ISLAMABAD: The proscribed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has started its march towards Islamabad, while the government has decided to summon the Punjab Rangers to maintain the law and order situation in Punjab.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid on Wednesday announced that the government has decided to summon the Punjab Rangers to maintain the law and order amid the ongoing protests staged by the TLP.
Speaking during a press conference in Islamabad, the minister said that the government wants to establish peace as there is a lot of international pressure on Pakistan.
“We have decided to summon the Rangers for a period of 60 days,” Sheikh Rashid said.
“Like Karachi, Rangers have been called in Punjab under Section 4(2) of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, read with Article 147 of the Constitution of Pakistan,” he said.
The minister said that since the ambassador of France is not present in Pakistan, the proscribed organisation seems to have “another agenda” — as one of their demands from the government was the expulsion of the said envoy.
“Yesterday, I had warned that foreign powers want to impose sanctions on Pakistan,” Sheikh Rashid said. “The TLP has turned into a militant organisation as its members had opened fire on policemen using Kalashnikovs,” he added.
“I am still warning the protesters to return home,” Sheikh Rashid said, adding that the government cannot keep schools and hospitals closed due to protests.
“The TLP is banned in Pakistan and now it is feared that it may be banned internationally too,” Sheikh Rashid warned, adding that Pakistan won’t be able to intervene if such a thing happens.
The minister said that the government tried holding talks with the proscribed organisation and kept its word, but “the TLP broke its promises.”
“It is not possible for the government to shut down the French embassy,” the minister said, adding that the government had already reached an agreement with the proscribed organisation and it will stand by the signed deal.
“The government has to establish its writ and is not happy with the loss of innocent lives,” Sheikh Rashid said referring to the martyrdom of four policemen.
Inspector General Punjab Rao Sardar Ali Khan while holding a press conference Wednesday said that the police would do everything to establish peace in the province.
“Two of our policemen have embraced martyrdom, while 263 have sustained injuries after members of the prescribed organisation opened fire on the forces during their protest,” the IG Punjab said.
“We won’t let this gang get away with its actions,” the IG added.
Media reports said the situation is tense and more casualties are feared.
A spokesman for the Punjab police said a clash broke out at a rally of the banned TLP on a highway in Sheikhupura district.
“TLP activists used SMG, AK 47 and pistols to target police officials as the result of which several officials were martyred,” the spokesman said, according to a British wire service.
He said there were no details of the number killed but there were around 25 wounded.
The banned group claimed several of their activists had also been killed or wounded.
Thousands of TLP activists have blocked Pakistan’s busiest highway since Friday, demanding the release of their leader and the expulsion of France’s ambassador. After negotiations with the government failed, the demonstrators began marching towards the capital Islamabad on Wednesday.
Life remained suspended in districts along the Grand Trunk Road where the marchers were heading towards the capital, where the city administration has already placed shipping containers to block entry and exit routes to block the Islamists.
Police said they had tried to block the march, which triggered the clashes.
Earlier, briefing the media on the cabinet’s decision, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said “TLP is not a religious organisation, it is a militant wing”.
The minister said the cabinet had decided to deal with TLP like a militant organisation, as he slammed the proscribed political party for blocking roads and central arteries for their protests.
“They have already put up a show six times. The proscribed TLP cannot blackmail the state; it has no status. In the past, we have defeated terrorist organisations,” he said.
The information minister, noting that six police officials were martyred during the protest, asked that till when would the state act as a silent spectator.
“We do not want bloodshed,” he said, and slammed the TLP for blocking roads “without reason”.
He asked the proscribed organisation to not underestimate the state’s writ, as the government had waited long enough.
Fawad Chaudhry said several people joined the protesters with AK-47s in their hands.
In the light of TLP’s protests, Prime Minister Imran Khan had said that the government would not allow anyone to take the law into their hands as he issued directives to stop the long march planned by proscribed organisations.
Geo News reported quoting sources that the decision was taken during the meeting of the federal cabinet. Imran Khan had said that the government “will not allow violence for political purposes.”
During the meeting, the premier was briefed on the proscribed outfit’s protest march, sources said, adding that the government has decided not to allow protesters to march beyond Jhelum.
Sources further added that the government has been adamant not to allow the long march “under any circumstances,” and that “no talks will be held with the proscribed organisation.”
“The government and the state are on one page regarding the protests,” the premier said during the meeting, per sources, adding that the protesters will be “dealt with severely if they try to enter Islamabad.”
On the other hand, the central committee of the banned outfit said no one contacted it for talks.
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