Pakistan’s mercurial Prime Minister Imran Khan, continues to pursue a zig-zag policy with the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the radical group which threatens to pour its sea of cadres into Islamabad if its in-custody leader is not released.
After placating the group through his interior minister, and then hardening his position, Khan has once again chosen to soft-pedal his government’s approach towards the TLP. In fact, he has taken up the cudgels in favour of the group, which had been accused of being an Indian agent.
As the TLP began to face the heat, Khan changed the complexion of the negotiating team under the pressure of the militant radical group. On Saturday, Khan had a meeting with all senior-most religious and influential leaders of the country. There were few TLP leaders who were also present in the meeting. Khan’s office shared the video clip of the meeting on Twitter.
— Prime Minister's Office, Pakistan (@PakPMO) October 30, 2021
“Why did they brand us as Indian agents? The whole nation wants to know who is getting money from the enemies,” one TLP leader told the Pakistani daily Dawn. “We have asked the government to change the negotiating team which does not insult us after the meeting.”
“We are Pakistani and India is our enemy,” said the TLP leader adding that the group is a political party, not a militant organisation as the Imran Khan government is calling them.
Imran Khan asked his Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Adviser Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi to stop making any statements against the banned outfit.
To further appease the radical Islamist group, which is on the streets, marching towards Islamabad, Khan called a meeting with the religious leaders and Ulemas on Saturday and formed a new negotiating team primarily consisting of senior clerics from the Barelvi school of thought. The TLP is based on the Sunni Barelvi philosophy and its leaders are close to senior leaders who are part of the new negotiating team led by Mufti Muneebur Rehman.
Pakistani media reported that after the meeting the Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Barelvi leader mufti met the TLP chief Shad Rizvi who is under the custody of the Pakistani government for more than 5 months.
Quoting the official sources, Pakistani media reports that the TLP chief Saad Rizvi and three senior members of the TLP ‘Shura’- Maulana Shafiq Amini, Engineer Hafezullah and Pir Inayat Ul Haq – are in Islamabad for direct negotiations with the Imran Khan’s new team led by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and senior clerics.
One of the clerics who met the prime minister told Dawn that PM Khan had given only one mandate to the negotiators– Saad Rizvi would be released and communication would continue, but the religious outfit should promise not to bring people out and disrupt routine life.
About the demand for the expulsion of the French ambassador, Imran Khan told the negotiating team and TLP leaders that the expulsion of the envoy would shut the European markets on Pakistan, which could lead to the closure of export industries and increase inflation and unemployment. The country could not afford such a situation.
Khan told the clerics that he wanted a peaceful solution to the issue, stressing that his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government had raised the issue of Islamophobia, internationally and established the Rahmatul-lil-Alamin Authority to familiarise the world with the personality of the Prophet (PBUH).
The Pakistani premier told the Ulema that they must convince the TLP leaders. Neither should the TLP) resort to violence nor should they force the state to use force, and assured the religious leaders that his government will have no hesitation in accepting TLP’s legitimate demands.
As the dialogue between the government and the TLP leaders continued, the TLP supporters stayed at Wazirabad on the directions of their top leadership. The TLP leadership had told them to wait near Wazirabad till the outcome of their talks with a government team.