ISLAMABAD: The banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party said on Saturday it had formed a three-member committee to hold negotiations with the government even as its followers continued their march on Islamabad.
The development comes only a day after deadly clashes broke out between the group and police in Lahore, claiming the lives of two uniformed personnel and injuring several others.
The TLP is protesting the incarceration of its top leader, Saad Rizvi, as well as seeking the expulsion of the French ambassador over the caricatures 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, and his detention was followed by violent demonstrations by TLP workers that resulted in the death of six policemen.
“If the government is serious about negotiations, we can hold talks,” the group said in a statement while announcing a three-member negotiation committee comprising Mufti Muhammad Wazir Ali, Allama Ghulam Abbas Faizi and Mufti Muhammad Umair.
The Punjab government announced a two-member committee to hold negotiations with the TLP leaders a day earlier to stop them from leading the protest rally to Islamabad.
“The Punjab government has formed a committee with senior cabinet members to hold negotiations with TLP,” Hasaan Khawar, the provincial government spokesperson, told Arab News on Friday. “We hope that dialogue will resolve this issue.”
The government committee comprised provincial law minister Raja Basharat and public prosecution minister Chaudhry Zaheeruddin.
The negotiations, however, remained inconclusive and the group started its march toward Islamabad.
As the local media reported that the government had constituted another three-member team to hold a dialogue with the banned religious group, the TLP said in its statement: “If the government wants to hold dialogue, it will have to create a peaceful environment for it.”
The new government team consists of interior minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, religious affairs minister Noorul Haq Qadri and Punjab law minister Muhammad Raja Basharat.
“The government believes in resolving issues through dialogue,” a local news network, Geo, quoted Qadri as saying, adding that protecting the lives and property of people was the top priority of the ruling administration.
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.
Meanwhile, the government on Saturday summoned reinforcements from other parts of the country to Islamabad after the clashes in Lahore.
A notification from Pakistan’s interior ministry to the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces and Azad Jammu and Kashmir asked for 10,000 policemen to be deployed in the capital from each region.