ISLAMABAD: In what appears to be another total surrender before the violent protesters marching towards the capital via G.T. Road, the federal government on Sunday released more than 350 activists of the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), besides announcing that the cases against others would be withdrawn by Wednesday (Oct 27).
The government also assured the TLP leaders of reviewing the Fourth Schedule list containing their names and working on a plan to release their jailed chief Saad Rizvi, announced Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed while speaking at a news conference.
The interior minister, who addressed the presser after leading a government team in negotiations with representatives of the TLP, including its detained chief, in Islamabad, later tweeted: “We have released 350 TLP workers up to now and we are still waiting to open both sides of road of Muridke as per the decision with the TLP.”
Another round of talks with the TLP will be held at the Ministry of Interior in Islamabad on Monday morning (today), according to Mr Rashid who said the protesters had agreed not to march towards the capital and stay at Muridke, some 33 kilometres from Lahore, till Wednesday.
However, a TLP Shura member claimed the interior minister had sought time till the return of Prime Minister Imran Khan who is currently on an official visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“Perhaps the people will say that the state has surrendered. But it is not the job of the state to use the stick (force),” the minister said, explaining the duty of the state was to find a path of reconciliation. “This is my viewpoint as the interior minister,” he quickly added.
A member of the TLP Shura said they had agreed to the government’s proposal to stay and wait at Muridke for two days, because the government had assured them that it would release all those arrested, including the TLP chief and other Shura members, and would review the Fourth Schedule.
He further claimed that the government had promised that it would act on the agreement signed with the group in November 2020.
According to the TLP Shura member, their leadership and workers after being released would join the marchers at Muridke and announce their next plan, possibly the termination of the long march.
The Punjab government had reportedly placed 214 TLP activists under the Fourth Schedule. The suspects of terrorism and sectarianism are placed under the Fourth Schedule under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. The list is referred to local police and law-enforcement agencies for effective monitoring of the people and if someone in the list wants to move somewhere, he is required to inform the nearby police station.
Order to remove containers
During the press conference, the interior minister directed the administrations of Rawalpindi and Islamabad to remove all the containers placed at entry and exit points of the twin cities.
The containers on G.T. Road, however, should not be removed, he added.
On Saturday, the relatively less-equipped and poorly trained workers of the proscribed TLP had bulldozed all security layers of the Lahore and Sheikhupura police and entered Gujranwala. After leaving Lahore, they had slowed down and decided to spend the night in Muridke. Two policemen and as many workers of the banned outfit had been killed on Friday when fierce clashes erupted between the protesters and police at Chauburji Chowk in Lahore.
Asked if the government was releasing the chief of the banned organisation, the interior minister simply replied: “Insha Allah, we are working on it.”
“It has been decided that we will withdraw cases against them (TLP people) by Tuesday or Wednesday and will look into the Fourth Schedule as well,” the minister declared a day after returning from Dubai, where he had gone to watch Pakistan-India T20 cricket match, on the prime minister’s directive.
“We had a good meeting with them [TLP people]. Their objection that we had done nothing positive in the last six months was correct,” Mr Rashid said while referring to the last year agreement with the TLP after similar violent protests seeking expulsion of French ambassador from Pakistan over the issue of the publication of blasphemous caricatures.
The minister said he again explained to TLP representatives that being the only nuclear power among Muslim states, Pakistan was also facing external pressure. Currently, there was no French ambassador in Pakistan, as a senior diplomat looked after the embassy, he said. However, he said the government would request the National Assembly speaker to constitute a committee to debate the matter as per the agreement with the TLP.
TLP is declared proscribed, but not banned: Rashid
The interior minister claimed that the detained chief of the banned TLP remained part of the talks that continued for more than eight hours. He said he also had had a detailed discussion with him during a one-on-one meeting with him.
He disclosed that he was unwilling to become a member of the government’s negotiating team, but he participated in the talks on the insistence of the TLP leaders including its chief.
Responding to a question, the minister surprisingly said the government “had not banned the TLP”.
“We have not banned them (TLP). They are contesting elections on their symbols. They are neither here nor there. We did not approach the Supreme Court,” he attempted to explain.
Asked as to why the TLP was then referred to as “proscribed” in media reports, the interior minister stated: “It is written with their name, because we’ve declared them proscribed.”
The PTI government had slapped the ban on the TLP under the Anti-Terrorism Act on April 15 after three days of countrywide violent protests by its activists after the arrest of their chief. The protest call had been given by the TLP leadership over what it claimed government’s failure to implement an agreement with the party, which had demanded that the matter of French ambassador’s expulsion from Pakistan over the blasphemy issue be referred to the parliament.
The announcement for placing the TLP on the list of banned organisations had been made by the interior minister at a joint press conference with Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri. The minister had also claimed at that time that the government would take measures for the TLP’s dissolution.
On July 13, the federal cabinet decided to keep the ban on the TLP intact.
An interior ministry notification declaring the TLP a proscribed organisation stated: “The federal government has reasonable grounds to believe that the TLP 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 TLP in the First Schedule to the said Act as a proscribed organisation.”
At the press conference, the interior minister evaded a question regarding the prevailing controversy over the appointment of new director-general of the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), saying that the question should be put to the relevant ministries.
Giving details of the members of the TLP in jails, Mr Rashid said there were 176 TLP men in jails. However, he denied the group’s claim about the death of TLP activists in the recent violence.
“They have the right to make such claims, but we do not have any such information,” he said.
Referring to the group’s claim about the number of TLP workers arrested by the police, the interior minister said: “They are political people and they have the third-highest vote bank in Punjab. They have the right to make any statement.”
On Sunday, the Lahore police registered a case against 23 officer-bearers and 200 other activists of the TLP on different charges including terrorism, attacking a police check-post and snatching weapons and mobile phones. The case was registered in the Sanda police station under Anti-Terrorism Act, Maintenance of Public Order and Pakistan Penal Code.
Ahmad Fraz Khan from Lahore also contributed to the report
Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2021