NSC meets today as TLP moves on GT Road

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE/GUJRANWALA   –   Prime Minister Imran Khan Thursday convened the meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) on Friday (today) to discuss the situation emerged as a result of illegal acts of a proscribed organisation.

The move comes as thousands of workers of the banned religious outfit, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), continue marching towards the federal capital, demanding immediate closure of the French Embassy. 

In a tweet on Thursday, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said the NSC will also discuss other matters relating to the national security during the meeting. “The NSC meeting has been called to discuss the situation that arose due to illegal activities of a banned outfit”, Information Minister Ch Fawad tweeted.

According to sources, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed would inform the committee about his negotiations with top TLP leadership and the results so far. However, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi would brief the committee about diplomatic aspects and consequences of the TLP demands against France.

Prime Minister Imran Khan would also take NSC into confidence about his recent visit to KSA and talks with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. The Foreign Minister would brief about the latest developments on Afghanistan and his participation in the Tehran conference on Afghanistan.

Who are attending NSC meeting?

The meeting would be chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, and would be attended by Minister for Defence Pervez Khattak, Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Adviser on Finance Shaukat Tarin, Minister for Information Ch Fawad Hussain, Minister for Interior Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yousaf, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Nadeem Raza, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed  Bajwa, Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral M Amjad Khan Niazi, Chief of Air staff Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Babar Sidhu and DG ISI Lt General Faiz Hamid and other top officials.

The meeting would be briefed about the invitation to NSA Dr Moeed Yousaf to attend a conference on 10th and 11th November 2021 in New Delhi. The committee would take the final decision on the Indian invitation. Regional security situation and threatening statements from Indian civil military leaders against Pakistan would also be reviewed during the meeting. Credible sources told The Nation that the demand by the US administration to use Pakistan air space for counter-terrorism air strikes inside Afghanistan would also be discussed.

TLP protesters enter Gujranwala

On Thursday afternoon, thousands of TLP protesters left Kamoke and entered Gujranwala city despite police crackdown and roadblocks. The routine life in the areas surrounding the route of the rally continued to remain disrupted.

More than 4,000 TLP workers travelled on Grand Truck Road in large trucks and buses along with their supplies, as stick-wielding activists of the group guarded the procession from all sides. The rally was expected to bypass Gujranwala city and continue its journey towards Islamabad after crossing the Qila Chand bypass. However, the procession continued on a straight path and reached Sheranwala Bagh in Gujranwala’s Old Town.

Soon after reaching the inner city, the TLP protesters set up camp on GT Road, blocking the thoroughfare from Sheranwala to Lorry Adda. Markets in the vicinity were also closed down to avoid any untoward situation. The protesters said they would spend the night in Gujranwala before leaving for Islamabad via Wazirabad and Gujrat in the morning.

The TLP demonstrators have blocked the GT Road in Gujranwala district from both sides since Wednesday, causing hardships to the area residents in their commutes. From Kamoke tehsil to Jhelum, cellular services have been suspended for 24 hours. Educational institutions along GT Road have also been closed because of the uncertain situation.

No breakthrough in govt-TLP talks

Another round of lengthy talks between the federal government and the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) remained inconclusive on Thursday after the former had decided to deal the religious party with an iron hand a day before.

The talks held at the Ministry of Interior were led by Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed from government side and TLP chief Saad Hussain Rizvi from the other side. The official sources aware of the development informed that imprisoned chief of the banned organization Rizvi was especially brought from Lahore through a special flight to lead the talks.

“Party chief Saad Rizvi is in Islamabad and is leading the negotiations with the government,” Saddam Bokhari, a spokesperson of TLP, told The Nation. Though no official word came from the interior ministry about the fate of talks till the filing of this story, the official sources told that TLP is adamant of its demand of closure of French embassy in Islamabad as well as expulsion of French ambassador. The banned organisation has pressed the government to fulfil its earlier commitment made with it and take the issue to the parliament.

Earlier this week, the government had withdrawn from its earlier commitment made with the TLP that the issue of expulsion of Ambassador will be taken to the parliament for a final decision. The interior minister said that this would open a Pandora’s box.

TLP had already announced its three member negotiation committee including Mufti Umair Al-Azhari and Allama Ghulam Abbas Faizi who are also part of the delegation negotiating with the government.

Another spokesperson of TLP in a statement said that the organisation stands by its demands that will be presented before the government during the talks. “Our only demand from day one is the removal of the French Ambassador,” he added.

Since October 19, TLP has been protesting seeking release of its chief Rizvi and expulsion of French ambassador. Later, the party activists started a protest long march to Islamabad to force the government to accept its demands that led to the eruption of violence.

‘Murdering Muslim representatives of the state’

Meanwhile, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said that there would be no talks between the government and the banned group till they clear the roads and hand over those responsible for the deaths of police officials. He called on “patriotic Pakistanis” to disassociate themselves from the protest, to return to their homes and not become a part of “terrorism” against the state.

Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said that “ murdering Muslim representatives of the state, destroying public property in your own country and creating chaos all in the name of religion is no service to religion”. “It is simply doing what the enemies of Pakistan would want to see,” he said.

‘Trenches near the Chenab bridge’

Meanwhile, Rangers and police personnel took positions near the Chenab river and Wazirabad border. Security officials plan to stop the TLP activists near the Wazirabad-Chenab river area instead of Gujranwala city, police sources earlier said.

In Wazirabad, local authorities have dug up trenches near the Chenab bridge which were further deepened to block the TLP march. At a high-level meeting held to review the security situation,

He said nobody could be allowed to disturb people’s daily lives, stressing that “the protection of people’s lives and properties is the state’s foremost responsibility.”

In view of the situation caused by the TLP rally, the Pakistan Railways announced that three trains between Lahore and Rawalpindi — Subak Kharam, Islamabad Express and Rawal Express — would remain suspended today for both inbound and outbound services. The Peshawar-Quetta Jaffar Express will also be suspended for the Peshawar-Lahore leg today, while the Green Line will remain suspended between Lahore and Rawalpindi. All other trains will function according to their schedule and route, a PR spokesperson said.

‘No room for any militant group in Pakistan’

The Advisor on National Security, Moeed Yusuf says banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan has crossed the red line and exhausted state’s patience and it should be mindful of the fact that there would be “No armed militias of any sort in our country.” In a tweet today [Thursday], Moeed Yusuf said clarified that for all individuals and groups who think they could challenge the writ of the Pakistani state, “do not test the proposition.”

Punjab law minister directs to identify those behind gun attack on police

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar directed officials to “take every step possible” to establish peace in the province, according to a statement.

Against the backdrop of a weeklong violent agitation by a banned religious outfit, Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar Thursday chaired a meeting to review law and order in the province and the steps taken for the protection of life and property of the people.

The chief minister directed the authorities concerned to take every step to maintain law and order in the province. “I apologise to the people for the difficulties faced by them due to the closure of roads,” said the CM and asserted that permission could not be granted to disrupt the routine life. “The state will fulfill the responsibility of protecting the life and property of the people,” the CM affirmed.

Law Minister Basharat Raja, CM’s Special Assistant Hasaan Khawar, Punjab chief secretary, IG police, ACS (Home), additional IG (Special Branch) and Principal Secretary to CM attended the meeting.

Also, Punjab Law Minister Basharat Raja Thursday directed the law enforcement agencies to take immediate steps to identify the perpetrators who fired shots on police during the recent protest of the banned outfit. He also stressed that legal action should be taken against them without any delay. Expressing sympathy to the families of the martyred police personnel, he warned: “Anyone who breaks law in Punjab will be brought to book.”

He asked members of the banned organisation to behave like responsible citizens, advising them not to play with the lives and properties of their innocent brothers. Expressing regret, the law minister said that millions of people of Punjab were being affected by the protest of the banned organisation while ordinary citizens including patients, travellers and students had been suffering for several days. “Instead of creating unrest, take a peaceful approach because Muslims across Pakistan, including government representatives, fully believe in the greatness and sanctity of the Holy Prophet (SAWW) in every way,” he advised members of the banned religious outfit. The minister noted that Pakistan had suffered in all such incidents and the country was being ridiculed all over the world.

Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Chief Minister (SACM) and spokesperson for the Punjab government Hasaan Khawar said: “Protection of the honour of the Holy Prophet (SAWW) is part of our faith and monopoly of any group or party is not acceptable. The sacred most and beloved most Prophet Muhammad (SAWW) binds the Muslim Ummah,” he said while talking to the media persons here.

The SACM said national unity could not be allowed to be undermined and it was the responsibility of the government and the state to protect the lives and property and to establish the government’s writ. “For this purpose,” he said, “the chief minister presided over a high-level meeting to review law and order in the province.”

Hasaan said that people were facing difficulties due to road closures and suspension of mobile phone services, adding that the government was taking every possible step to normalise the situation. He further stated: “The state is like a mother and our doors are open for dialogue. The government policy of peace should not be considered its weakness and no efforts will be spared for protection of the people,” he maintained.

Responding to a question about talks with the banned outfit, the SACM said that talks were always held between two parties and both the parties moved forward on the basis of give and take. “Problems should be resolved through negotiations, but no headway has been made due to stubbornness and inflexibility manifested by the banned outfit,” he averred. He said no deadline could be given for resolving the issue.

He also said that negotiations with the banned outfit were a sensitive issue and talks had not reached a stage where the people should be informed about any progress in that regard. “The government reflects the aspirations of the people, and whenever any significant progress is made, it will be brought before the public,” he added. The SACM said that the banned outfit’s armed persons killed four police officials while on duty, and thus, a conducive environment could not be established for negotiations. He said that the government was making all-out efforts to resolve issues with mutual understanding. “The Punjab chief minister is personally monitoring implementation of the government’s strategy,” he said, adding that position of the government was very clear and there was no confusion at all. “It is the responsibility of the state to protect lives and property of the citizens and to maintain law and order which cannot be compromised,” he stated.

He said that release of the leader of the banned outfit was not an administrative issue and that progress was required under the law. Hasaan Khawar said the federal and Punjab governments were working together on the issue and options were being considered to keep the banned outfit away from NA-133 by-elections.

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