ISLAMABAD: A summary moved by the Ministry of Interior seeking the de-proscription of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) was approved by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday despite serious reservations expressed by some members of the federal cabinet.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid confirmed that the summary had been approved for action by the prime minister.
The summary was circulated among 27 ministers of the federal cabinet on Saturday; consent of 14 ministers was required to approve or reject the summary. Government sources said there wereenough numbers within the cabinet to give a nod to the summary, despite strong opposition voiced by some ministers on the matter on legal and political grounds.
It is also important that the secret agreement between the government and the TLP is also not shared with the cabinet ministers (Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Ali Mohammad are exceptions) which raises question on the quality of decision making of the cabinet members.
“Decision of the cabinet does not get effected by the lack of information or knowledge of the agreement as this is the prerogative of the cabinet member to raise or not to raise the issue,” says a former secretary Cabinet who wants to remain anonymous.
The Interior Ministry had cited TLP’s assurance to the government that it will not organise violent protests as the basis of the removal of the party’s proscribed status. However, some ministers were reluctant to sign off on the summary and told the prime minister that the issue carried legal and political repercussions. It was suggested that a thorough debate be held on both aspects before a final decision. One minister wrote that law of proscription was outlined in Section 11-B of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997, under which an organisation was considered a terrorist outfit if it commits, facilitates, or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism; supports and assists any organisation with terrorism; patronises and assists in the incitement of hatred and contempt on religious, sectarian or ethnic lines that stir up disorder; fails to expel from its ranks or ostracize those who commit acts of terrorism and presents them as heroic persons.
“It is evident that the TLP fulfils all these requirements and hundreds of ATA cases have been registered against the TLP leadership for acts of terrorism,” the dissenting note said. The cabinet was reminded that if the organisation was not proscribed but the government decided to proceed with the cases against the TLP leadership, it would defeat the purpose of the law.
It was also pointed out that Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, in a judgement on the Ghulam Hussain Case, had clearly laid out conditions of ‘design’ and ‘purpose’ from Section 6 of the ATA which defined terrorism, and that the TLP fulfilled this definition.
The Supreme Court too, in the Faizabad dharna case, had declared that the TLP’s activities were well beyond the constitutional limitations.
These officials argued that the cabinet had sound legal grounds to proscribe the TLP. “There is ample evidence on record that connects TLP with terrorism, now it is using street power to force the cabinet to reverse its decision, this is also a glaring example of terrorism by this group.”
It was recalled that six police officers were killed in the line of duty and many others had suffered serious injuries in clashes with the TLP. “It will be a betrayal of the souls of the martyrs if the people responsible for their blood are not punished. No one will stand for the state if today we betray the police forces,” the official argued.
The government was also reminded that de-proscription of the TLP would undermine state authority and the morale of law enforcement personnel, particularly the Punjab Police.
The prime minister was told that this was not the first time the TLP had killed police officers, and incitement by the party’s leadership had also resulted in attacks on ministers.
“The state exercises monopoly on violence because it must be used fairly to protect the life and property of an ordinary law-abiding citizen. If the state backs off from this responsibility, as it has done here, then everyone should carry weapons to defend themselves,” the official said. “If a peaceful settlement means that the state will not punish those who break the law, then why punish a common street criminal? He is also committing crime to feed his family, which is a noble cause. Why not give a pass to a suicide bomber who is killing himself in what he thinks as his love of Allah? This argument is not only hollow but is ominously dangerous.”
The federal government was also reminded that the move to de-proscribe TLP also carried serious political implications. “If we allow TLP, then we have no justification to ban Altaf Hussain and his section of the MQM, or even the SSP and LeT. They will also claim to be cleared. Their offences are similar to TLP’s and this precedent will surely apply on their cases as well.”
The cabinet was urged to carefully examine the sectarian aspect of its decision. “If today we lift the ban on a party of one sect, others will claim the same treatment and the state will find itself in a very dangerous situation.”
The consequences of the move to de-proscribe TLP could also be far-reaching on the global stage. “Such gestures will make Pakistan look very bad in the eyes of the international community. “We are already facing difficulty in selling our narrative internationally; the decision will further isolate Pakistan. The consequences of legitimising the terrorism of TLP is beyond comprehension at a time when we are also facing scrutiny by the FATF.”
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