Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) said on Wednesday that its march to Islamabad — a form of protest against Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders' announcement to hold a competition of blasphemous caricatures — will commence as planned unless Netherlands' ambassador to Pakistan is expelled from the country.
The demand was made during the first round of talks between TLP's top leadership and the government in Lahore.
The blasphemous cartoon contest, scheduled for November, is being organised in the Netherlands by Wilders — a right-wing anti-Islam lawmaker who has been widely criticised for his activities.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has distanced his government from the controversial contest, clarifying that: "Wilders is not a member of the [Dutch] government. The competition is not a government initiative."
In a tweet on Wednesday, Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal said that Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke with his Dutch counterpart to discuss the issue of "blasphemous caricatures".
"The FM expressed concern on the announcement of [the] abominable and sacrilegious competition by Geert Wilders," read the tweet, adding that the Dutch FM made it clear that his government was neither associated nor supporting the event
The religiopolitical party, meanwhile, announced that they would proceed with their march on the capital, saying that its workers would "stay on the streets until either the publication of blasphemous cartoons in the Netherlands is stopped or the govt immediately ends diplomatic ties with the Dutch".
TLP protesters have started gathering at Data Darbar in Lahore, from where they will start marching towards Islamabad after 4pm on Wednesday.
Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri and the Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat represented the government in the meeting, while Muhammad Afzal Qadri, Allama Waheed Noor and Dr Amini from the TLP were also present.
Earlier, the religiopolitical party had urged the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government to not only "discontinue diplomatic and commercial relations with the Netherlands" but also "demand from other Islamic countries to do the same".
The TLP had also demanded that since the said competition's judge is an American national, "therefore, strict measures should also be taken against the US".
The TLP had attained notoriety after it effectively disrupted daily life in Islamabad for 20 days in November 2017.
Protesters had occupied the Faizabad Interchange which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad through the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road, both of which are the busiest roads in the twin cities.
The agitators had believed that during the passage of Elections Act 2017, the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath was deliberately modified as part of a larger conspiracy. The amendment to the oath had been deemed a 'clerical error' by the government and was subsequently rectified through an Act of Parliament.
Nonetheless, TLP had demanded the resignation of key government figures for their role in the 'conspiracy'.
The PML-N government at the time had initiated several rounds of negotiations with the protesters, but failed each time. Under pressure, it had finally launched an operation to disperse the protesters, leaving at least six people killed and scores others injured.
After the botched operation, the government had decided to call in the army for help. However, the army had refused to take action, and the government had turned to negotiations with the protesters and then capitulated by conceding to a number of their demands in return for an end to the protest.