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LAHORE: After the two rounds of talks between the government and the recently-proscribed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) leadership remained inconclusive over multiple points, the third round of the negotiations was under way by a “special” government team.

According to the information, the special government team including Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar and Punjab IG police Inam Ghani besides others was currently holding negotiations with TLP leadership accompanied by political and religious scholars of ‘Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’ school of thought till filing of this report late on Monday.

Sources claimed that the last two rounds of talks remained inconclusive mainly because the TLP leadership had demanded, among other things, resignation of Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid for “mishandling the situation and giving insensitive statements” against them.

The sources said the TLP had also put forth four demands: the expulsion of the French ambassador, the release of party chief Saad Rizvi, the removal of the ban on the party and the release of activists arrested as well as the FIRs against them to be revoked.

In the wee hours of Monday, the interior minister in a short video message on social media announced the release of 11 policemen, who were taken hostage by the TLP protesters, after the first round of “successful” talks.

“Talks have been started with the TLP. The first round went well and the second round will take place after Sehri. They have released 11 policemen who were made hostages and have gone into the Rehmatul Lil Alameen Mosque (Yateem Khana Chowk). The police have also stepped back,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, the city police also registered a first information report (FIR) against 23 TLP workers for “kidnapping the DSP, causing damage to government property, spreading fear and terror in the area through firing, and throwing petrol bombs and acid-filled bottles inside the police station”.

The complainant, Mohammad Waqas, stated in the FIR that he was present inside the Nawankot police station when workers of the banned TLP gathered outside in a large number and started chanting slogans.

“They set the gate on fire and pushed it so it fell inwards. They started pelting stones inside the premises of the station and throwing petrol bombs and acid-filled bottles. Around 250-300 workers armed with weapons and sticks entered the station and started damaging the motorcycles parked inside. They also vandalised the offices of the DSP and SHO.”

The report said that when the DSP tried to talk to the workers, they tortured him instead of listening to him. It further states that the agitators took the DSP and other employees hostage and moved them amid intense firing and the presence of 2,500-3,000 TLP workers.

The FIR was registered under the Anti-Terrorism Act as well as Sections 365 (kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine a person), 324 (attempt to murder), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 452 (trespassing after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint), 427 (mischief causing damage), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy), 290 (public nuisance), 291 (continuance of nuisance after injunction to discontinue), 379 (theft) and 109 (punishment of abetment if the Act abetted committed In consequence and where no express provision is made for its punishment) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

According to sources, a government delegation led by Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar late on Sunday met a delegation of the TLP near Babu Sabu and the government released two to three TLP leaders in an exchange for hostage policemen. The sources said the government delegation included Punjab governor, DG Rangers Punjab and IG police Inam Ghani.

To pacify the situation, a delegation of Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) headed by its chief Sahibzada Hamid Raza also called on TLP chief Saad Hussain Rizvi at Kot Lakhpat Jail and held negotiations with the latter for about seven hours.

Sources said that political and religious scholars of the delegation urged the TLP chief to issue a special video clip directing the party workers and supporters to end their protests across the country. They said that chaos caused by the protests had damaged their own country and requested him to maintain a sense of law and order.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, SIC head Hamid Raza urged the media to refrain from speculations and hearsay as they were doing a ‘positive work’ and “we expect positive output from the media”. He added that the delegation on behalf of Saad refutes electronic media’s reports that the TLP chief was “directed” to release a video message for his party workers.

Expressing satisfaction over the negotiations, Raza said the nation would “soon hear good news”. “We are not representing on behalf of the government rather Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat is a part of these negotiations, and we want a peaceful solution,” he added.

Other prominent among the participants of the delegation were Sahibzada Dr Abul Khair Zubair, Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, Abdul Khaliq Sharqpuri, Khuwaja Ghulam Qalb-ud-Din Fareedi, Peer Abdul Khaliq Naqshbandi and Peer Nizamuddin Sialwi.

On the other hand, traders in the provincial capital observed a shutter-down strike on the call of former chairman of Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman. However, medical stores, meat and vegetables shops, grocery shops and stores and food points for dine in and take away remained open.

Addressing a press conference at Shah Alam Chowk on Monday, All Pakistan Anjuman-e-Tajran (APAT) Secretary General Naeem Mir said that traders from across the country have observed a complete shutter-down strike against manhandling of (proscribed) TLP’s protestors by police and the Punjab government.

“Our first demand is that the government should present the agreement it had signed with the (banned) TLP leadership in the (coming) joint session of the parliament and devise a strategy or formulate a law with the help of Ulema, if needed, to give a befitting message to international community, especially France, that we would not tolerate any disrespect to the honour of our Holy Prophet (PBUH),” he said.

He said that their second demand is that a judicial commission should be constituted to investigate as to who was responsible for the killing of people in Lahore and across the country (during recent clashes). “If the government failed to fulfill our demands then we are ready for further shutter-down strikes and a long-march (towards Islamabad) on the call of ulemas as we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them,” he concluded.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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