Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Wednesday categorically said that the proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) will not be allowed to challenge the writ of the state and will be treated as a "militant" group and not a religious party.
The minister's remarks came as fresh violence erupted between law enforcers and TLP supporters near Sadhoke in Punjab's Gujranwala district on Wednesday. At least four policemen were martyred and dozens injured.
Addressing a press conference after a meeting of the federal cabinet, Chaudhry said that the banned group was established in 2015 and since then, their modus operandi has been to come out on the roads and block them. "But there is a limit to the state's patience".
He said that people have a right to their "ideas" but can't be allowed to take up arms if their ideas are not heard.
"In today's cabinet meeting, it was decided that such activities will not be tolerated. We will not tolerate those who challenge the writ of the state," he said, adding that the Pakistani state had defeated major terrorist organisation such as Al Qaeda.
"No one should make the mistake of thinking that the state is weak. Those who made this mistake later realised they were wrong."
Chaudhry said that the TLP had no "status" or access to arms like other terror groups. He said that a "show" had been staged the past six times, and the government had shown "great restraint".
"We don't want blood to be spilt but some of their [TLP's] leadership don't care about whether people are killed. They want blood to be spilt on the roads."
The minister said that last time, six policemen were martyred and more than 700 injured in clashes with TLP workers. Now, three cops have been martyred in two days and more than 49 are injured, he said.
"How long will we show restraint?" the minister asked. He said that on Tuesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan had chaired a meeting which included intelligence officials.
"A clear policy decision has been taken. The banned TLP will be treated as a militant party. We will not treat them as a political party [...] the rest of the country's institutions should also play their role."
On Sunday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had said that while the TLP was "banned it was not proscribed". He had said that while the party was “neither here nor there”, it is not banned as its members can still contest elections by virtue of being registered with the ECP.
Chaudhry said that the Punjab IG will shortly hold a presser, followed by a briefing from Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. "As I said, we have shown a lot of restraint [...] and not used force."
The minister also lashed out at what he called "fake news" on social media and called on those spreading misinformation to mend their ways. "We will not tolerate this, we will come [down] hard on you."
He said the TLP activists were receiving "social media help" from India and some other countries, adding that the government was contacting these countries to have such people expelled and the PTA had been issued directions in this regard.