• Punjab police chief says four cops martyred, 263 injured in clashes
• Rangers deployed to maintain law, order in province for two months
A DAY after a meeting of the country’s civil and military leadership, the government on Wednesday decided to crush the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) by all means and resolved that army, Rangers and police would stop participants of its long march from entering the federal capital.
The decision was taken by the federal cabinet in its meeting presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan following which Rangers were requisitioned in Punjab for 60 days to maintain law and order in the province.
The government categorically announced that it could not meet the TLP’s demand of closing down the French embassy in Pakistan and revealed that there was no French ambassador in the country.
“The cabinet has decided to treat TLP as a militant organisation and it will be crushed as other such groups have been eliminated. Pakistani state has defeated major terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said at a post-cabinet meeting press conference, adding that the TLP did not have the status and the quantum of arms the other organisations had.
“Yesterday PM chaired a meeting which was attended by the military leadership and representatives of intelligence agencies and relevant authorities. It was decided that the TLP would no more be dealt as a political party but as a militant organisation and it would not be tolerated anymore,” he said.
The minister said the government had evidence that the TLP was being funded by some groups in India which also maligned Pakistan through social media. “Therefore the cabinet also decided to launch a crackdown through the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority against those spreading “fake news”, adding that some journalists were also using social media for propaganda.
Mr Chaudhry said the TLP would not be allowed to challenge the writ of the state and it would now be treated as a “militant” group and not a religious party.
The TLP, he said, was established in 2015 and since then, its modus operandi had been to come out on the roads and block them. “But there is a limit to the state’s patience.”
He said the people had a right to their “ideas” but could not be allowed to take up arms if their ideas were not heard.
“In today’s cabinet meeting, it was decided that such activities will not be tolerated,” he said, adding that “no one should make the mistake of thinking that the state is weak. Those who made this mistake later realised they were wrong”.
The minister said last time, six policemen were martyred and more than 700 injured in clashes with TLP workers. Now, at least three policemen have been martyred in two days and more than 49 are injured.
“How long will we show restraint?” the minister asked.
He said that on Tuesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan had chaired a meeting which was also attended by 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.”
However, responding to a question the minister said the government could not declare any political party a terrorist organisation and for that it (the government) had to adopt a procedure and file a petition in the Supreme Court. “We have finalised the petition and it will be filed soon.”
Mr Chaudhry also questioned the registration of the TLP as a political party by the Election Commission of Pakistan on an application filed by a person who, he said, “lived abroad”.
In a press conference, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said: “We have decided to deploy Rangers in Punjab for 60 days to maintain law and order situation in the province, like Karachi.”
He said Rangers were being deployed in Punjab under Section 4 (2) of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, read with Article 147 of the Constitution, on the requisition of the provincial government.
He warned that the way the TLP was behaving, it could be declared a global terrorist organisation. “In such a case, nothing will be in our control,” he said.
Stressing the need for peace in the country, the minister said 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”.
He said 70 other policemen suffered injuries and eight of them were in critical condition.
He said automatic weapons were used by the TLP against the police which restricted themselves to baton charge and tear gas shelling.
Alluding towards the TLP claims about casualties of its workers, he said he had directed the Federal Investigation Agency to take strict action against those spreading fake news on social media.
Mr Rashid said the TLP did not meet its commitment of unblocking the roads. “The government cannot keep schools and hospitals closed due to the protests,” he added.
The minister urged Pakistan Democratic Movement chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman to realise the gravity of the situation.
Mr Rashid said he remained in touch with the TLP leadership and had last contact with them at 3:30am last night and told them to look at the situation in the country. “I assured them that the French ambassador is not even in Pakistan, but TLP activists are still on roads which shows that they have some another agenda.”
At least four police officials were killed and another 263 wounded, many of them seriously, when violent activists of the TLP clashed with police near Muridke and Sadhuke on Wednesday.
The fierce clashes broke out after the TLP tried to resume its march on Islamabad to pressurise the government to accept its demands.
Inspector General of Punjab Police Rao Sardar said the charged mob of the proscribed organisation martyred four police officials and injured 263 others. The martyred personnel were identified as ASI Mukhtar Ahmed, ASI Mohammed Akbar, head constable Mohammed Ayub and constable Khalid Javed.
While briefing the media, he said: “TLP activists were armed with automatic weapons and shot straight fire on the police,” The use of arms against the law-enforcement agencies by the banned outfit was a matter of serious concern, the IGP added.
On its part, the TLP claimed that two workers of the organisation had died in the clashes with the police and 41 had been wounded.
A TLP spokesman said police had used excessive force against their peaceful rally. However, the group’s claim of death of its workers could not be confirmed independently.
The police said the TLP was trying to mislead public by making false claims on social media and posting some video clips from the past.
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2021