The government on Saturday entered into negotiations with the top leadership of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) to resolve the issue of long march on Islamabad peacefully, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said late on Saturday.
The minister said that one round of talks between the two sides was completed and the next round began late in the night, and continued well after midnight.
In the meanwhile, the participants of march stayed at Wazirabad on the direction of their leadership. The TLP leadership had told the marchers to wait near Wazirabad till the outcome of their talks with a 12-member government team.
The government side was represented by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan. The TLP delegation was led by its chief Saad Hussain Rizvi.
The TLP delegation also included Pir Syed Zaheerul Hassan Shah, Dr Shafiq Amini, Mufti Ghulam Ghous Baghdadi, Engineer Hafeezullah Alvi, Allama Farooqul Hassan Qadri, Allama Ghulam Abbas Faizi and Mufti Muhammad Umair Al Azhari.
Earlier in the day, the government and the TLP delegations had held their first round of talks. After the talks, the government delegation called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and briefed him on their talks. Later the prime minister met with various religious scholars.
In the meeting with religious scholars, Imran refused to accept the demand for the release of the TLP chief, saying that the matter was in court. Sources quoted the prime minister as saying that he would not set a wrong precedent as it would encourage others to take to the streets for the release of their leaders.
Read Rangers draw ‘red line’ for marchers
About the demand for the expulsion of the French ambassador, PM Imran said that the expulsion of the envoy would shut the European markets on Pakistan, which could lead to the closure of export industries and increase inflation and unemployment. The country could not afford such a situation, he added.
Imran told the Ulema that he wanted a peaceful solution to the issue, stressing that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government had raised the issue of Islamophobia, internationally and established the Rehmatul-lil-Alamin Authority to familiarise the world with the personality of the Prophet (PBUH).
“I am also a true lover of the Prophet (PBUH),” Imran said, adding that everyone should have strengthened his government, when it raised the voice on such issues. He regretted that the protests were portraying a bad image of the country before the world.
The Ulema and scholars who met the prime minister included Sunni Tehreek President Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, Sunni Ittehad Council President Sahibzada Hamid Raza, Jamatul Saaleheen Chairman and Pir of Sultan Bahu (Quetta) Pir Khalid Sultan Bahu, Pir of Bhrchundi Sharif (Ghotki) Pir Abdul Khaliq, Milli Yakjehti Council Chairman Dr Abul Khair Muhammad Zubair, Ex MNA (Multan) Hamid Saeed Kazmi, Pir of Manki Sharif (Nowshera) Pir Muhammad Amin, Pir of Kot Mithan (Rahimyar Khan) Pir Khawaja Ghulam Qutb Fareed, Pir of Siyal Sharif (Sargodha) Pir Nizam Siyalvi, MLA from AJK Sahibzada Hafiz Hamid Raza, Mufti Wazeer Qadir, Pir of Sharaqpur (Sheikhupura) Mian Jalil Ahmed Sharaqpur, Pir of Bangali Sharif (Gujjar Khan) Pir Makhdoom Abbas Bangali, Pir of Basahan Sharif (Kahuta, AJK) Pir Syed Ali Raza Bukhari, Wafaqul Madaris Al Islamia President Sahibzada Hussain Raza, Pir of Sundar Sharif (Lahore) Pir Habib Irfani, Pir of Sodhra (Wazirabad) Syed Zain Noor Shah, Pir of Siyal Sharif (Sargodha) Pir Qasim Siyalvi and Pir of Sultan Baho (Jhang) Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Ali.
After the meeting, Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri told reporters that a 12-member committee of Ulema had been formed to hold talks with the government and the TLP.
The minister added that the prime minister was aware of all the agreements reached with the TLP and all those who were saying that the prime minister was unaware were wrong. “How dare could I reach an agreement without informing the prime minister,” Qadri said.
He added that the prime minister reiterated that serious talks to sort out the issue were always welcomed. Qadri maintained that Imran knew how to get out of crisis and stressed that the prime minister was optimistic that a way would soon be found. He said that the state was standing with the police martyrs, and it had the clear stance on establishing the writ of the state.
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Leader of the Sunni Ittehad Council Sahibzada Hamid Raza also spoke to the media along with Qadri and said that the prime minister had said that he did not want any bloodshed. Raza added that Imran also told the Ulema that the national security and the writ of the state could not be compromised, adding that the protesters are requested not to resort to violence.
Wait for talks outcome
As the dialogue between the government and the march leaders continued, the marchers stayed at Wazirabad on the direction of their top leadership. The TLP leadership had told the marchers to wait near Wazirabad till outcome of their talks with a government team.
The authorities have put their utmost efforts to construct a “choke point” for the marchers at the Chenab bridge near Wazirabad to stop their movement towards Islamabad. On Friday, the Rangers put up a warning banner to the marchers not to cross the “red line” near the river.
The Rangers have been given the lead, along with thousands of policemen on Saturday to stop the march. A 100-feet long, 10-feet deep and 12-feet wide trench was dug in front of the bridge and filled it with water on Saturday to prevent public movement on foot.
The main procession was inside the Wazirabad city. But a few groups of the marchers tried to go near the bridge. According to reports, a few skirmishes took place. Reportedly, they were countered by the law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) with tear gas shelling and baton charge.