January 28, 2022

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After Violent Standoff, Pakistan Strikes Deal With Banned Islamist Group

After Violent Standoff, Pakistan Strikes Deal With Banned Islamist Group

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan averted a political showdown on Monday as officers reopened a key nationwide freeway that supporters of a militant Islamist group had occupied for days, following a secret pact between the federal government and the group.

The settlement defused a disaster that had left the nation reeling in current days, the newest in a collection of debilitating standoffs with Islamist hard-liners protesting perceived blasphemy. Nevertheless it additionally illustrated the rising affect and energy of such teams, together with Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, or T.L.P., which Pakistan banned as a terrorist group in April, and the weak civilian authorities’s battle to say itself amid financial troubles and rising inflation.

“Simply because the federal government has reached an ‘settlement’ with the T.L.P., it doesn’t imply that such public outcry in opposition to blasphemy is not going to increase its head once more,” mentioned Saad Rasool, a constitutional lawyer and newspaper columnist.

After a violent, dayslong face-off with members of T.L.P. that left 4 cops useless, the Pakistani authorities introduced Sunday that it had entered into an settlement with the group, however didn’t disclose the phrases publicly. Most of the group’s supporters remained on the nationwide freeway, hoping to strain the federal government to observe by on the guarantees made within the settlement.

The newest standoff started on Oct. 21, when 1000’s of supporters of T.L.P. started marching towards Islamabad from Lahore, 240 miles away. They demanded the discharge of the group’s chief, Saad Hussain Rizvi, who was arrested in April, and the withdrawal of terrorism costs in opposition to a whole lot of its members.

The group additionally demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador over cartoons revealed in France that depicted the Prophet Muhammad. The federal government of Prime Minister Imran Khan had agreed to place the query of expulsion to a parliamentary vote final spring however didn’t observe by.

Violent clashes final week between protesters and the police left 4 officers useless and 114 different officers wounded, some critically.

After the police did not cease the marchers — a lot of them armed — paramilitary troops had been referred to as in to quell the violence.

By Friday, the protesters had been camped alongside a key nationwide freeway, a portion of the Grand Trunk Street that’s roughly 100 miles south of Islamabad, the place paramilitary troops cautioned them in opposition to advancing farther.

Mr. Khan’s authorities initially adopted a troublesome stance, with some cupboard ministers saying the protest wouldn’t be tolerated. The protesters paid little heed and vowed to press forward.

The unrest paralyzed a number of cities in Punjab Province, because the authorities used transport containers to barricade highways and blocked web providers. Companies had been shut down across the Grand Truck Street, one of many busiest nationwide highways and an artery to a number of industrial cities. Provide strains had been choked, officers mentioned, affecting meals reduction campaigns to neighboring Afghanistan.

As fears grew of an escalation in violence over the weekend, hectic conferences happened between the federal government and T.L.P., brokered by senior spiritual figures.

On Sunday afternoon, Mufti Muneebur Rehman, an influential cleric who acted as a guarantor for T.L.P., and glum-looking cupboard ministers addressed a information convention in Islamabad to reveal the settlement.

“This isn’t a victory or defeat of any aspect,” Mr. Rehman mentioned, including that particulars of the settlement could be made public later.

As a part of the pact, the phrases of which had been broadly reported by native media, T.L.P. dropped its demand that Pakistan lower off diplomatic ties with France. In alternate, the federal government agreed to launch members of the group who had been imprisoned and never carry new costs in opposition to the group’s leaders. It additionally agreed to raise its ban in opposition to the group.

Opposition leaders demanded extra readability.

Amongst them was Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan Peoples Occasion, who wrote on Twitter: “What’s the settlement made and why will it’s disclosed at ‘an acceptable time?’ Peace with the state on what phrases?”

Arif Rafiq, president of Vizier Consulting, a political threat advisory firm in New York, mentioned that the protests in Pakistan over blasphemy return so far as the Seventies and described T.L.P. as an issue for the federal government that it’ll not simply resolve.

“There’s no in a single day answer to the Labaik problem,” he mentioned. “It’s a distinct segment group with sturdy grass-roots attraction in Pakistan’s main inhabitants facilities. And it’s able to leveraging that assist each on the road and on the poll field.”

Mr. Rasool, the constitutional lawyer, mentioned, “The state of Pakistan, in partnership with average clerics, should discover a concerted narrative of nonviolence in opposition to occasions of blasphemy.”

Sunni Muslims, particularly of the Barelvi sect, who make up a majority of Pakistan’s inhabitants, view depictions of the Prophet Muhammad as blasphemous. Perceived insults have prompted offended protests and mob violence.

T.L.P. has channeled this anger inside the Pakistani inhabitants and has emerged as a strong pressure in recent times, with its potential to mount violent protests and rallies. The current protest was at the least its sixth main confrontation with the federal government.

The efficiency of the risk the T.L.P. poses isn’t misplaced on Pakistan’s civil and navy management.

In a briefing late Friday on the nation’s spy company headquarters in Islamabad, senior safety officers and cupboard ministers instructed a gaggle of journalists, together with The New York Occasions, that the state couldn’t permit an armed group to problem its rule. However they appeared petrified of a conflict between the protesters and the paratroopers, who fall below the military’s chain of command.

Citing the potential for violence if armed troops confronted protesters, a senior intelligence official mentioned such a crackdown could be imposed solely as a final resort.

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