Posts Tagged ‘protests’

Regime forces seize last IS pocket in southern Syria

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces on Saturday took back control of the militant Islamic State (IS) group’s last holdout in southern Syria after months of fighting, a war monitor said.

In another IS pocket in eastern Syria, meanwhile, air strikes by the US-led coalition killed 43 people, mostly civilians, the monitor said.

Regime forces retook Tulul al-Safa, between the provinces of Damascus and Sweida, “after IS fighters withdrew from it and headed east into the Badia desert”, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Regime forces have been fighting the militants in the area since a deadly July attack on the Druze minority in Sweida province.

In recent weeks, air strikes on the Tulul al-Safa pocket had increased and hundreds of regime fighters were sent as reinforcements, the Syrian Observatory said.

Air strikes by US-led coalition kill over 40 in another IS pocket

The jihadists’ withdrawal was likely “under a deal with the regime forces” after weeks of encirclement and air raids, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

State news agency SANA reported the Syrian forces had made “a great advance in Tulul al-Safa” and said they were combing the area for any remaining militants.

In the July 25 attack, IS killed more than 250 people, most of them civilians, in a wave of suicide bombings, shootings, and stabbings across Sweida province.

The jihadists also kidnapped around 30 people — mostly women and children — during the deadliest assault on Syria’s Druze community in the seven-year civil war.

Twenty-three of the hostages have since returned home, while the remainder appear to have died or been executed by the militants.

Air strikes

Seventeen children were among 36 IS family members killed in the village of Abu Husn in Deir Ezzor province near the Iraqi border, the Observatory said.

Another seven bodies had not yet been identified as either civilians or IS fighters, it said.

The US-led coalition has been backing a Kurdish-Arab alliance called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting to expel the militants from the pocket around Abu Husn.

“It’s the highest death toll in coalition air strikes since the SDF launched its attack against the IS pocket” in September, the Observatory chief said.

The coalition has repeatedly said it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties.

“The avoidance of civilian casualties is our highest priority when conducting strikes against legitimate military targets with precision munitions,” spokesman Sean Ryan said this week.

IS overran large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” in land it controlled. But the jihadist group has since lost most of it to various offensives in both countries.

In Syria, the group has seen its presence reduced to parts of the vast Badia desert and the pocket in Deir Ezzor.

The SDF in September announced an assault to oust the militants from the eastern pocket, which includes the town of Hajin and the village of Al-Shaafa.

The alliance made slow advances until last month when tough militant resistance pushed the SDF out of the whole of the IS pocket.

Following the setback, hundreds of Kurdish fighters were deployed to the area’s outskirts as reinforcements. But the SDF then put the offensive on hold to protest Turkish shelling of Kurdish militia positions in northern Syria.

Turkey considers the Kurdish militia leading the SDF to be “terrorists”, while its Nato ally the United States has depended on them to fight IS in Syria.

On Sunday, the SDF said it was resuming its offensive against IS after “intensive contacts” with the coalition and “strong diplomatic activity” to defuse the crisis.

Since 2014, the coalition has acknowledged direct responsibility for over 1,100 civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq, but rights groups put the number killed much higher.

Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people since it erupted in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2018

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TLP hasn’t provided poll expenses’ details, ECP tells SC

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday informed the Supreme Court that the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) — the party behind protest demonstrations that paralysed the twin cities — had not yet submitted details of the expenses it made during the July elections.

“The subject political party (TLP) participated in the general elections, 2018 but has not submitted the details of the Campaign Finance till date,” the ECP stated in a reply furnished before the SC, which will commence on Friday the hearing of a case relating to the 20-day Faizabad sit-in in November last year.

The TLP had participated in the 2018 general elections and bagged three seats in the Sindh Assembly.

At the last hearing on Oct 11, a two-judge SC bench headed by Justice Mushir Alam had ordered the ECP to furnish the application under which the TLP was registered as a political party and asked the accountant general to assist the court in determining whether the ECP or the federal government was empowered under the Elections Act 2017 to take remedial measures for regulating political parties on their conduct.

Contempt of court action sought against Khadim Rizvi, Afzal Qadri

In its reply, the ECP explained that it had issued notices to all political parties which had failed to submit the details of their campaign finances. It said that if they failed to follow the directives, their election symbols would be withheld, adding that all political parties participating in the elections were required to submit to the ECP the list of contributors who have donated or contributed an amount equal to or more than Rs100,000 for thier election campaigns within 60 days from the close of a financial year in terms of Section 211 of the Elections Act.

The consolidated statements of political parties’ accounts were audited by a chartered accountant highlighting annual income and expenses, sources of funds and assets and liabilities, the reply stated.

The ECP had also framed a code of conduct for political parties, contesting candidates and polling agents in terms of Section 233 of the Elections Act, it said.

The ECP explained that after the enactment of the Elections Act, all election-related laws had been repealed, including the Political Parties Order 2002 and Political Parties Rules 2002. Section 202 (4) of the Elections Act requires all political parties to submit a list of 2,000 members along with photocopies of their CNICs and proof of deposit of Rs200,000 in favour of the commission in the State Bank or the National Bank of Pakistan as enlistment fee.

The TLP, the reply said, had submitted the relevant documents on Jan 8, 2018.

The reply contended that the ECP had objected to the registration of the party with the name Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah and recognised the party with the name of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, which was later accepted by the party.

Petition against TLP

Meanwhile, a Supreme Court lawyer on Thursday filed a petition in the apex court, seeking a directive for the federal government to commence the process of dissolution of the TLP as political party pursuant to Section 212 of the Elections Act for operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan. He alleged that the party had indulged in terrorism.

Barrister Masroor Shah also requested the apex court to initiate contempt of the court proceedings against TLP leaders — Khadim Hussain Rizvi and Peer Afzal Qadri — for scandalising the SC and tending to bring this august court and its judges into hatred, ridicule and contempt.

The petition asked the court to order the federal government that instead of succumbing to political exigencies and taking mere cosmetic measures, discharge its constitutional duty to protect fundamental rights of citizens and establish the rule of law in the country by taking strict meaningful legal action against Khadim Rizvi and Afzal Qadri for allegedly committing offences of sedition, incitement to mutiny, criminal intimidation, rioting and terrorism.

The petition recalled that during three days of violent protests, the TTP leadership vociferously spat venom against judges of the Supreme Court and the chief of the army staff. They did not even shy away from inciting bodyguards and personal servants of judges and the army chief to take the law into their own hands, the petition said, adding that the TLP leadership had called upon members of the armed forces to stage mutiny against their commanders.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2018

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Plea for treason case against TLP, JUI-F dismissed

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Monday dismissed a writ petition for being non-maintainable that sought directions for the federal government to initiate high treason proceedings against heads of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) Khadim Hussain Rizvi and Fazlur Rehman of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) for delivering speeches against the judiciary and the armed forces.

Dismissing the petition, Justice Atir Mahmood observed that the Supreme Court had already taken suo motu notice of the issue while the government also took cognisance of the damage caused during the recent protests.

The judge further observed that it was prerogative of the federal government to initiate high treason proceedings. And the petitioner should have approached the appropriate forum instead of increasing workload on the court by filing such unnecessary petitions.

A citizen, Shabbirullah Khan, filed the petition pleading that both political leaders had been continuously spewing venom against the judiciary and armed forces, which was tantamount to committing the offence of high treason.

He said the TLP central leadership including Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Pir Afzal Qadri, Waheed Anwar as well as Fazlur Rehman of JUI-F violated article 6 of the Constitution in the name of protest.

He contended that under High Treason (Punishment) Act 1973 only the federal government was empowered to initiate treason proceedings. Therefore, he asked the court to direct the federal government to initiate proceedings against the TLP and JUI-F leaders under the charges of high treason.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2018

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Govt’s botched handling of Aasia Bibi protests is ‘divine justice’: PML-N senator

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government on Monday once again came under fire in the Senate from opposition lawmakers over its ,handling of protests by religious parties, against the acquittal of Aasia Bibi, with PML-N’s Mushahidullah Khan claiming that the ruling party was merely reaping what it had sowed while it was in opposition.

He alleged that the last time such protests had taken place, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari had participated in the sit-ins. Governments leaders had also exploited the issue to gain votes, he alleged.

It is “divine justice” that the “fire” the ruling party had started has now become impossible for it to extinguish, Mushahidullah said, adding that agreements are now being signed with the people who issued statements against state institutions.

“You hindered a country that was speeding towards progress… but today you are unable to even answer whether Aasia [Bibi] is present in the country or not,” the PML-N leader said while addressing the treasury benches.

“The khatm-e-nabuwwat [protesters] that are your foes today were your friends yesterday… is this not ‘divine justice’?”

After an exchange of hot words with several government members over his criticism of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who was not present in the house, Mushahidullah resumed his broadside against Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party.

“They say the three-day [TLP] sit-in resulted in a loss of Rs50 billion per day… why don’t they multiply Rs50bn with 126 days?” he said, in a taunting reference to the 126-day sit-in staged by the PTI in 2014.

“Why didn’t you think then that this was causing loss of the country and people?”

PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar in his remarks regretted the situation that arisen from the countrywide protests staged by religiopolitical groups.

“A registered political party crossed the red line,” he said, referring to the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP)

“Are we going to continue tolerating a political party which talks about creating anarchy in the country?” he asked, observing that the Constitution calls for the suspension of a party’s membership if it talks against the country’s sovereignty.

He wondered why the government had opted to “escape” from the national consensus that emerged over the protests and proceeded to enter into a deal with the agitators.

“The interior minister laid all the blame for this on the opposition, which was standing next to you,” he said, addressing the treasury benches.

“The government’s inefficiency spread despair among the people,” he said.

Economic assistance from Saudi, China

Mushahidullah also took a jibe at the government for what he called “begging” from other countries, saying it was unprecedented for the government to term the economic assistance it has received an “achievement”.

Referring to Prime Minister Imran Khan, the senator said it was the first time that a leader had gone to China and said “everyone in my country is corrupt” and later sought financial aid.

State Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar while briefing the house said $3 billion will be deposited in the State Bank as part of the economic package agreed to by Saudi Arabia.

He said matters of financial assistance are currently being discussed with China, and the Senate “will be informed when they are finalised”.

“The balance-of-payments crisis has been stopped now due to government efforts,” the minister claimed, adding that exports and foreign exchange reserves are rising as the imports fall.

Responding to Mushahidullah’s query about the action taken against Pakistanis who were named in the Panama Papers leaks, Azhar said the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has started taking steps in this regard.

“We have obtained data of 96,000 foreign accounts [held by Pakistanis] from 27 countries,” he said, adding that the FBR has recovered Rs7 billion through the investigation into the Panama Papers leaks.

Bill for parliament ratification of govt’s foreign agreements

PPP Senator Raza Rabbani on Monday presented a bill in the Senate that could make it binding upon the government to place agreements and contracts with other countries, donors and international monetary organisations before the parliament for ratification.

The bill titled ,“Ratification of Foreign Agreements by Parliament Bill, 2018”, had been moved by Rabbani, the former Senate chairman, in August.

Through the bill, the PPP leader has called upon the government to place a foreign agreement, contract or protocol to be signed with any country before both the houses of the parliament to seek approval of its draft within 15 days of its finalisation.

Speaking in the upper house today, Rabbani said it is a practice in some countries that all agreements are ratified by the parliament.

He explained that the bill would force the government to present in the legislature agreements on which it has negotiated with foreign parties, but before the agreement has been signed.

The parliament will then send its recommendations on the agreement to the relevant ministry, which will inform the parliament about the approval of the suggestions within a specified time.

Commenting on the proposal, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said although he principally had no objections against the bill, there is no uniform practice around the world regarding ratification of agreements and treaties by the parliament.

“Many countries do not get agreements ratified by the lawmakers,” he informed the Senate. A situation of uncertainty can be created by frequent amendments to international treaties, on which talks can last for several years, he added.

“A method of review should be devised that doesn’t become a hindrance in the [signing of agreements],” he stressed.

Opposition Leader in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq supported the bill, saying matters like foreign agreements should not stay confined to the executive and that the parliament should have a say in them.

After hearing all opinions on the proposal, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani sent the bill to the relevant committee.

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Canada in talks with Pakistan over possibly taking in Aasia Bibi

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that his government was holding talks with Pakistan over potentially offering asylum to Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman recently freed from prison after her blasphemy conviction was overturned.

“We are in discussions with the Pakistani government,” Trudeau said in an interview with AFP in Paris, where he was attending a peace conference organised by French President Emmanuel Macron.

“There is a delicate domestic context that we respect which is why I don’t want to say any more about that, but I will remind people Canada is a welcoming country,” he said.

Bibi has been blocked from leaving Pakistan after the overturning of her conviction prompted a wave of protests by religiopolitical groups.

She has since been ,flown to a “safe place”, in the country as several governments have offered to grant her family asylum.

Her husband has appealed in particular to Britain, Canada and the United States, claiming that Bibi’s life would be in danger as long as she lived in Pakistan.

The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and other religiopolitical parties had launched countrywide protests after the Supreme Court acquitted Bibi, who had been on death row for the past eight years on blasphemy charges.

Three days later, the government and the TLP had signed a deal to conclude the latter’s protest. One of the major concessions the government agreed to was to “initiate the legal process” to place Bibi’s name on the exit control list (ECL).

The government had also assured the party that it would not oppose a review petition filed against the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Aasia Bibi blasphemy case. The state further promised to take appropriate legal action to redress any deaths that may have occurred during the protests against the Aasia Bibi verdict and to release all people picked up in connection with the protests starting October 30.

The TLP, in turn, only offered an apology “if it hurt the sentiments or inconvenienced anyone without reason”.

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Fawad urges religious leaders, society to take ownership of ‘fight of ideologies’

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Sunday stressed that recent protests had “nothing to do with religion, but were about politics”, and urged religious leaders and members of society to take ownership of a fight against ‘extremist ideologies’.

During a press briefing in Lahore regarding the upcoming ‘Rehmatul-il-Alameen Conferences’ being held nationwide this month, the minister described love for the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) as the foundation of Islam and claimed that “a group of people is trying to misuse the issue for political gain”.

Take a look: ,Govt deal with protesters was ‘firefighting’, not a cure to the problem: Fawad Chaudhry,

Chaudhry asserted that recent protests had “nothing to do with religion, but were about politics”. He claimed that certain groups “play politics in the name of religion”, and that “religion had nothing to do with all this activity”.

He questioned why a “particular segment of society needs to use this issue for its politics” and does so by “bringing up a new issue every week”.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader was of the opinion that recent protests following the acquittal of Aasia Bibi by the Supreme Court were not a crisis for the government, but the symptom of a crisis being faced by society.

Describing the situation as a “fight of ideologies”, the information minister claimed that these groups are “taking advantage of religious leaders’ and society’s lack of ownership of this fight”.

“When you can’t present an argument against a different argument, and you are protesting against a Supreme Court verdict which no one has read, then there an ideological crisis takes birth,” Chaudhry said.

“The state’s failure was that it cannot safeguard those who had a counter-argument. One side had an argument and they also had weapons, while people on the other side were unarmed. Until the state can ensure a level playing field, the issue cannot be resolved,” he said.

He encouraged people belonging to religious segments of society and other citizens to come forward to counter such groups.

“The first rebellion against these people should have come from religious segments [in society], but unfortunately it is not the case because of certain facts,” he said. “Keep in mind, it is a fight of ideas, and the war of ideologies is not fought with weapons but with arguments.”

He added that it is the responsibility of the state to ensure the availability of an environment where everyone can present their arguments.

“We are holding a ‘Rehmatul-il-Alameen Conference’ at a national level for the first time,” Chaudhry said, adding that Prime Minister Imran Khan would inaugurate the event on Nov 20.

Last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while speaking to the Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri, had said that the government wishes to present an image of peaceful Islam before the world, ,Radio Pakistan, reported.

He said that it was the responsibility of the state to present the true teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to the next generation, the report added.

For this purpose, ‘Rehmatul-il-Alameen Conferences’ will be held across the country, while a two-day ‘Khatm-i-Nabuwwat International Conference’ will be held in Islamabad, he said, adding that the Imam-i-Kaaba, Vice Chancellor of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, the Mufti of Syria, and religious scholars from Iraq and Tunisia will be in attendance and shed light on different aspects of the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

PM Khan had also said that research on the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) would be promoted under the government’s supervision.

Arrangements for Eid-i-Miladun Nabi

Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri, while chairing a meeting of the organising committee for conference preparations on Saturday, had said that the occasion of Eid-i-Miladun Nabi would be celebrated with due honour and respect, Radio Pakistan reported.

He said that special functions and ceremonies would be arranged during Rabiul Awwal in which the life and teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) would be highlighted.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had said that arrangements would be made for the coverage of processions taken out on the 12th of Rabiul Awwal, and that state-owned PTV and Radio Pakistan would air qirat, naats and other programmes on the occasion, along with special programmes to highlight the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) teachings.

The month of Rabiul Awwal began on Saturday, Nov 10, and Eid-i-Miladun Nabi will fall on Nov 21.

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Senate set to take up heavy legislative agenda tomorrow

ISLAMABAD: At a time when the National Assembly is completely dysfunctional in terms of doing legislation due to non-existence of committees, the Senate is set to take up heavy legislative agenda as it meets after a two-day recess on Monday.

The 35-point agenda issued by the Senate Secretariat for the private member’s day sitting shows a total of 17 bills, including three constitutional amendment bills, to be introduced by the members, mostly by those sitting on the opposition benches.

The legislative work has come to a halt due to an inordinate delay in the formation of the standing and other committees of the National Assembly by Speaker Asad Qaiser due to an ongoing tussle between the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the opposition parties over the issue of nomination of chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The opposition parties want that the PAC chairmanship should be offered to them as per the parliamentary traditions and they have already nominated Opposition Leader and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif for the post.

House also likely to discuss protests against Aasia Bibi’s acquittal, increase in gas and electricity prices

However, the PTI is unwilling to give the PAC chairmanship to the opposition, saying it could not allow the opposition parties to review the projects that had been initiated and executed by them during their own governments.

Under the rules, the speaker was bound to constitute all the standing and functional committees of the house “within 30 days after the election of the Leader of the House (prime minister)”. Since PTI Chairman Imran Khan had been elected as the prime minister on August 18, the speaker had time till Sept 17 for the formation of over three dozen house committees.

All the opposition parties had already handed over the names of their members for the committees to the NA Secretariat as per rules, but the speaker had to stop the process when the opposition announced that its members would withdraw from all the committees if the PAC chairmanship was not offered to them.

Although there is no restriction on the government in the rules to give the PAC chairmanship to the opposition, it has been a parliamentary practice and tradition for the past 10 years that the office is given to an opposition member in order to ensure transparency in financial matters.

On Friday, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari claimed that the government had offered him the PAC chairmanship, but he refused, saying the post should be offered to the opposition leader. However, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry reportedly denied the PPP chairman’s claim, indicating that the issue will keep on lingering, rendering the National Assembly non-functional.

Besides taking up the legislative agenda, the Senate will also continue discussion on important issues, including the recent protest sit-in by a number of religious parties and groups against the acquittal of Aasia Bibi by the Supreme Court of a blasphemy charge.

The Senate will also discuss the “recent hike in gas and electricity prices” on a motion moved by Opposition Leader Raja Zafarul Haq and signed by 44 other members of the house.

The upper house of parliament is also set to debate on “the terms and conditions of all types of loans recently obtained or being obtained or bonds raised from foreign sources and multilateral lenders by the government in the name of Federation of Pakistan,” shows the agenda.

An important bill making it binding upon the government to place agreements and contracts with other countries, donors and international monetary organisations before parliament for ratification is also part of Monday’s session.

The bill titled “Ratification of Foreign Agreements by Parliament Bill, 2018” had been moved by PPP Senator Raza Rabbani in August.

Through the bill, Mr Rabbani called upon the government to place a foreign agreement, contract or protocol to be signed with any country before both the houses of the parliament to seek approval of its draft within 15 days of its finalisation.

At the time of submitting the bill, the PPP leader had explained that the bill provided powers to the members of parliament to suggest changes to the draft of the agreement with their recommendations. He said the government “shall take up the recommendations of the parliament with the other parties and a detailed report of the proceedings undertaken in respect of the recommendations will also be placed before the parliament.”

Mr Rabbani has suggested in his bill that “a resolution withholding recommendation” may be passed by 55 per cent of the members of each house, thus barring the government from signing the agreement. He had clarified that he had moved the bill only for the future agreements.

The words “foreign agreements” in Clause 2 of the proposed bill means and includes “all agreements, treaties, contracts and trade protocols signed with foreign governments or banks or donors or lending agencies” by the Pakistan government.

“Ratification means passed by a simple majority of each House of Parliament,” says the bill.

Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2018

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Aasia Bibi case: JuD says it believes in legal recourse

LAHORE: The Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) has some reservations over the Aasia Bibi issue but it also has respect for the national institutions including the judiciary and that’s why it did not join the recent protest.

Explaining the low profile of the JuD in the otherwise violent protests by religiopolitical parties, party spokesman Ahmed Nadeem told Dawn that the party issued protest call for Friday last two days after the court decision was announced. But as the protests started going violent, the JuD decided to restrict itself to Friday sermons instead of coming on the roads.

“The day the decision was announced, the party consultative body was already in meeting. It discussed the decision threadbare and consulted senior lawyers on the issue. After the consultation, the party thought that it was legal mistake and can only be rectified through legal process. After all, the trial court sentenced her to death after a long trial. Later, the Lahore High Court upheld the sentence. Now the Supreme Court has set her free, giving her the benefit of the doubt.

“The JuD was of the opinion that the quantum of the benefit of the doubt (whether it was reasonable or not) can only be judged by lawyers and only they could plead it before court. So, instead of taking to the street, the party decided to wait for exhaustion of the legal process. That is precisely why the JuD chief was the first to demand a review petition. Others (Mufti Munib, Sirajul Haq et al) followed him the next day,” says Mr Nadeem.

Substantiating his claim of non-violence being party philosophy, Mr Nadeem said the party kept its cool even when the government took over its charity organisations. It only challenged the decision in court. It did not go violent when its leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed was arrested in January this year and the party chief himself had directed his men to stay peaceful and concentrate on Kashmir Day. “It only goes to prove that the party respects the legal process and will wait for its exhaustion,” he said and added: “It was very much part of a day-long (Friday) peaceful protest but went quiet when protests turned violent.”

Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2018

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SC to resume hearing Faizabad sit-in case on November 16

The Supreme Court will resume hearing the suo motu case on Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) ,Faizabad sit-in, from last year on November 16.

In November 2017, TLP workers demanding the resignation of then law minister Zahid Hamid, had staged a weeks-long sit-in at the Faizabad interchange that had virtually paralysed the federal capital and led to several people losing their lives.

On November 21 of the same month, the apex court had ,taken notice of the sit-in, and directed the defence and interior secretaries to submit a detailed report on the matter.

Days later, the then PML-N government had launched against the protesters an operation which, ,when failed,, had forced the authorities to cave and Hamid to resign.

The SC today fixed the case’s next hearing for Friday [Nov 16]. A two-member bench comprising Justice Musheer Alam and Justice Qazi Faez Isa, under the former’s stewardship, will hear the case.

The attorney general, interior and defence secretaries, Inspector General of Islamabad police and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) were also issued notices.

In the ,case’s last hearing,, the Supreme Court bench had wondered whether a party whose head propagates views against the Constitution can be registered as a party under the Political Parties Act by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Referring to TLP Chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Justice Isa had asked whether someone could be allowed to violate the Constitution even if he had a just cause.

At this, Attorney General Anwar Mansoor had explained that the ECP registers the parties but conceded that although protesting lawfully is everyone’s right, holding a protest so as to paralyse routine life is indeed unconstitutional. He added the ECP had the authority to revoke the registration of any political party.

The court had then issued a notice to the ECP to furnish the application under which the TLP had been registered and asked the attorney general to assist the court in determining whether the commission or the federal government was empowered under the Elections Act 2017 to take measures for regulating the parties.

Earlier this month, the TLP held countrywide protests against ,the acquittal of Aasia Bibi, — a Christian woman acquitted after eight years on death row for blasphemy — condemning the judges on the bench hearing Aasia’ case, the prime minister and the army chief.

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Opposition activists behind violence during TLP protest: Afridi

Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi says TLP leaders were shown footage of violent protesters and they disowned them.

Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi says TLP leaders were shown footage of violent protesters and they disowned them.

ISLAMABAD: Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi on Thursday said that activists of some political parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), were behind the incidents of violence across the country during the recent three-day protest against acquittal of Christian woman Aasia Bibi in a blasphemy case.

Speaking in the Senate, he said Shahbaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and other leaders of opposition parties had suggested that force should not be used against the protesters, but regretted that workers of the parties giving such advice were involved in violence.

Mr Afridi said investigations were under way and made it clear that those who had taken the law into their own hands and were involved in damaging and torching public and private properties would not be spared and a strict action would be taken against them. He said there would be no compromise with the people who challenged the writ of the state.

“We showed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) the footage of the people being violent on the streets and they disowned them,” he said, adding that he would shortly brief Prime Minister Imran Khan on the meeting with the TLP leadership.

Says state won’t use stick against TLP leadership but embrace and engage them in dialogue

About the agreement between the government and the TLP leadership to end the protest against Aasia’s acquittal by the Supreme Court, Mr Afridi said the state had signed the document because ‘Naya Pakistan’ did not believe in bloodshed.

Shortly after the apex court’s verdict on Oct 31, the TLP had blocked roads in major cities of the country for three days, condemning the prime minister, the army chief and the judges who had acquitted Aasia Bibi.

The TLP had called off the protests after striking a deal with the government. Under the five-point agreement, the government said it would not object to the review petition filed against the acquittal of the woman.

Claiming that not a single drop of blood was spilled during the protests, Mr Afridi said the state would not use the stick against the TLP leadership but embrace and engage them in dialogue.

He chided those criticising the TLP leaders for using derogatory language against the judiciary, military and government and said they had apologised for it in the agreement. It was the right of every citizen to move a review petition against a court verdict, he added.

He called for drawing red lines for lawmakers as well, saying that national interest should not be damaged at any cost. “God forbid, if Pakistan is placed on the FATF blacklist on the grounds of the violence footage and the speeches made in parliament, who will be responsible?” he asked. He said no one should act in a manner that damaged the country’s interests and made it a laughing stock.

Minister for Science and Technology Azam Swati defended the Supreme Court judgement in the Aasia Bibi case, saying the FIR in the case had been lodged five days after the incident and the eyewitnesses did not record their statements. He said there were contradictions in the statements about the basis for quarrel between Aasia and other women, as well as the number of persons present in the jirga where the Christian woman was said to have confessed to committing blasphemy.

Mr Swati was on his feet when PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan pointed out lack of quorum.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, who appears to have his own rules to follow, ordered quorum bells to be rung for three minutes, instead of five minutes as mentioned in Rule 5 of Rules of the Procedure and Conduct of Business in Senate 2012. A count was made again after the bells stopped ringing and after finding that less than one-fourth members were present in the house, the chairman read out the prorogation order.

At the outset of proceedings, the opposition protested and staged a walkout from the house against the absence of ministers. When Leader of the House in the Senate Syed Shibli Faraz said they were attending a cabinet meeting, Chairman Sanjrani observed that the house proceedings were more important than the cabinet.

Senator Mir Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party said that the remarks made during the recent TLP sit-in were a challenge not only for the government, but also for the state. He regretted that a group had taken control of the federal capital.

Mr Bizenjo said surrender before such elements was more dangerous than bloodshed. He also asked the government to reveal the terms on which loans were being obtained from Saudi Arabia, China and the International Monetary Fund.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2018

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No truth in reports of Aasia Bibi leaving Pakistan: Foreign Office

Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal on Thursday denied reports that Aasia Bibi had left Pakistan, saying the recently acquitted Christian woman was still in the country.

“There is no truth in reports of her leaving the country — it is fake news,” Dr Faisal told DawnNewsTV. Aasia Bibi was released from Multan jail last night — a little over a week after the ,Supreme Court overturned her conviction and death sentence,.

Shortly after the FO’s clarification, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry called out the “irresponsible” behaviour of some media outlets for running the news of Aasia Bibi allegedly leaving the country without “confirmation”.

“It has become a norm to publish fake news for sake of headlines,” Chaudhry said on Twitter. “#AsiaBibi case is sensitive issue; it was extremely irresponsible to publish news of her leaving the country without confirmation. I strongly urge section of media to act responsible.”

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The statements by FO and Chaudhry come on the heels of news reports from a day earlier which stated that Aasia Bibi had left Multan’s women prison and was being flown to an “unknown destination”. This particular quote, attributed to Aasia Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Malook, led to speculation that she had left the country.

However, reliable sources on Wednesday night ,had confirmed to Dawn that Aasia Bibi was brought to Islamabad, onboard a special aircraft.

The aircraft carrying Aasia Bibi landed at the old Benazir Bhutto International Airport of Islamabad adjacent to Nur Khan Air Base, said sources. From there, she was taken to an undisclosed place in Islamabad amid tight security. The authorities are keeping her movement and whereabouts secret for security reasons.

Aasia Bibi’s acquittal had sparked countrywide protests by religious parties and groups. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) is expected to hold a ‘million march’ in Karachi against the Supreme Court’s verdict today.

Dr Faisal, during a press briefing at noon on Thursday, reiterated that Aasia Bibi was in Pakistan and “in a safe place”. “The media should verify such news [before running it].”

“Aasia Bibi is a free citizen. After the court’s verdict, she can go wherever she wants. There is no restriction on the mobility of a free citizen,” said Dr Faisal, adding that only the interior ministry or the law could specify if legally her name could be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL).

Concern for Aasia’s safety

On Tuesday, ,Italy stated it would help Aasia leave Pakistan, because her life was in danger in the country following charges of blasphemy that put her on death row for eight years.

Her husband Ashiq Masih has reportedly stated that they could be killed by those opposing her acquittal.

Earlier, the international Catholic agency Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) had quoted Ashiq Masih as saying in a telephone call: “I appeal to the Italian government to help me and my family leave Pakistan. We are extremely worried because our lives are in danger. We don’t even have enough to eat because we can’t go out to buy food.”

Aasia’s case has prompted groups such as ACN, which has close ties to the Vatican, to demand protection for Christians in countries where they are a minority.

Protests following acquittal

Soon after the Supreme Court’s verdict, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) blocked roads in major cities of the country for three days, condemning the judges who had acquitted Aasia Bibi, the prime minister and the army chief.

The TLP had called off the protests after striking a deal with the government. Under the five-point agreement, the government said it would not object to the review petition filed against the acquittal of the Christian woman and would “initiate a legal process” to place her name on the ECL.

Read: ,TLP ends protest after deal with government,

The agreement was signed by Minister for Religious Affairs Sahibzada Dr Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, Punjab Law Minister Basharat Raja, TLP patron-in-chief Pir Afzal Qadri and its central Nazim-i-Aala Waheed Anwar.

On Tuesday, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar ,took suo motu notice of the losses, caused by the riots that broke out during the protests.

The CJP directed the federal and the provincial governments to submit reports within three days on the losses and steps taken to compensate victims of these riots.

‘Netherlands offer shelter to Aasia Bibi’s lawyer’

Stef Blok, the Netherlands’ minister of foreign affairs, said that the Dutch have offered Malook “a place in the Shelter City program in the Netherlands for human rights defenders at risk”.

The minister, in a tweet, further said that the Netherlands is closely monitoring “the situation of Aasia Bibi”.

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Govt will make an example of those who challenge the state’s writ: minister of state

Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi, while addressing the Senate on Thursday, warned that the government would make an example out of anyone who will try to take the law into their own hands.

Speaking on the agreement between the government and the leadership of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) to end the ,protests against Aasia Bibi’s acquittal,, Afridi said that the state had only ,signed the document, because ‘Naya Pakistan’ does not believe in bloodshed.

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s verdict on Oct 31, TLP had blocked roads in major cities of the country for three days, condemning the judges who had acquitted Aasia Bibi, the prime minister and the army chief.

The TLP had called off the protests after striking a deal with the government. Under the five-point agreement, the government said it would not object to the review petition filed against the acquittal of the Christian woman and would “initiate a legal process” to place her name on the ECL.

“In three days [of the protests], not a single drop of blood was spilled,” Afridi said, during Thursday’s Senate session being presided over by Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani.

“The government will not use bullets against its own citizens. We will embrace our citizens and hold dialogues with them.”

Afridi pointed out that protestors had apologised in the agreement that was signed. “To petition the court to review the case is a legal right,” the minister said.

He also claimed that it was political workers from other parties that had come out on the streets and resorted to violence.

“We showed TLP the footage of the people being violent on the streets and they distanced themselves from the people in the video.”

“We met with the TLP leadership yesterday and I will soon brief the prime minister on what transpired during the meeting.”

“The people who challenge the writ of the state and take the law into their own hands will not be given any concessions,” he concluded.

On Tuesday, opposition parties in the Senate had ,criticised the government for not being forceful enough, in dealing with TLP.

“Our army chief was called out by name. The judiciary, the state and the army were dragged [into the mess]: what kind of message is being sent with these actions?” PPP’s Parliamentary Leader, Senator Sherry Rehman, had asked. “The government was all talk and no action. This was the first time we’ve heard the state challenged like this. How can this challenge be ignored?”

Senator Raza Rabbani had regretted that the country was shut down for three days and Constitutional institutions were attacked.

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Aasia Bibi’s name cannot be put on ECL without her being proven guilty: Shehryar Afridi

Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi said in a recent interview that Aasia Bibi’s name cannot be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) until she is proven guilty by a court of law or until such orders are given by the Supreme Court (SC).

In an ,exclusive interview, to Voice of America, Afridi said that rumours circulating about Aasia leaving the country are false and that the government is providing her and her family security.

The Supreme Court had acquitted Aasia Bibi on Oct 30, but the decision sparked three-day-long mass protests led by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).

The protests were called off after the religio-political party reached an agreement with the government, the foremost condition of which was the placement of Aasia’s name on the ECL.

However, the government had only agreed to “initiate the legal process” to place her name on the list, while also agreeing that it would not oppose any review petitions being filed against the SC judgement.

When asked about the conditions of the agreement, Afridi replied that a review petition is everyone’s right as per the law.

He, however, stated that any order given by the SC would be followed to the letter.

“Unless a person is declared guilty, there is no legal ground ? how can his or her name be placed on the ECL?” he asked. “There is no question regarding this.”

“Every Pakistani, regardless of his creed or religion, is the state’s responsibility. No one in Pakistan can be given a license to play with someone’s life or property in order to get their terms accepted.”

Referring to the law and order situation in the wake of the SC decision, Afridi said that hateful speeches are made even in more civilised countries.

The minister said that when the protests broke out, the government had decided against the use of force, subsequently engaging with the TLP.

“In Balochistan, even one who surrenders his arms is forgiven,” he said by way of explaining the government’s decision to not proceed with force.

When asked whether the protesters had also laid down their weapons, he called attention to the fact that an apology from the TLP was one of the points included in the agreement.

He said that when footage of protesters engaging in acts of violence was shown to TLP leaders, the party leadership distanced itself from those individuals.

Afridi said that hundreds of miscreants were subsequently detained and criminal proceedings against them are underway.

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Italy says it will help Aasia leave Pakistan

ROME: Italy said on Tuesday it would help a Pakistani Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, leave her country because her life was in danger following charges of blasphemy that put her on death row for eight years.

The Supreme Court had acquitted Aasia Bibi last month, but the decision sparked mass protests and her husband, Ashiq Masih, says they could be killed by those opposing her acquittal. Authorities have indicated they may bar Aasia from travelling abroad.

“I want women and children whose lives are at risk to be able to have a secure future, in our country or in other Western countries, so I will do everything humanly possible to guarantee that [for Aasia],” Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said. “It is not permissible that in 2018 someone can risk losing their life for a … hypothesis of blasphemy,” said Salvini, who is also interior minister.

Italy is working discreetly on the case with other countries, he told an Italian radio station.

Earlier, the international Catholic agency Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) quoted Ashiq Masih as saying in a telephone call: “I appeal to the Italian government to help me and my family leave Pakistan. We are extremely worried because our lives are in danger. We don’t even have enough to eat because we can’t go out to buy food.”

In the interview with the radio station, Salvini was asked to respond to Aasia’s husband’s appeal.

Aasia’s case has prompted groups such as ACN, which has close ties to the Vatican, to demand protection for Christians in countries where they are a minority.

Soon after the Supreme Court verdict, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) blocked roads in major cities of the country for three days, condemning the judges who acquitted Aasia Bibi, Prime Minister Imran Khan and the army chief.

The TLP called off the protests after striking a deal with the government that could bar Aasia from leaving the country and open a review of the judgement.

Aasia’s lawyer Saiful Mulook fled to the Netherlands because of fears for his safety.

Two prominent Pakistani politicians who spoke out in Aasia’s defence were assassinated in 2011.

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini said Italy had nothing against the Pakistani government. “The enemy is violence, extremism and fanaticism,” he added.

Ashiq Masih and one of the couple’s two daughters met Pope Francis at the Vatican in February and participated in a demonstration organised by the ACN in which Rome’s Coliseum was lit in red to bring attention to the woman’s plight.

The group plans to dye parts of the Grand Canal in Venice red at another demonstration this month.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2018

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CJP takes notice of ‘huge losses of lives, property’ in riots following Aasia Bibi verdict

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on Tuesday took notice of the “loss of lives and property caused to the general public” in riots that followed the court’s acquittal of Aasia Bibi last week.

On October 31, the SC had ,acquitted Aasia Bibi, — a Christian woman previously condemned to death on blasphemy charges — after accepting her appeal against her sentence.

The top court’s decision had angered reliogiopolitical parties, including the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which had ,taken to the streets, and staged violent sit-ins and protests across the country.

The protests had at times escalated into riots, with protesters setting vehicles on fire and on one occasion even pillaging the push cart of a child selling bananas.

The chief justice, according to SC spokesperson, today took notice of the “losses of property and lives caused to general public” with the intent to “compensate the victims who lost their valuables or properties during the tragic incidents”.

The notice, the court added, was taken on media reports that significant losses were caused to the general public in the wake of the apex court’s verdict in the Aasia Bibi case.

Furthermore, the chief justice has directed the federal and provincial governments to furnish within three days their reports detailing the estimated losses.

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In Senate, opposition parties criticise government for not being forceful enough in dealing with TLP

The Senate convened on Tuesday under the chairmanship of Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to debate the law and order situation after the Supreme Court’s acquittal of Aasia Bibi in the blasphemy case against her.

Before the debate formally began, Minister of IT Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui filed a motion to withdraw proposed amendments to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act on behalf of the government, which was approved by the house.

The minister argued that the bill had been authored on the directives of deposed Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui and it was therefore proper that the government re-examine it.

Right after, the opposition pushed for a debate on Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) nationwide protests.

“We do not want the state and Constitution to be sullied like this,” the PPP’s Parliamentary Leader, Senator Sherry Rehman said.

“The entire nation was at a standstill for three days. If we start to examine [what happened], they [the government] will say ‘This was also done before; the state entered a similar agreement last year as well,” she continued.

“[But] what happened this time is a grave tragedy. We are not here to taunt and challenge the government — enough of that was done on the streets for [those] three days.

“[But] Our army chief was called out by name. The judiciary, the state and the army were dragged [into the mess]: what kind of message is being sent with these actions?” she asked.

“The government was all talk and no action. This was the first time we’ve heard the state challenged like this. How can this challenge be ignored?”

“We will not politic on this: the PPP has always toed the patriotic line in times like these. [However,] we will demand that the state provide protection to everyone.

“The state ought to protect the judges. Whether they give right decisions or wrong ones, the state should be behind them. Those who are openly rebelling against the law and Constitution should be dealt with. This is a trying time for Pakistan: the government should not try to bypass parliament,” she concluded.

The PPP veteran also sought answers from the government over loans secured from foreign governments and foreign policy.

“The parliament was not taken into confidence on [foreign] loans,” she regretted.

“We have also promised to mediate the Yemen-Saudi Arabia dispute: on what terms will this mediation be done? We should tackle our own wars first,” she said.

Taking over, Senator Raza Rabbani regretted that the country was shut down for three days and Constitutional institutions were attacked.

He said the Senate ought to address a matter of this nature but his demand was ignored, prompting him to register a protest.

“If parliament itself cannot address a challenge to the [supremacy of the] Constitution, who will?” he asked. “It is incumbent upon us to defend the Constitution.”

Taking over, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) attacked the judiciary and Supreme Court for a judgement that he described as “the murder of justice”.

His party actively organised and participated in protests calling for the death penalty to be administered to Aasia Bibi despite the apex court finding glaring inconsistencies in witnesses’ statements and other aspects of the case.

“[Tell us], did America or the west interfere [in the judicial process]? What took the Supreme Court so long to decide the case,” he said.

“The chief justice claims to love the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and then lets the person who insulted him go,” he said.

His remarks were swiftly expunged by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani.

“There can be no debate over the conduct of judges,” he said. “All personal remarks against judges and their judgements should be expunged from the day’s proceedings,” he ruled.

Regretting the line taken by the opposition, Murad Saeed, the minister of state for communication, said: “I had come here expecting some good suggestions to come out of this debate.”

“The Constitution accords the right to peaceful protest to every citizen,” he noted. “Every party had said we do not want a repeat of Lal Masjid or the Model Town tragedy,” he reminded the opposition parties, addressing criticism of the government not having done enough to address the protests.

Conflicting messages?

The strong stance taken by the opposition against the government’s settlement with TLP leaders appears to be at odds with its own desire to resolve the matter with talks ahead of the weekend.

On Thursday, former opposition leader and PPP stalwart Khursheed Shah had condemned Prime Minister Imran Khan for taking an adversarial stance by warning protesters to not clash with the state in a televised address a day earlier.

“There was violence in his [PM Khan's] tone. You cannot bring peace with this tone,” Shah had said.

He had been backed up by the PML-N’s former railways minister, Khawaja Saad Rafique, who had said: “We believe that Imran Khan’s body language and tone was aggressive during his address.”

Later the same day, Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif had made it clear that the opposition would not stand by the government in case of a crackdown on mobs and urged a resolution to the ongoing crisis with “political shrewdness”.

“The supremacy of the Constitution is the foundation of this country. Institutions should not be disrespected. [However,] we will not support the use of force under any situation,” Sharif had stated in clear terms.

A day later, while the government sought a joint parliamentary resolution condemning the protests, former PPP prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had reiterated that his party would not support the use of force.

“We want a resolution through dialogue,” Ashraf had said.

Meanwhile, the PML-N had refused to discuss how to tackle the issue over a tiff on the adjournment of the National Assembly due to a lack of quorum on that day.

“Given the current situation, if the government proceeds with the policy it has undertaken, it will cause things to worsen,” former PML-N defence minister Khawaja Asif had warned while calling for the National Assembly to be reconvened to discuss the matter.

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Court to decide whether Aasia Bibi will be placed on ECL, says religious affairs minister

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noorul Haq Qadri while speaking to the media on Tuesday said that the court would decide on the matter of placing Aasia Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL).

The government and Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) had on ,Friday, reached an agreement after which the latter ended its three-day-long nationwide protests against the Supreme Court’s acquittal last week of Asia Bibi who had been sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy.

One of the points both parties agreed on was that the government would “initiate the legal process” to place Aasia Bibi’s name on the no-fly list.

When asked whether her name had been placed on the ECL, Qadri said: “If you read the agreement, you’ll see it says that legal process will be undertaken to place her on the ECL.”

“When there are cases in the Supreme Court and high court, the court itself says that so-and-so should be placed on the ECL. So we will follow that process.”

“The TLP also said that some miscreants used their platform to damage public property and had behaved inappropriately. The state will take action against them,” he added.

“We stand by the agreement, and it will be acted upon,” Qadri asserted.

When asked whether the TLP would be banned, the minister said that there was no plan to ban the TLP.

“However, if someone’s intentions or designs are in conflict with the national narrative and policies, then hopefully steps will be taken against them,” he replied.

Qadri said that the role of the state and the government is like that of a mother, and the government’s first responsibility is to restore peace.

The minister said that the government was formulating strategies in anticipation of similar situations in the future.

Qadri also commented on the recent death of Maulana Samiul Haq calling it a unfortunate incident, and described it as part of a greater conspiracy.

Chief of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, Maulana Samiul Haq was assassinated in his house in Bahria Town on ,November 2,.

Qadri said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had given orders for an investigation into the murder of Maulana Sami while he was still on his trip in China.

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