Proscribed group says negotiations with government are ongoing, as authorities reach out to ulema to help end impasse
The Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) on Saturday announced an intent to continue its sit-in at Wazirabad for a second day, pending further instructions from their leadership.
Thousands of the proscribed group’s workers have been camped out in Wazirabad—roughly 190km from federal capital Islamabad—since Friday night. Authorities have erected barricades with shipping containers along roadways heading toward Islamabad, while all forms of internet services have been suspended and the local economy has been brought to a virtual standstill.
Addressing the thousands gathered in the Punjab city, TLP leader Sarwar Saifi said that the proscribed group’s had been negotiating with the government in Islamabad for the past three days. Urging the crowd to not listen to “any spoilers,” he said that any decisions taken by the TLP’s leadership would be shared directly with the protesters. Separately, a statement issued by the TLP’s Central Council accused the government of “wanting” to worsen the situation and warned against any armed response.
A day earlier, the government deployed hundreds of Rangers and police personnel—armed with riot gear—to the Chenab Toll Plaza, which the protesters must cross if they wish to continue their journey to Islamabad. Sources within the government have suggested that authorities feel they have two viable chances of pushing back the protesters—at the Chenab river crossing and again at the Jhelum river crossing.
Supporting this, the Punjab Rangers on Friday marked a “red line” near the Chenab Toll Plaza, with a notice in Urdu warning the protesters to not cross it, as the paramilitary force was authorized to open fire on them.
Negotiation and crackdown
On Friday, following a meeting of the National Security Committee, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told press that he would continue negotiating with the TLP, including chief Saad Hussain Rizvi, “tonight (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday)” to bring an end to the ongoing long march.
Stressing that the government wanted to resolve the situation “peacefully,” he stressed that Prime Minister Imran Khan could only show so much “flexibility,” as the TLP had disrupted life in several cities of Punjab province for the past two weeks. Lamenting that the TLP had already staged sit-ins in Islamabad six times, he said their agitation sent a “negative” message to the global community and risked maligning Pakistan.
Thus far, five policemen have been martyred in the clashes with TLP workers and hundreds more injured. The TLP, likewise, claims that dozens of its activists have been shot dead by police and hundreds more injured; this could not be independently verified.
Even though the TLP is still several hundred kilometers from the federal capital, the government has already increased security, with the leaves of all police cancelled. Roadways into and out of Islamabad, as well as neighboring Rawalpindi, have been barricaded with shipping containers, making regular movement an impossible task.
On Friday, the government reached out to senior ulema from across the country to help negotiate an end to the impasse between the government and the TLP. President Arif Alvi, according to a statement, met a delegation of ulema at President’s House in Islamabad and urged them to play their due role in resolving the current situation through negotiations.
He reiterated the government’s stance of the TLP using religion for political gain, stressing that the incumbent government had not only raised its voice against Islamophobia, but was also setting up the Rehmatullil Alameen Authority to promote the teachings of Islam’s Prophet.