Banned Islamist radical party releases 11 police hostages after first round of talks with Pak govt

M Zulqernain
·4-min read

Lahore, Apr 19 (PTI) The banned radical Islamist party Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan on Monday released 11 police hostages after the first round of talks with the Imran Khan government, which buckled under the pressure of the terror outfit over its demand to expel the French ambassador over a blasphemous caricature published in France last year.

After declaring TLP a proscribed outfit under terrorism laws and freezing its leadership's bank accounts last week, the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government had announced that there would be no talks with the terror outfit as the state would not allow it to challenge its writ.

However, after Sunday’s clash between the law enforcement agencies and the TLP workers in Lahore in which 11 policemen and Rangers were taken hostage by the radicals, the government held talks with the outfit leadership on Monday.

Pakistan Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed in a video message said: “Talks have started with the TLP. The TLP has released 11 policemen who were taken hostage by it and kept at its headquarters in Lahore. The first round of talks with the TLP went well and the second will take place in the evening.” The minister hoped that the rest of the matters would be resolved with the TLP in the second round of talks.

Meanwhile, business centres, markets and public transport in Lahore, Karachi and some other parts of the country remained closed on Monday on the call of senior cleric Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman to condemn the 'brutal' police action at the TLP headquarters in Lahore on Sunday that left three Islamists dead and dozens injured. The TLP has announced a protest march to Islamabad on Tuesday if the government does not expel the French envoy.

In Monday’s talks with the government, the TLP leaders presented four demands -- expel the French ambassador; release its party chief Saad Rizvi; revoke the ban on TLP; and release all its activists (over 3,000) and withdraw FIRs against them. The party warned that if their demands are not met, they will go ahead with their march to Islamabad.

'On the assurance that Prime Minister Khan will review TLP demands and there will be no further police action against those camping in Lahore, the Islamists freed the hostages,' a senior police officer told PTI. Thousands of Islamists are camping on the Multan Road outside the TLP headquarters.

After the release of the 11 law enforcers, their pictures were released to the media. As per the pictures, most of them had head injuries.

“An FIR has been registered against the TLP workers under terrorism charges on the complaint of police officer Iqbal Ahmed for taking the 11 law enforcers hostage, torturing them and attacking a police station,” the Lahore police said in a statement.

The cellular and internet service has been suspended in some parts of Lahore, including Yateem Khana Chowk -- the area housing the TLP headquarters, for the last four days.

The government had blocked access to social media platforms -- Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram -- on Friday last in connection with the law enforcement agencies' operation against the TLP protesters who refused to vacate some main roads and highways in Lahore and other parts of the Punjab province.

The TLP workers had blocked all major roads and highways in the country, mostly in Punjab province, on Monday last after the government arrested its chief Allama Saad Rizvi.

Punjab police spokesperson Rana Arif said more than 3,200 TLP workers and leaders have been arrested in Punjab since the clashes broke out between the radicals and the law enforcers.

He said all four policemen killed during the clashes belong to Punjab Police. TLP claims that over a dozen of its activists have been killed in clashes and hundreds of them injured.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Khan said political and religious parties in Pakistan misused Islam.

He said there has been no impact of protests in Pakistan in connection with blasphemous issues on the West.

Addressing an event in Islamabad on Monday, Khan said: 'ln our country, it is a great misfortune that many times our political and religious parties use Islam wrongly and caused damage to their own country.” PTI MZ SCY AKJ SCY