Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed vowed on Monday to fulfil the commitments the government made with the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) during negotiations a day earlier, saying the matter would be discussed during a federal cabinet meeting on Wednesday following Prime Minister Imran Khan's return from Saudi Arabia.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, he said he had found the TLP's incarcerated chief, Saad Rizvi, to be "very cooperative" compared to other leaders of the proscribed organisation.
Ahmed said the government's negotiations with the TLP went "very well". He disclosed that he had requested to not be included in the government's negotiating committee because "it is not the work of the interior ministry but the Punjab government", but the idea was rejected on the insistence of Rizvi and another TLP leader, Ghulam Ghaus Baghdadi.
"We are keeping our word. There is information that one road has been opened which is very good. We will fulfil the promises we made to them."
The minister said the team would meet Prime Minister Imran tomorrow after he returned from his visit to Saudi Arabia and also bring up the matter in Wednesday's cabinet meeting.
He said the premier had instructed his principal secretary before leaving for the visit to ask the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to unfreeze the accounts of TLP madressahs and to allow them to open new ones.
It would be better that way because the FBR would know about the funds being received and spent by the madressahs, he explained .
In response to a question about his statement a day earlier in which he said the government "had not banned the TLP", he clarified that the organisation had been banned but "we are talking about this too."
Ahmed said he wanted to conclude the matter once and for all because "something new happens every six months and people face difficulties" — a reference to the TLP's frequent protests which brought life in the twin cities to a halt.
"It is my wish that matters conclude in the way they have been discussed with the TLP. We will fulfil our commitments. If something bad happens somewhere, what can I do?"
Regarding Rizvi's release, the interior minister said there were legal lacunae that the TLP chief "understands".
"A lot of other people insist on [freeing him] right now. Decisions cannot be taken right now. There is a legal process that we will follow. We will talk to the prime minister after his return tomorrow," he reiterated.
Replying to another question about the damage caused during TLP protests, Ahmed said: "Vandalism is illegal. No one should cause damage because Pakistani organisations have been banned internationally.
"I asked Saad Rizvi [...] I met him twice [...] that France is heading the European Union right now and [is] against our atomic technology and missile system. We are the Muslim world's biggest power. There is talk of sanctions in America, there is one point left to be fulfilled in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), [and] there are economic crises. In this situation, TLP should also understand."
Ahmed shared that he had signed an agreement with the TLP and would present it in the National Assembly.
Govt frees 350 TLP workers
In what appeared to be another total surrender before the violent protesters marched towards the capital via G.T. Road, the federal government released more than 350 activists of the 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 Saad Rizvi, Ahmed announced on Sunday.
The interior minister, who addressed a press conference 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."
"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 that 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.
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. Three policemen and two workers of the banned outfit had been killed on Friday when fierce clashes erupted between the protesters and police at Chauburji Chowk in Lahore.