Violent protest ends in Pakistan as government, the religious group reach a deal

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan began marching towards Islamabad earlier this week to press the government to expel the French ambassador.

Pakistan’s government and a far-right Islamist group reached an agreement on Sunday, bringing an end to a week of violent protests in the northeastern Punjab province over the expulsion of the French ambassador from the capital Islamabad.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, a notable scholar who acted as a mediator between the government and the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), announced the agreement, saying the two parties have “unanimously” decided to resolve the issue through negotiations.

They did not, however, divulge the agreement’s details, stating that these will be revealed in the coming days at “an appropriate time.”

The TLP demanded that the French ambassador be expelled over provocative caricatures of Prophet Muhammad that were published in France last year.

It also demanded the release of dozens of activists, including the group’s leader, Allama Saad Rizvi, who was jailed in April after violent protests erupted across the country.

The arrangement has the “full backing” of the jailed TLP chief, according to Rahman.

For his part, Qureshi said the National Security Committee, which includes the three armed services chiefs, decided to give preference to “negotiations instead of (use of) force.”

The TLP started its march towards Islamabad earlier this week in order to put pressure on the government to expel the French ambassador, a demand Prime Minister Imran Khan had already rejected.

At least five policemen were killed and over 250 injured in pitched battles between the TLP activists and the law enforcers in different parts of the province over the past week, according to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar.

The TLP claimed that police firing and shelling killed over a dozen of its activists and injured hundreds more. However, the claim cannot be verified by independent sources because the government has imposed a blanket ban on coverage of violent events.

The group has already been placed on the government’s list of prohibited organizations because of its alleged involvement in violent activities.

– Win-win situation

A committee led by Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan was formed to monitor the agreement’s implementation, according to Qureshi.

“This is not victory or defeat of either side. This is the victory of peace,” Rahman said.

The government will remove the TLP from the list of “proscribed” organizations in days to come, Qureshi said and refused to answer journalists’ repeated questions, saying, “That’s all. We will not take any questions.”

Although both Qureshi and Rahman remained tight-lipped about the agreement’s details, a Cabinet member told Anadolu Agency that the government rejected the TLP’s key demand for the expulsion of the French ambassador. However, it will “facilitate” the release of the group’s detained leader through prosecution.

“The TLP has been told that the government cannot immediately release Rizvi as his cases are (pending) in the courts. However, all detained activists who were not involved in attacks on law enforcers will be released gradually,” the minister said on condition of anonymity.

In October last year protests broke out in several Muslim countries over France’s response to the murder of a teacher who showed blasphemous cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in class.

French President Emmanuel Macron said at the time that France will “not give up its cartoons,” accusing French Muslims of “separatism” and labeling Islam as a “religion in crisis.”


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