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‘We Are Ready to Fulfill Our Agreement with the TLP’

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo of Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed urges banned group to call off protests, warning government must enforce writ of the state

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government is ready to implement its previous agreement with the banned Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Thursday, stressing that the only red-line was the expulsion of the French ambassador.

“We are ready to go through with our agreement with the TLP,” he said during an appearance on private broadcaster Geo News. “I don’t want the situation to worsen, as if that happens, the people on the roads would be harmed,” he added.

The minister emphasized that the government had already accepted most of the TLP’s demands, including releasing hundreds of detained workers and moving a resolution in the National Assembly on the finality of Prophethood. However, he regretted, the TLP had failed to end its protest.

“The French ambassador is not even in the country,” he said. “What are you marching on Islamabad for?” he said in a question directed to TLP workers who have been staging at-times violent sit-ins for a week now. “Our agreement with you still stands, but if you keep moving [toward Islamabad], the government will have to establish its writ,” he warned.

“The government is being mocked across the world,” he said, claiming there was a perception the PTI could not establish its writ. “Matters should not reach a point of no-return,” he said, adding that if the situation spiraled out of control, “things will be out of my control.”

To a question by anchor Shahzeb Khanzada, the interior minister clarified that the government would exercise all available options to prevent the TLP from reaching Islamabad. “This is our capital … the slightest disturbance makes headlines globally,” he said. Noting that the government did not want to resort to violence, Prime Minister Imran Khan would not allow the country to be held “hostage” to the protesters’ demands.

During the interview, Rashid directed several questions to the TLP leadership, claiming that their losses were losses to the entire nation. He said Pakistan was the global “center of Islam,” and damaging it did not serve the religion. “P.M. Imran is the first person to form the Rehmatullil Alameen Authority and take the country toward a welfare state like Madina,” he claimed.

To a question, the minister said he had met the TLP’s leadership, including imprisoned chief Saad Hussain Rizvi, multiple times over the past week and would talk to them again on Friday (today) and Saturday. “However, the talks would only be held after [the TLP] ends its protest,” he added.

Clarifying that the paramilitary Rangers had been deployed in Punjab to expedite the resolution of the crisis, he stressed that the TLP had promised to unblock roads and should fulfill this vow. “But if you keep moving forward, you will have to be stopped at some point,” he warned, noting that the prime minister had showed great flexibility but there were limits. “This time, P.M. Imran has decided that enough is enough,” he said, recalling that the TLP had now staged six demonstrations that had resulted in road closures and distress to the common man.

“I request them [TLP] to return … But if they don’t, whatever Allah wills will happen,” he said.

To a question on police casualties in the past week—the government has confirmed that 4 policemen have been martyred in clashes with the TLP, while the group claims it too has suffered losses—the interior minister said there had been a reaction from within the force. “There are conspiracies underway to destabilize Pakistan and impose sanctions on us,” he claimed, adding that violent agitation would embolden “enemies.”

To another question, Rashid clarified that any agreement inked by him with the TLP had been approved by the prime minister. He reiterated that the government stood by its commitments. “It seems to me that the issue is being presented under the guise of something else.” He claimed without offering any further clarification.

The minister emphasized that while the TLP had been declared a proscribed group, it had yet to be banned. “They can continue to play their political role, but in case the situation escalates, P.M. Imran will have to take a decision,” he said, adding that if the TLP did not call of its long march on Friday, the government would try to stop it “midway.”

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