–Interior Minister Afridi says vandalism during anti-Aasia Bibi protests was perpetrated by workers of ‘other parties’
–Defends accord with TLP, says govt will ’embrace its citizens and hold dialogues with them’ in ‘Naya Pakistan’
ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Thursday gave a clean chit to the hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), whose three-day-long protest against the acquittal of blasphemy convict Aasia Bibi had brought the country to a complete standstill, accusing workers of ‘other political parties’ of resorting to violence and vandalism during the protests.
Briefing the Senate on Thursday, State Minister for Interior Shehryar Afridi claimed that political workers from other parties had come out on the streets and resorted to violence, adding that the TLP has distanced itself from the vandalism during the sit-ins.
“We showed TLP leadership the footage of the people being violent on the streets and they distanced themselves from those persons,” the minister told the Upper House as he defended the extremist outfit.
“We met with the TLP leadership yesterday and I will soon brief the prime minister on what transpired during the meeting,” he said, claiming that while leaderships of the other parties were extending support to the government in parliament, they had unleashed their workers on the streets to damage public property.
In a ‘strong’ message to vandals, the minister said those who “challenged the writ of the state and take the law into their own hands will not be given any concessions as the government will make an example out of them”.
Justifying the deal with the TLP to end the protests, the interior minister said the agreement was signed to avoid “bloodshed”.
“Naya Pakistan does not believe in bloodshed,” the minister claimed. “The government will not use bullets against its own citizens. We will embrace our citizens and hold dialogues with them.”
It merits mention here that the TLP led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi took to streets soon after the top court’s acquittal of Aasia Bibi and blocked major arteries countrywide. The sit-ins led by its leadership publically called for the killings of judges—part of the bench that absolved Aasia— and urged army personnel to rebel against Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa for his alleged involvement in the release.
After PM Khan’s ‘aggressive’ stance against the protesters in a televised address, the government subsequently caved in and signed a five-point agreement. The agreement was widely criticised by the media, civil society and opposition parties.
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.
The protesters had sent at least four Lahore police personnel to hospital beside violence in several cities of the country. The protesters had also torched vehicles. However, the minister told senators that not a single drop of blood was spilled during the three days.
Afridi pointed out that protesters had apologised in the agreement that was signed.
“To petition the court to review the case is a legal right,” the minister said.
Afridi appeared in Senate to give the government’s version after PPP senators chided the government for its surrender.
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 state institutions were attacked.