Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has criticised PTI Senator Ejaz Ahmed Chaudhry’s move of meeting and presenting flowers to Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Saad Hussain Rizvi following the latter’s release from jail in November as “absurd”.
Fawad’s remark came while he was speaking on Aaj News programme Rubaroo on Saturday about the lynching of Sri Lankan factory manager Priyantha Kumara in Sialkot over blasphemy allegations a day earlier.
The TLP was linked to the gory incident by users on social media, but the group distanced itself from the lynching and condemned it.
When asked about some government leaders embracing the TLP despite its violent protests in October leaving a number of policemen martyred in Punjab, Fawad singularly criticised Ejaz. “I think the manner in which Ejaz Chaudhry sahib [met] the TLP [leadership] was an absurd act. Why didn’t [he] visit the homes of the policemen who were martyred?”
Senator Ejaz had met TLP chief Rizvi last month as a “gesture of goodwill” and to congratulate him on his release from jail. Pictures of Ejaz hugging and presenting a bouquet to Rizvi were widely shared on social media.
The meeting had come after the TLP and the federal government reached an agreement on October 31 after many rounds of talks and two weeks of clashes which left seven policemen and a number of TLP workers dead. The agreement was kept secret, but leaked information suggested consensus on removing the party from the list of banned organisations, Rizvi’s release and setting TLP workers free that were held under various charges including anti-terrorism.
A week later, on November 7, the federal cabinet decided to revoke the declaration putting the TLP on the list of “proscribed” organisations under the country’s anti-terrorism law.
Apparently criticising his own government’s handling of the crisis that emerged from the violent TLP protests, Fawad said “when the state does not own its martyred [security personnel], who will stand with it tomorrow?”
Speaking about the Sialkot lynching, the minister said the issue of extremism had to be tackled by all stakeholders and emphasised that the country’s education system — especially for grades 6 to 13 — needed to undergo a review. He also attributed the failure in tackling the problem to widespread divisions among political parties.
He recalled that political decisions to curb extremism had already been taken in the form of the National Action Plan, saying until the state reclaimed its right to use power from private individuals, “we will not be able to come out of the quagmire that we are sinking into”.
Referring to the shrinking space for discussion in the country, Fawad regretted that scholars who used to speak against extremism had been martyred or forced to flee Pakistan. “So who will give the opposing narrative when the government cannot enforce the right of life?” he asked.
Asked whether Kumara’s ghastly murder would be the “turning point” in Pakistan’s fight against extremism, the information minister said the problem would not end by simply hanging or imprisoning the culprits involved in the lynching.
“The problem is bigger than that. The problem is that you are producing rabid dogs such as these on a daily basis. How will you stop that?” he said, adding that the state will have to “put locks on the tongues and enforce the law on the people who are the reason behind these issues”.
Fawad acknowledged that the subject was quite “complex”, and said the Centre and the provinces will have to implement the code of conduct given in the NAP and review the action plan to fill the gaps in its execution.
The minister’s comments come amid countrywide outrage after a mob comprising hundreds of protestors, including the employees of the factory Kumara was the manager of, tortured him to death on Friday and later burnt his body.
The First Information Report was registered against 900 workers of Rajco Industries on the application of Uggoki Station House Officer (SHO) Armaghan Maqt under Sections 302, 297, 201, 427, 431, 157, 149 of the Pakistan Penal Code and 7 and 11WW of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
The applicant admitted that the protesters had slapped, kicked, punched and hit Kumara with sticks in his presence, and dragged him out of the factory on Wazirabad Road where he died. They then set the body on fire. The SHO said he was helpless in front of the mob owing to shortage of personnel.
Over the past two days, police have arrested scores of suspects, including 19 who played a “central role” in the brutal killing.