistan Penal Code were also added to the FIR nominating Anas Rizvi and 23 others.

“Yes, all seven security personnel have been released by the TLP,” Lahore CCPO Ghulam Mahmood Dogar confirmed to Dawn. He strongly denied that firearms had been used against the violent protesters, arguing that the Lahore police personnel had been unarmed under a standing order to avoid any further loss of life in the wake of the 2014 Model Town tragedy.

The city police chief said over 800 personnel of reserves force had taken part in the Yateem Khana Chowk operation to get the security men released.

After denying that talks were under way with the proscribed TLP, the interior minister in a video message said talks had started with the outfit. In the first round of talks, he said, the TLP released 11 policemen who were held hostages at the Rehmatul Lil-Aalameen mosque. The interior minister also expressed the hope that the matter would be resolved with the TLP after a second round of talks with them. Later, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced that the second round of talks between the TLP and the Punjab government had concluded.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2021

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