The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) announced on Monday that it was ending its sit-in in the Wazirabad town of Punjab's Gujranwala district after more than a week, following an agreement with the government for the fulfilment of its demands.
Protesting TLP workers had reached Wazirabad on October 29 on their way to Islamabad, primarily demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador over blasphemous sketches of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and 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.
Initially, they had kept the GT Road blocked for three days before shifting to an adjacent park after the TLP struck a deal with the government.
"The protesters will now move to Rehmatul Lil Alameen Mosque after the fulfilment of half of the demands [the government had committed to] in the agreement," as had been guaranteed by the TLP leadership and Mufti Muneebur Rehman — who facilitated the negotiations between the two sides, a TLP spokesperson said on Monday.
The TLP had been de-proscribed, its members had been removed from the Fourth Schedule —a list on which suspects of terrorism and sectarianism are placed under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 — and a procedure for the formation of a committee for the French envoy's expulsion had been started, he added, listing some of the group's demands.
"The government should now fulfil the rest of the agreement within the [promised] time," the spokesperson said.
He said preparations would now start for a urs to commemorate the death anniversary of TLP founder Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who passed away in November last year. The urs would be held at Rehmatul Lil Alameen Mosque from November 19 to November 21, he added.
"Saad Hussain Rizvi would be with us at the urs," he said, adding that the group's chief had conveyed to the authorities that they may keep him in detention all his life but must resolve the issue pertaining to the French envoy's expulsion.
Later, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan — who is heading a steering committee to oversee the implementation of the deal between the government and the TLP — dubbed the development "Pakistan's win".
"The TLP dharna has peacefully dispersed from Wazirabad without any further unrest or losses. Negotiations and dialogue are key to the solution of many problems," he tweeted.
The TLP had launched the latest round of protests in Lahore on Oct 20, 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".
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.
After three days of clashes with the police in Lahore, the TLP started a long march to Islamabad on Oct 22. At least five police officials were martyred and scores of others from both sides received injuries in clashes in Lahore and Gujranwala as the marchers moved on the Grand Trunk Road.
The TLP leadership on Oct 30 asked the protesters to wait at Wazirabad for further instructions when the government and the group started negotiations.
On Oct 31, members of the negotiating team from the government side claimed that they had reached an agreement with the proscribed group but refused to divulge its details.
Sources had told Dawn the TLP was assured that the government would not pursue minor cases against the TLP leadership and workers, but the cases registered under the Anti-Terrorism Act would be decided by courts. It also assured the TLP leadership that it would unfreeze the accounts and assets of the proscribed outfit and take steps to lift the ban.
Later, the Punjab government had sought the federal cabinet's approval for deprescribing the TLP, while an anti-terrorism court in Lahore had granted bail to several leaders of the TLP in multiple cases registered against them.