Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Wednesday that the Rangers were being called in to maintain law and order in Punjab for 60 days after recent clashes with the proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, the minister said a summary in this regard has been sent to the federal cabinet for approval. However, he still requested the group to end their protest.
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 over 250 injured.
Shortly before the interior minister's press conference, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry categorically said that 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.
Speaking to the media in Islamabad after Chaudhry's press conference, Rashid said that the group had "another agenda".
"So I am authorising Punjab govt to call in Rangers."
He said that he had spoken to the banned group at 3:30am last night and told them to look at the situation in the country. "I told them that the French ambassador is not even in Pakistan. This shows that they have another agenda."
The minister said that the group had committed that it would reopen roads that it had previously blocked. He added that he had directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to take strict action against those spreading fake news on social media.
He said that three policemen had been martyred and 70 injured, of whom eight were in critical condition.
The minister said the TLP, which the government had already declared proscribed, could be banned internationally.
"It could be included in the list of international terrorists and then we would not be able to do anything in their case," Rashid said, adding that he had shared this foreboding with the group.
He added that it was being said that he was being "too flexible" in the matter. "But this is my political thinking of keeping the doors open [for talks]."
Stressing the need for peace in the country, the minister said that Pakistan was under pressure. He reiterated that certain "international powers" wanted to impose sanctions on Pakistan and "had their eyes on the country's nuclear programme".
"This is the sixth time the TLP has done this," he said, adding he was being "compelled" to do this press conference. "They [TLP] have become militants. In Sadhoke, they fired at police with Kalashnikovs [but] the cops only had lathis."
Rashid said that considering the gravity of the situation, he was deploying Rangers under Article 147 of the Constitution (which allows the provincial government to entrust its functions to the federation) on the request of the provincial government, "just like in Karachi".
Separately, a letter seen by Dawn.com showed that the provincial government has approved the requisition of paramilitary force Rangers under Section 4(2) of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997 read with Article 147 of the Constitution.
According to the letter, Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) have been entrusted powers in terms of Section 4(3)(i) of ATA within Punjab to prevent the commission of terrorist acts and scheduled offences under ATA, to exercise powers of police officers provided in the Code of Criminal Procedure, read with Section 5 of ATA for a period of 60 days.
TLP workers fired bullets at officials, says Punjab IG
Separately, Punjab IG Rao Sardar Ali Khan said that the banned group had repeated its history of damaging state property and harming police officials.
Addressing a press briefing alongside Punjab government spokesperson Hasaan Khawar, the official said that the group had always challenged the state's writ.
Mentioning the group's sit-in at Faizabad in 2017, the official questioned whether one group could be allowed to hold the country hostage. "[They want] that laws are made according to what they desire, and foreign and internal decisions are made according to what they want."
He said that the banned group had martyred police officials two days ago after subjecting them to violence. "Today, dozens are injured [...] they fired bullets straight at us which injured 253 officials and killed four."
He said that previously, 700 officials were injured and three were martyred. "Are police officers and law enforcers not lovers of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him)?"
He said that the state would not allow the group to disturb law and order. "Protecting the people of the province is our responsibility."
TLP will now be treated as a militant group
Earlier today, the information said that the proscribed group will not be allowed to challenge the writ of the state and will be treated as a "militant" group and not a religious party.
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."
The TLP had launched the latest round of protests in Lahore on the 12th of Rabiul Awwal, primarily to exert pressure on the Punjab government for the release of its chief, Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi, the son of its late founder Khadim Rizvi.
The younger Rizvi has been kept in detention by the Punjab government since April 12 for “maintenance of public order".
Later, it had announced to march on Islamabad, prompting the government to block the routes leading to the capital. However, TLP leader Pir Ajmal Qadri had later said the purpose of the move was "respect for the Holy Prophet (PBUH)", while also demanding Rizvi's release.
Meanwhile, as the group's workers had marched towards the capital, at least three policemen were martyred in clashes with them.
TLP leaders had also claimed that several of the groups' workers had been injured in the clashes and scores were arrested, only to be released later.
Following the release of TLP workers, Rashid had said another round of talks with the group would be held at the Ministry of Interior in Islamabad.
On Monday, Rashid had assured to fulfil the commitments the government made with the 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.
A day later. Rashid had said that the government did not have any "reservations" on the TLP's demands and there was agreement on all issues discussed with the group — except for the matter of the French ambassador's expulsion.
However, on Wednesday the group had accused the minister of lying that matters between it and the government had been settled, adding that the protesters would now depart from Muridke soon for their announced destination of Islamabad.