In press conference after meeting of National Security Committee, interior minister says talks with TLP leadership will continue in evening
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Friday reiterated that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government hoped to end the proscribed Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP)’s long march on Islamabad through negotiations, but warned that the state’s writ will be ensured at all costs.
Addressing media after a meeting of the National Security Committee summoned by Prime Minister Imran Khan to review the law and order situation in the country, he said the government had a responsibility to ensure people’s lives and property were protected. The TLP should end its protest until the talks are concluded, he said, adding that the Punjab police had been placed under control of the paramilitary Rangers. The provincial government could deploy the force as per its requirements, he said.
To a question, he said negotiations between the government and the TLP leadership would continue in the evening. “[Religious Affairs Minister] Noorul Haq Qadri and I will hold talks with the proscribed TLP,” he said, adding that detained TLP chief Saad Hussain Rizvi would also participate in the talks. He also announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan would address the nation “either tomorrow or the day after” on the matter of the TLP protest and the government’s narrative on it.
There has been visible confusion from within the government on how to tackle the TLP, with some ministers advocating a brutal crackdown and others advising a resolution through dialogue. Earlier this week, Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain ruled out the possibility of talks—describing the TLP as a “militant” group—until the proscribed group had cleared all roads and delivered into government custody the people responsible for the deaths of several policemen. The TLP, meanwhile, maintains that it is the government that is blocking roads with shipping containers, and it merely wants to exercise its right for a peaceful protest.
On Friday, the TLP resumed its march from Gujranwala, with thousands of supporters continuing their journey to the federal capital. Security forces have stressed that they would not allow the protesters to cross Jhelum, with hundreds of Rangers and police personnel deployed at the Chenab toll plaza to counter the marchers. The area has also been cordoned off with hundreds of shipping containers, and deep trenches have been dug into the road to discourage the protesters’ travel.
The Punjab Rangers have, meanwhile, put up a notice on the road leading up to the Chenab crossing, warning protesters not to breach the “red-line” or face consequences. “Attention: Beyond this line, the responsibility for law and order lies with Pakistan Rangers, who have been given the authority to open fire at the miscreants. All the people are strictly warned to return to their homes,” it says.