ISLAMABAD: The government delegation, led by Minister for Religious Harmony Noorul Haq Qadri, held talks with the leaders of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), and has agreed to quash all the first information reports (FIRs) registered against the protesters and their leaders and to release all detainees.
Moreover, the government has agreed to the demand that no further cases would be registered against the TLP leaders, and their workers would also not be arrested.
Further talks are being held to find a middle ground as the government is not ready to give into the TLP’s demands of either downgrading its ties with France or summoning back its ambassador from Paris.
After a day of fierce fighting between the activists of TLP in Rawalpindi, the federal government had finally decided to negotiate with the religious party, which is camped out at Faizabad Interchange in Islamabad for a second day on Monday to denounce the publication of blasphemous caricatures in Charlie Hebdo and French President Emmanuel Macron’s subsequent defence of the satirical weekly in the name of freedom of expression.
Pakistan Today learnt on Monday that Prime Minister Imran Khan had green-lighted to engage the TLP leaders. However, failure to negotiate would have given the police and the administration the authority to carry out an operation against the protesters.
Reportedly, it had been decided that protesters would not be allowed to enter Islamabad and the Red Zone; rather they would be offered an alternative to their demand of allowing them to protest outside the French Embassy in the Red Zone, which is normally a no-go area for protesters.
Police and administration officials have also consulted with the Rawalpindi administration, which had also been given the authority to conduct a full operation if the talks failed. The administration had also shut down internet and mobile phone services for more than 24 hours to prevent the organisers from coordinating with each other, but were restored around lunchtime on Monday.
Similarly, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Shibli Faraz said that PM Imran has already raised the issue of blasphemous caricatures at the world forums.
“No democratic government can forcibly send back such a strong protest. We are holding talks with protesters at Faizabad. The Interior Ministry will issue a statement in which the solution of public problems will be presented,” he added. It is to be noted that a religious party staged a sit-in in Faizabad late Sunday, demanding immediate deportation of the French ambassador for blasphemous sketches and Islamophobia.
On Sunday, thousands of protesters had taken to streets in Rawalpindi and marched towards Islamabad the following day on the call of TLP chief and firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, causing massive disruption to the daily lives in twin cities and frequently clashing with security agencies.
The participants of the rally had demanded the government declare the French ambassador “persona non grata” and evict him from Islamabad. They had vowed to not end the protest until Pakistan cuts all diplomatic, trade, and economic ties with France.
Rawalpindi’s 24 entry points had been sealed with containers and as many as 16 entry points into Islamabad had also been blocked.
To maintain law and order situation, Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat had said, the capital administration on Monday suspended a section of Islamabad Expressway from Zero Point till Khanna Bridge. Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro service is also suspended.
Islamabad Expressway from Zero Point till Khanna Bridge will stay sealed. Everyone is requested to plz use alternate routes. Apologies for inconvenience. We are trying our best to clear the route.
— Deputy Commissioner Islamabad (@dcislamabad) November 16, 2020
Pakistan has seen protests over the past few weeks in response to President Macron’s recent remarks on Islam.