Thousands of workers of the proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) continued their sit-in in Wazirabad for a second day on Saturday as they waited for instructions from their leaders to move ahead.
The workers, who reached Wazirabad from Gujranwala on Friday, spent the night at the Zafar Ali Khan Bypass. Meanwhile, traffic and internet services remained suspended in the city while businesses also remained closed.
A senior official earlier told local media that the next TLP-police encounter was expected at two major security points that had been established at Chenab and Jhelum rivers, the only route for the march to reach Islamabad.
On Friday, hundreds of Rangers and police personnel were deployed at the Chenab toll plaza to counter the marchers.
The security personnel also have armoured vehicles with them and are equipped with riot gear, according to police sources.
About 500 metres from the Chenab toll plaza, the Punjab Rangers marked a ‘red line’, and put up a notice nearby warning the protesters not to breach the line or face consequences.
Rally affects train operations
In view of the situation caused due to the TLP rally, Pakistan Railways announced that two trains between Karachi and Rawalpindi — Tezgam Express and Pakistan Express — would remain suspended today (Saturday) for both inbound and outbound services.
In addition, several other trains that were scheduled to travel through Lahore would also remain suspended. These include Jaffar Express between Peshawar and Quetta, Khyber Mail between Peshawar and Karachi and Green Line between Lahore and Rawalpindi.
All other trains would function according to their schedule and route, a PR spokesperson said.
12-member committee to hold talks with TLP
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan held a meeting with a delegation of religious scholars, including Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri, to discuss the ongoing situation.
Speaking to the media after the meeting, Qadri said a 12-member committee had been formed for negotiations with the TLP on ending the proscribed group’s march on Islamabad.
“They (the committee’s members) are in touch with the government and had been in contact with the TLP leadership as well,” he said, expressing the hope that negotiations between the two sides would lead to positive results.
He said that PM Imran had told the delegation that the government always welcomed “purposeful” discussion and that their suggestions for preventing further confrontation and violence would be given regard.
To a question about the negotiations, another member of the delegation said “going into details might disrupt the talks.”
He added that they were expecting “positive” results from the talks.
Dialogue conditional to halting march toward capital
In reply to another question about making negotiations conditional to TLP protesters not moving towards Islamabad, Rashid said, “It could sabotage the negotiations.”
A day earlier, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had also said negotiations were underway between the government and detained TLP chief Saad Hussain Rizvi.
Ahmed said the government wanted to “amicably” resolve the matter of the protest march, which has disrupted life in several Punjab cities for two weeks.
The minister announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan would address the nation about the current security situation, saying “he will present the entire situation before the nation and his speech will explain the narrative of the government.”
He said four policemen had been martyred in clashes with TLP workers, while more than 80 had been injured, eight of them critically.
“We stand by our position and we are waiting for them (TLP) to abide by their commitment to open the GT Road.”
Ahmed said it was also expected that Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri would talk to the TLP leadership again.
LEAs on high alert in capital
Meanwhile, security was increased in Islamabad on Friday and senior officials of the capital police considered reinstating all suspended officials to ensure maximum manpower ahead of the proscribed group’s march.
The police are working on different strategies to stop the TLP rally from reaching the capital, the officers said, adding that they were considering establishing defence lines in Rawat, Kak Bridge and Gulberg Green, respectively.
Separate police teams are tracing the TLP’s local leaders, active workers and activists, but all disappeared, they said, adding that all their possible hiding places were raided but no one was found.
The situation is changing every day and every hour and under such circumstances, it is hard to finalise a plan, they said, adding that besides, it would also be hard to deal with the procession if they reach the capital.
Inspector-General of Police Qazi Jameelur Rehman when contacted for comments, replied that “all leaves cancelled, all on duty.”