• Group set to resume march from Gujranwala after Friday prayers
• Rashid says writ of state will be established at all costs

ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday convened a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) on Friday (today) to devise a strategy for tackling proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) march that is heading towards Islamabad.

This was announced by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Twitter.

“In view of the situation arising out of the illegal activities of the banned party, Prime Minister Imran Khan has convened a meeting of the National Security Committee tomorrow. Other issues related to national security will also be considered in this meeting,” he said.

PM Khan will chair the meeting that would be attended by key members of the federal cabinet, the services chiefs and the intelligence agencies’ heads.

The announcement came amid reports that the government had brought the TLP’s detained leader Saad Rizvi to Islamabad for talks on ending the march. The reports were, however, not confirmed by any official.

The information minister, meanwhile, insisted that there could be no talks with the TLP until they called off their march, turned back and handed over the criminals involved in the assassination of the policemen.

In a late-night statement, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed warned the violent protesters that “enough is enough” and made it clear that the government was not ready to become hostage.

He asked the TLP to call off their plan to march on Islamabad, adding that the government would stop the group from entering Islamabad.

He urged the protesters to turn back, otherwise the state would be left with no choice but to “establish its writ”.

Mr Ahmed said there was no justification for the protest when all the demands put forth by the TLP had already been accepted.

He said the government was ready for talks if the protesters went back. He said blockade of GT Road would not be allowed as it was important from defence point of view.

He regretted that TLP activists had fired on policemen using Kalashnikovs. “Who will be accountable for the deaths of policemen,” he asked.

He said that police on the other hand had not been given the powers they were asking for.

He wondered what service of Islam was being made by causing harm to Pakistan.

He announced that the government can neither be cowed down nor held hostage, adding that the writ of the state would be established at all costs.

He said Pakistan is the centre of Islam and damaging the country would not serve the religion in any way. “PM Imran is the first person to form the Rehmatullil Alameen Authority and take the country towards making it a welfare state like Madina.”

Meanwhile, the ECP has clarified that under Article 17(2) of the constitution and according to Section 212 of the Elections Act 2017 and Article 17(2) of the constitution — concerning the dissolution of a political party — the government is formally required to make a proper reference to the Supreme Court within 15 days after making the declaration against the concerned party.

Earlier, Mr Rashid Ahmed, in a TV interview, offered negotiations to the TLP if they returned to their base — Masjid Rehmatul-lil-Alameen in Lahore. He said in that case all of their demands would be met except that of expulsion of the French ambassador.

National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf, however, said the group had crossed the proverbial red line.

“TLP has crossed the red line and exhausted the state’s patience. They have martyred policemen, destroyed public property, and continue to cause massive public disruption. Law will take its course for each one of them and terrorists will be treated like terrorists with no leniency,” he warned.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) meanwhile, banned coverage of the march. The restriction was imposed under Section 27 of the Pemra Ordinance, 2002.

The Punjab government directed the district and the police administration to make ‘preventive arrests’ of TLP leaders and workers across the province other than Gujranwala from where the workers were all set to resume march on Islamabad on Friday (today). The decision was taken in a video link conference which was chaired by Punjab Chief Secretary Dr Kamran Ali Afzal late on Thursday.

All the divisional commissioners, deputy commissioners and regional police officers attended the meeting through video link.

There were reports that more than 10,000 activists/workers of the organisation had staged a sit-in in Gujranwala city after breaching the last police security point at Sadoki where they had allegedly fired shots on the law enforces, injuring many of them, on Wednesday.

A senior official told Dawn that the next TLP-police encounter was expected at two major security points that had been established at Chenab and Jhelum Rivers, the only route for the march to reach Islamabad.

This time, he said, Rangers would lead the command while the Punjab police would assist them as par the standard guidelines issued since the government deployed Rangers in the province under a notification issued on Wednesday.

So far, the Central Police Office has dispatched 3,000 policemen from all over the province to Gujranwala to raise stringent security measures with local police force.

The official said TLP workers would spent night in Gujranwala city where police had been directed not to stop them unless they turn violent.

About the CS meeting, he said the DCs had been directed to prepare lists of the fourth schedulers, hardcore activists and TLP leaders with the coordination of the police to make preventive arrests.

The CS directed the DCs to issue detention orders of the TLP men under the Maintenance of Public Order.

The police officers were instructed to arrest workers and leaders of the banned organisation according to the lists provided by the DCs.

They were directed to ensure that TLP men would not reach GT Road to join its main rally for Islamabad, the official said.

The TLP has said that it would resume its journey after Friday prayers in Gujranwala. It plans to reach Wazirabad and Chenab toll plaza by the evening.

All three bridges over Chenab between Gujrat and Wazirabad towns have been filled with containers and at least 100 containers have been placed throughout the pathway of the bridges.

These fresh arrangements to prevent the TLP march were made on Thursday in addition to the already dug up trenches near the toll plazas on Wazirabad and Gujrat sides as the area was already blocked for the last one week.

Rangers troops have taken over the command of all security arrangements at the said point where heavy contingent of police belonging to entire Gujranwala region has already been deployed for the last many days.

Inspector General of Punjab police Rao Sardar and Regional Police Officer Abdul Kareem also arrived in Gujrat and inspected overall arrangements in Wazirabad and Gujrat as authorities had put the containers at the main square on the entry of Wazirabad city.

However, police fear clashes with the march participants between Wazirabad and Chenab toll plazas.

The local administration has already sealed the entry and exit points of Gujrat district, whereas both the bridges over Jhelum river between Sara-i-Alamgir town of Gujrat and Jhelum city were blocked on Wednesday. Internet services remained suspended in Gujrat district for the last many days. In view of the security situation due to demonstrations and rallies being organised by the TLP, Pakistan Railways suspended Tez Gaam train operations on Thursday.

Waseem Ashraf Butt in Gujrat and Shazia Hasan in Karachi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, October 29th, 2021

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