Pakistan Reader# 245, 3 November 2021
D. Suba Chandran
During the last two weeks, this column had two analyses. It looked at PTI’s strategies towards Tehreek-e-Labbaik-Pakistan (TLP). The PTI government, after proscribing the party in April 2021, allowed it to protest in mid-October. After launching street protests, the TLP issued an ultimatum to the government on its primary demand – removal of the French Ambassador from Pakistan, and closure of the French embassy.
The PTI flip-flop on the TLP
On 25 October, according to news reports, the government surrendered to the TLP demands. The interior minister of Pakistan, on 26 October, made a public statement on a deal with the TLP, and accepted all its demands, except the closure of the French embassy and the removal of its Ambassador. The government also announced releasing the members of the TLP.
Refusing to accept the above, the TLP took to the streets again, leading to chaos. In the violence that followed, police personnel were killed. Within a day after announcing that the government is ready to accept all but one demand of the TLP, it changed its strategy. On 27 October, one day after accepting the TLP’s demands, announced deploying the Rangers to meet the TLP challenge. Another minister, Fawad Chaudhry, announced that the TLP would not be allowed to challenge the writ of the state, and said that the TLP would be dealt with as a militant group. According to Dawn, he said: “We will not tolerate those who challenge the writ of the state...No one should make the mistake of thinking that the state is weak. Those who made this mistake later realised they were wrong.”
The TLP leaders and followers were arrested again. The interior minister even said that the TLP would be banned globally. Dawn quoted him saying: “It (TLP) could be included in the list of international terrorists and then we would not be able to do anything in their case.” Dawn also quoted him saying: “This is the sixth time the TLP has done this…They [TLP] have become militants. In Sadhoke, they fired at police with Kalashnikovs [but] the cops only had lathis.”
He also referred to a cabinet meeting decision on that day, and said: “A clear policy decision has been taken. The banned TLP will be treated as a militant party. We will not treat them as a political party [...] the rest of the country's institutions should also play their role.”
Violence continued, as the TLP defied the threats from the government.
Another deal, with a secret clause
After those brave statements by ministers on no one being allowed to challenge the writ of the state, deployment of the Rangers to deal with the TLP, and the group being treated as a militant one, there was an expectation that the PTI government would finally act upon, and take the decision to the logical conclusion.
However, the government did the opposite. It constituted a new team to negotiate with the TLP. On 31 October, Mufti Munibur Rehman, who facilitated the negotiations between the government and the TLP announced that another agreement had been reached. Dawn quoted him: “The government of Pakistan and the TLP held detailed negotiations in an environment of mutual trust and an agreement has been reached between the two sides.” Dawn quoted him further: “Lies were spoken on television about the talks [with the TLP], that they had demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador, the closure of the embassy and to break ties with the European Union. This was a blatant lie.”
The government refused to provide details of the above deal.
The secret comes to open
Subsequently, Dawn reported later on the contents of the deal. On 3 November, it reported that under the deal” while the TLP “has agreed to shun the politics of violence and withdraw its longstanding demand to have France’s ambassador expelled over the publication of blasphemous caricatures by a French satirical magazine.” It quoted a member of the TLP, who was a part of the negotiation team saying: “The state has acknowledged that the TLP is neither a terrorist group nor a banned outfit.”
Back to square one.
What does this mean?
The TLP would remain no more a proscribed group. The violence that it indulged during October would be forgiven. Those police personnel who lost their lives in the violence unleashed by the TLP would be for nothing. The brave statements about protecting the writ of the State and deploying rangers for 60 days to meet the threat were empty threats, with no backing.