ISLAMABAD: The government said on Tuesday it had accepted all but one demands of the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).

Speaking at his third press conference in three days, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said it was not possible to meet the key TLP demand for expelling the ambassador of France and closing down its embassy, but expressed the hope the outfit would understand the government’s compulsions.

The latest position taken by the government is seen by many analysts as a shift from its earlier commitment to take the issue of French ambassador’s expulsion and boycott of products of that country to parliament.

Asserting that the civilian and military leaders were on the same page, the interior minister said the decision not to accept TLP’s “demand No 1” had been taken at a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan and attended by Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, Director General of Military Intelligence Maj Gen Azhar Waqas, chief secretaries and inspectors general of police.

Interior minister says it’s not possible to expel French ambassador

He said a report on the talks with the TLP summoned by the prime minister was shared at the meeting.

Mr Ahmed said there were many hurdles to taking a tough decision about expelling the French ambassador. He said conspiracies were being hatched to impose sanctions on Pakistan — the only nuclear power in the Muslim world.

“Our economic condition is before you. France is leading Europe and all the European countries stand with France. The overseas Pakistanis residing in the European countries will face difficulties if the French embassy in Pakistan is closed,” he remarked.

The minister noted that Pakistan would have to face tremendous international pressure after taking such a decision.

He cited the examples of Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen to explain what was happening in the Muslim world and said: “We do not want a turmoil which would have a horrific impact on the country’s integrity and economy”.

Mr Ahmed pointed out that a conference of foreign ministers of Muslim countries was to take place in Pakistan and called for having a congenial environment on the occasion.

Reiterating that Pakistan was not in a position to close down the embassy of France, he asked the TLP to withdraw this demand and open the roads as per its commitment.

“Saad Rizvi and the TLP shura should withdraw their demand No 1 for the sake of Islam and the country,” he said.

The minister said the government and the TLP had reached an agreement on all other issues, while the latter had given a deadline of Nov 2 for the acceptance of its demand No 1. He said there would be no benefit from resolving all the issues if the TLP took to streets again a few days after Nov 2.

In reply to a question, he said it would be of no use to take the matter to parliament if the opposition stayed away from the proceedings.

He said two policemen lost their lives while 70 to 80 others suffered injuries in clashes between TLP protesters and police and that the condition of two of them was critical.

The minister expressed his desire to settle the issue permanently in a spirit of reconciliation and understanding. He said the TLP had committed to ending the protest and unblocking the roads today (Tuesday) by midnight.

“We are waiting for that and I will get in touch with them again at 8pm,” he informed the presser. “After that, I will again talk to the prime minister.” He said he would again contact the TLP leadership on Wednesday.

Mr Ahmed pointed out that the ongoing protest was the sixth demonstration staged by the TLP since 2017.

The minister said the finality of Prophethood (peace be upon him) was part of the faith of every Muslim.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2021

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