• Cabinet members soften tone
• Qadri says matter to be resolved amicably
ISLAMABAD: The government on Saturday resumed talks with the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), though this time the negotiating team primarily consisted of senior clerics from the Barelvi school of thought.
Almost all senior-most and influential leaders were brought to Rawalpindi and Islamabad. A picture of Mufti Muneebur Rehman and Karachi-based industrialist Aqeel Karim Dhedi meeting Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa kept circulating on social media.
According to sources in the TLP, Mufti Muneeb also met the outfit’s incarcerated leader Saad Rizvi in Islamabad.
Despite taking all measures against the banned outfit’s protest march, the government decided to resume talks and brought senior leaders of the organisation, already in the custody, to the federal capital in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Following these renewed efforts, the cabinet members also softened their tone, with Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Religious Harmony and Middle East Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi restrained from issuing statements against the banned outfit.
Official sources said Saad Rizvi and three senior members of the TLP ‘Shura’ — Maulana Shafiq Amini, Engineer Hafezullah and Pir Inayatul Haq — were brought to Islamabad from Lahore for direct negotiations.
Talking to Dawn, a senior TLP leader said negotiations were the only way forward and everybody wanted a way out of the current situation, however, the behaviour of some cabinet members was irresponsible.
“Why did they brand us Indian agent; the whole nation wants to know who is getting money from the enemies,” the TLP official, speaking from hiding, said, adding that, “we have asked the government to change the negotiating team which does not insult us after the meeting”.
Meanwhile, the TLP acknowledged the meeting in a press statement, saying that a meeting with the government team was held in Rawalpindi. In its second release issued late in the night, the TLP agreed to abide by all assurances it had given the government, including stopping the march in Wazirabad.
Meanwhile, the new negotiating team, led by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and comprising National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and MNA Ali Mohammad Khan, met the TLP leaders.
In another development, a team of 19 senior clerics met Prime Minister Imran Khan at his Banigala residence.
The delegation was led by Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri. However, the senior clerics, all of whom were Barelvis, objected to the presence of Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi in the meeting, after which he left. The information minister, who was on his way to Banigala, was also told not to come as the delegation had objected to his presence as well. The minister’s announced press talk was also cancelled.
Both Tahir Ashrafi and Fawad Chaudhry were not visible in the official footage released by the PM secretariat after the meeting.
When contacted, Fawad Chaudhry said he was not even invited to the meeting. He said the announcement made by the PID regarding his news conference was mistakenly released as the presser was in fact scheduled by Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, but was later done by the religious affairs minister.
On the other hand, Tahir Ashrafi responded to media queries through a tweet, claiming that he and Fawad Chaudhry were not there because they had to go to some other meeting.
The interior minister, meanwhile, participated in the meeting, but did not talk about it and referred the matter to the religious affairs minister.
One of the clerics who met the prime minister told Dawn that Mr Khan had given only one message and one mandate to the negotiators, and that was Saad Rizvi would be released and communication would continue, but the religious outfit should promise not to bring people out and disrupt routine life.
After the meeting, the religious affairs minister spoke to media persons at Banigala along with the clerics and expressed the confidence that the matter would be resolved amicably.
The team of clerics led by Pir Noorul Haq Qadri proceeded to meet TLP leaders, including Saad Rizvi, after evening prayers which continued late in the night.
Those who participated in the meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan were Sunni Tehreek president Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, Sunni Ittehad Council president Sahibzada Hamid Raza, Jamaatul Saaleheen chairman and Pir of Sultan Bahu Pir Khalid Sultan Bahu, Pir of Bharchundi Sharif Pir Abdul Khaliq, Milli Yakjehti Council chairman Dr Abul Khair Mohammad Zubair, Sahibzada Hamid Saeed Kazmi, Pir of Manki Sharif Pir Mohammad Amin, Pir of Kot Mithan Pir Khawaja Ghulam Qutub Fareed, Pir of Sial Sharif Nizam Siyalvi, Sahibzada Hafiz Hamid Raza, Mufti Wazeer Qadir, Pir of Sharaqpur Mian Jalil Ahmed Sharaqpuri, Pir of Bengali Sharif Makhdoom Abbas Bengali, Pir of Basahan Sharif Syed Ali Raza Bukhari, Wafaqul Madaris Al Islamia president Sahibzada Hussain Raza, Pir of Sundar Sharif Habib Irfani, Pir of Sodhra Syed Zia Noor Shah, Pir of Sial Sharif Qasim Siyalvi and Pir of Sultan Baho Jhang Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Ali.
Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2021