ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government on Saturday summoned reinforcements from other parts of the country to Islamabad after deadly clashes between police and supporters of an outlawed religious group left three policemen dead in Lahore a day earlier, with protesters continuing their march toward the federal capital.
On Thursday, the banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) announced a march on Islamabad and on Friday its supporters clashed with police when authorities tried to block demonstrators from leaving Lahore for the capital. TLP is protesting the incarceration of its top leader Saad Rizvi as well as the government’s refusal to expel the French ambassador over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) published in France last year.
Rizvi was arrested in Lahore in April for threatening the government with anti-France rallies. His detention was followed by violent demonstrations by TLP supporters across the country. The protests, which lasted over a week, saw the blockage of major roads and highways in major cities in Pakistan, and resulted in the deaths of six policemen, with over 800 people injured. Rizvi has been in custody since.
A notification from the Pakistani interior ministry to the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces and Azad Jammu and Kashmir asked for 10,000 policemen to be deployed to the capital from each region.
“The following strength as per detail mentioned against each may kindly be provided in ICT (Islamabad Capital Territory) for adequate security arrangements... to avoid any untoward incident,” the interior ministry said.
The government also constituted a three-member committee to negotiate peace with TLP supporters, Geo News channel reported on Saturday. The group will comprise Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Religious Minister Noorul Haq Qadri and Punjab Law Minister Muhammad Raja Basharat.
“The government believes in resolving issues through dialogue,” Qadri was quoted as saying, adding that protecting lives and property was the top priority of the government.
On Friday, Hasaan Khawar, the provincial government spokesperson, confirmed to Arab News that the committee had been formed: “We hope that dialogue will resolve this issue.”
The government moved to appoint negotiators after thousands of TLP activists tried to cross blockades placed on the roads in Lahore, forcing the police to fire teargas shells, use rubber bullets and resort to aerial firing.