Pakistan to ban religious party after deadly protests nationwide

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ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government on Wednesday said it had sent a proposal to the federal Cabinet to impose a ban on the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) religious party for killing two policemen, attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life through nationwide protests.

Demonstrations erupted in major Pakistani cities and quickly turned violent after Saad Rizvi, the head of the TLP, was arrested on Monday.

Addressing a press conference, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that protesters had killed two policemen and injured another 340 during violent attacks on law enforcement forces.

“We have decided to slap a ban on the TLP,” he said. “A file (for the purpose) is being dispatched to the federal Cabinet for formal approval.”

“The police personnel who were kidnapped (by the protesters) have also reached back to their respective police stations,” he said, adding that demonstrators had blocked ambulances and obstructed oxygen supply to the hospitals as a third wave of the coronavirus swept through the country.

The minister also ruled out negotiations with the protesters and said their demands would not be met.

On Sunday, a day before his arrest, TLP chief Rizvi had threatened the government with protests if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Rizvi had called on the government to honor what he said was a commitment made to his party in February to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication in France of depictions of the Prophet, which enraged Muslims around the world.

The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan said that it had only committed to debating the matter in parliament.

The interior minister congratulated law enforcement officials for clearing all blocked roads, including motorways, in eight to 10 hours.

“They (the protesters) were well prepared and wanted to reach Islamabad at any cost,” Ahmed said, adding that the government had tried its best to resolve the issue through negotiations, but failed to convince TLP leaders.

“We are banning them not for any political reason, but due to their character,” he said, adding that if the government met the TLP’s demands, it would send the world a signal that Pakistan was an “extremist state.”

Earlier in the day, the interior minister had said while chairing a meeting to review the violence: “The writ of the state must be ensured at any cost.”

Law minister and spokesperson for the Sindh government, Murtaza Waha, said that 254 people had been arrested and detained in the province since Monday.

He told Arab News: “254 have been arrested and detained whereas 15 FIRs (police reports) have been registered.”

Pakistani Taliban come out in support of TLP 

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban came out in support of the TLP protesters, congratulating them for putting up resistance against security forces.

“(We) pay them (the TLP) tribute for their courage and showing the military organizations their place,” the Taliban said in a statement. “We assure them that we will make them (the government) accountable for every drop of the martyrs’ blood,” they added, referring to TLP claims that its supporters had been killed in clashes with authorities.

The Pakistani Taliban, a different entity from the Afghan Taliban and fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government, are an umbrella of the militant group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has broken into many divisions.

Designated a terrorist group by the US, the TTP has been in disarray in recent years, especially after several of its top leaders were killed by US drone strikes on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, forcing its members into shelter in Afghanistan or flee to urban Pakistan.

“We want to remind them (the TLP) that this government and security institutions are always untrustworthy, breachers of promise and liars so they should not be trusted and military effort is the only solution to this problem,” the Taliban statement said.

In a press conference on Tuesday evening, science and technology minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said: “No group or party must even think of dictating to the government or the state . . . If a state allows this, then it will disintegrate and there will be chaos.”

In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, TLP told the government: “You will have to expel the French ambassador under all costs . . . The country will remain jammed until the French ambassador is expelled.”

In a separate statement, the TLP said that its protests would continue until Rizvi was released. 

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