• Rashid says ‘third largest party of Punjab’ has 30 days to contest its proscription
• Takes up issue of Nawaz’s repatriation with British envoy
ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has made it clear that the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) will have to face terrorism cases as only 668 of its 733 workers who had been detained under Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) have been set free.
Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, the minister explained that 210 FIRs registered against TLP leaders and workers involving terrorism charges would go through the legal process. They included an FIR registered against TLP chief Saad Rizvi under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Rizvi continued to be in the judicial lockup, he added.
Mr Rashid said most of those released were from south Punjab and Faisalabad.
The explanation came a day after the emergence of reports suggesting that Saad had been released after successful negotiations between the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government and the TLP.
The minister also made it clear that the ban on the party was not being lifted at the moment. Under the law, he said, the TLP had 30 days to file an appeal against its proscription with the interior ministry after which a committee would be formed to take a decision.
Sharing details of the deal the PTI government struck with the banned outfit, Mr Rashid said they reached an agreement after seven-hour-long talks on April 20. It was agreed that a resolution would be tabled in the National Assembly on the French ambassador’s expulsion from Pakistan and the TLP workers arrested under the MPO would be set free, he disclosed.
The minister said the protesters returned five cars they had seized, while around two dozen vehicles were set ablaze and about 700 policemen were injured in violent protests by the religious group. Besides, he said, the 12 police personnel kidnapped by the activists of the banned outfit were returned on the night of April 19.
However, he insisted, “Whoever takes the law into their own hands, the law will take them in its hand.”
He referred to the NA session held on Tuesday to debate the French envoy’s expulsion and said Prime Minister Imran Khan was himself spearheading a drive against blasphemous acts. But he added that Mr Khan would “take western leaders into confidence” over the importance of the finality of prophethood.
When asked about taking the opposition on board on the resolution, the interior minister criticised Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz lawmaker, for insulting Speaker Asad Qaiser. He said it was not suitable for a former premier to use such language in the parliament. He praised the role of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) during the weeklong situation, but criticised Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman for “finding an opportunity even in this crisis”. However, he remarked, it was always his bad luck that had knocked his doors during the past three years. He wanted to do politics on the dead and wanted to see change in Islamabad that he would not be able to see.
The interior minister said TLP was a political force and was the third major party in Punjab.
He said that the ministry was set to introduce a comprehensive policy regarding different religious congregations, registration of mosques, and religious seminaries. “The ministry wants a policy to end hate speech and terrorism once and for all. We want to bring a law that no one can harm any other’s belief.”
He said the PM had instructed to tighten noose around those using religion to further foreign agenda.
The interior minister said international elements had been found using the social media to conspire against Pakistan, as those shown dead on the social media were alive. He said a propaganda campaign had been launched on social media from India, the US and Korea. “The use of social media was the biggest weapon during these violent protests,” he remarked.
Mr Rashid said 200,000 people were online from India at a time only to damage Pakistan’s case before Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The real purpose was to disintegrate the country but they failed, as the Rangers and police had done a remarkable job and the army stood shoulder to shoulder with them on the mater.
He said the government would also make legislation on social media and complete study was under way.
The minister also touched upon the issue of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s stay abroad far beyond the time allowed to him by the court and said he had had a detailed discussion with the British envoy over the issue.
“I asked the British High Commissioner Christian Turner to deport Nawaz Sharif, as he is a fugitive of the court,” Mr Rashid claimed, while quoting the envoy as telling him to seek extradition from the British government. He said the envoy told him that both governments want to talk on the matter, “but did not give a very positive response”.
According to a press release issued by the Interior Ministry, Mr Rashid besides discussing the possibility of Nawaz’s return to Pakistan also called for expediting extradition treaty and agreement on exchange of prisoners with the British High Commissioner during a meeting with him on Wednesday.
The minister also expressed his concern over placement of travellers from Pakistan on red list by the United Kingdom, terming it discriminatory. He argued the neighbouring India, which was reporting 200,000 Covid cases on a daily basis, had not been placed on the red list by the UK.
The British high commissioner, however, said the decision had been taken in view of alarmingly high positivity rate among the passengers from Pakistan and was not discriminatory at all.
About FATF action plan, the British envoy termed the implementation on FATF’s roadmap by Pakistan remarkable.
Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2021