April 15th, 2021 

By Rehan Piracha


LAHORE 

The French embassy in Pakistan on Thursday advised all French nationals and companies to temporarily leave the country as the federal government imposed a ban on Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) following bloody protests across the country.

“Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and companies are advised to temporarily leave the country,” the embassy said in an email to French citizens. “The departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines.”

On Thursday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said that the federal cabinet members approved a summary to proscribe the TLP.

Another summary in relation to the dissolution of the TLP as a political party as recommended by the Attorney General and the Law Minister, will be moved tomorrow for the approval of the federal cabinet, Sheikh Rashid told reporters while speaking alongside Federal Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri in Islamabad. He said no resolution will be moved in the National Assembly to ban the TLP.

Rashid said the federal government tried to resolve the impasse through negotiations with the TLP, but the political party was adamant on holding its sit-in in Islamabad. He said 580 police officials were injured and 30 vehicles torched in the TLP protests.

Rashid announced that a ban on the TLP has been placed under Section 11-B of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997, on the recommendation of the Punjab government.

Meanwhile the  summary on dissolution of the TLP as a political party will be approved in the next couple of days, he said. He said the notification of the ban on the TLP will be issued shortly.

Responding to the announcement by the French embassy, the Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said that French citizens in Pakistan were being provided with adequate security in the wake of the protests.

Under Section 11-B of ATA the federal government may list an organization as a proscribed organization if there were reasonable grounds to believe that it was involved in terrorism; or owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by any individual or organization proscribed or acting on behalf of, or at the direction of, any individual or organization proscribed under this Act.

According to the Election Act, “Where the Government declares that a political party has been formed or is operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty, or integrity of Pakistan, it shall within 15 days of such declaration refer the matter to the Supreme Court.” If this is done the party can be de-registered from the ECP. However, this can only be done through a reference in the Supreme Court.

Opposition criticizes ban on TLP

However, opposition leaders from the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) criticized the ban on the TLP.

PML-N leader Musadik Malik said that the PML-N government in its tenure had never banned the PTI which had fueled unrest in the country at that time.

“I understand that [this is] a violation of basic human rights,” he said. “Tell [us] the Section under which a political party has been banned,” Musadiq Malik said.

Similarly, JUI-F leader Hafiz Hamdullah blamed the government for signing an agreement with the TLP to end its sit-in in Islamabad. He said the ones who signed agreements with the TLP should be banned first. He said the PTI had initiated the culture of violent protests, referring to the attack on parliament and torture of a senior police officer in Islamabad in 2014.

Taliban back TLP

The Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group, itself a proscribed organization, in a statement extended its support to the TLP protests across the country. The TTP spokesman Mohammad Khurasani lauded the TLP workers for “valiantly confronting the puppet police and other law enforcement departments.” He regretted the arrest of the TLP workers and vowed to stand by them in their hour of difficulty.

Govt agencies term TLP a security threat

According to news reports, several government agencies told the federal government that the TLP poses a serious security threat to national security.

Findings from the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA), Home Department Punjab, Special Branch of Police, Intelligence Bureau and Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs, have concluded that the TLP has ushered in a new era of terrorism. The party by espousing violence was destroying the writ of the State, the agencies stated.

The emergence of TLP and its continuity may be contested by other sects through shoring up of resources and competing acts of violence, the agencies warned the government.

The Home Department, Punjab, recommended inclusion of TLP’s name to banned outfits. “TLP through its unlawful acts in the past four years has created chaos among masses. Its firebrand clerics and unruly workers have now posed a real threat to the province’s security,” read the findings of Home Department Punjab reported in the press.

Negotiated deal is not the best medicine for state legitimacy and its institutions and appeasement of new religious movement may fan sectarian strife in Punjab province and deepen the inter-Sunni sect divisions, NACTA stated in its report.

“TLP has not been able to mobilise a large number of followers but managed enforcement of its demands. It is a highly serious and dangerous precedent. It can culminate into a vicious circle of violence for purposes that might be unlawful,” reads NACTA report.

The top counter-terrorism body recommended that the state must not allow further erosion of its authority, calling for strengthening of the civil administration and law enforcement agencies.

The government agencies suggested that the government constitute a body in the Ministry of Religious Affairs at the federal level and at relevant provincial departments to consult with clerics of all sects on a regular basis. Inter-sectarian/inter-faith harmony should not be allowed to further evaporate as this may allow further weakening of the State’s writ and help rogue elements to grind their axes, the agencies stated in their recommendations.

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