Islamabad under siege as hardliners march towards Capital

Four policemen have been martyred: 500 injured in hardliners-police clash

Government calls rangers in Punjab province to maintain law and order

By Zoraiz Klasra

Islamabad: Tens of thousands of hardliners of proscribed Tehreek labaik Pakistan started marching to Islamabad, the federal capital in the morning on Thursday.

According to a correspondent of Islamabad telegraph the hardliners were traveling on buses, tractors, coasters and pick ups. Inter-provincial transport has been suspended throughout Punjab province following the massive protest.

Islamabad district management has closed majority of the entry and exit points of Islamabad have been closed to keep the protesters at a bay.

In Punjab, Provincial government has called for rangers and para military troops to stop the protesters. However, undeterred hardliners refused to accept stop. Rather, they were found marching towards federal Capitol Islamabad on a moderate speed.

Alarms bells have rung in Islamabad where the district management has sealed the capital to restrict hardliners entry. Islamabad police has been made vigilant while para military troops can bee seen assisting them to maintain law and order.

Government has claimed that four policemen were martyred and over 500 injured as thousands of workers of the proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) clashed with law-enforcement personnel near Sadhoke in Punjab’s Gujranwala district on Wednesday.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar tweeted that the four police personnel were martyred due to firing by TLP workers, adding that 253 others had been injured in the violence. He further said that strict legal action will be taken against those involved in the violence.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Wednesday that the Rangers were being called in to maintain law and order in Punjab for 60 days after recent clashes with the proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, the minister said a summary in this regard has been sent to the federal cabinet for approval. However, he still requested the group to end their protest.

The minister’s remarks came as fresh violence erupted between law enforcers and TLP supporters near Sadhoke in Punjab’s Gujranwala district on Wednesday. At least four policemen were martyred and over 250 injured.

Shortly before the interior minister’s press conference, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry categorically said that TLP will not be allowed to challenge the writ of the state and will be treated as a “militant” group and not a religious party.

Speaking to the media in Islamabad after Chaudhry’s press conference, Rashid said that the group had “another agenda”.

“So I am authorising Punjab govt to call in Rangers.”

He said that he had spoken to the banned group at 3:30am last night and told them to look at the situation in the country. “I told them that the French ambassador is not even in Pakistan. This shows that they have another agenda.”

The minister said that the group had committed that it would reopen roads that it had previously blocked. He added that he had directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to take strict action against those spreading fake news on social media.

He said that three policemen had been martyred and 70 injured, of whom eight were in critical condition.

The minister said the TLP, which the government had already declared proscribed, could be banned internationally.

Yesterday on Wednesday, federal Minister of Information made it loud and clear that the proscribed group will not be allowed to challenge the writ of the state and will be treated as a “militant” group and not a religious party.

Addressing a press conference after a meeting of the federal cabinet, Chaudhry said that the banned group was established in 2015 and since then, their modus operandi has been to come out on the roads and block them. “But there is a limit to the state’s patience”

He said that people have a right to their “ideas” but can’t be allowed to take up arms if their ideas are not heard.

“In today’s cabinet meeting, it was decided that such activities will not be tolerated. We will not tolerate those who challenge the writ of the state,” he said, adding that the Pakistani state had defeated major terrorist organisation such as Al Qaeda.

“No one should make the mistake of thinking that the state is weak. Those who made this mistake later realised they were wrong.”

Chaudhry said that the TLP had no “status” or access to arms like other terror groups. He said that a “show” had been staged the past six times, and the government had shown “great restraint”.

“We don’t want blood to be spilt but some of their [TLP’s] leadership don’t care about whether people are killed. They want blood to be spilt on the roads.”

The minister said that last time, six policemen were martyred and more than 700 injured in clashes with TLP workers. Now, three cops have been martyred in two days and more than 49 are injured, he said.

“How long will we show restraint?” the minister asked. He said that on Tuesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan had chaired a meeting which included intelligence officials.

“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.”

It is worth mentioning that the TLP had launched the latest round of protests in Lahore on the 12th of Rabiul Awwal, primarily to exert pressure on the Punjab government for the release of its chief, Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi, the son of its late founder Khadim Rizvi.

The younger Rizvi has been kept in detention by the Punjab government since April 12 for “maintenance of public order”.

Later, it had announced to march on Islamabad, prompting the government to block the routes leading to the capital. However, TLP leader Pir Ajmal Qadri had later said the purpose of the move was “respect for the Holy Prophet (PBUH)”, while also demanding Rizvi’s release.

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