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Pakistan plays into the hands of the TLP, again (Opinion)

The horrific Sialkot lynching has been linked to the Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), both ideologically and operatively. This is the natural outcome of the state succumbing to the TLP yet again.

After months of protests by the formerly banned political party, TLP, the Pakistani government decided to release its detained chief, Saad Hussain Rizvi. The government initially held its ground, but finally gave in and released the ameer of TLP early on Thursday, November 18.

Rizvi was taken into custody seven months ago, on April 12, 2021, under the MPO Ordinance 1960. According to the MPO (Maintenance of Public Order) Ordinance, the “Government, if satisfied that with a view to preventing any person from acting in any manner prejudicial to public safety or the maintenance of public order, it is necessary so to do, may, by an order in writing, direct the arrest and detention in such custody as may be prescribed under sub-section (7), of such person for such period as may, subject to the other provisions of this section, be specified in the order, and Government, if satisfied that for the aforesaid reasons it is necessary so to do, may, extend from time to time the period of such detention, [for a period not exceeding six months at a time.]”

In simpler words, it means that the government has the authority to detain whomsoever it wills as long as such a person is deemed, or predicted, to be a threat to public safety.

MPO, which is now known as the Punjab Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance, was promulgated by Pakistan’s first military dictator, Ayub Khan as the West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance. It has since been transferred to the provinces, as West Pakistan was split into 4 provinces shortly before the fall of Dhaka.

Saad Hussain Rizvi was accused of inciting his followers to take the law into their hands after the Government, in his view, had backtracked on its commitment to expel the French envoy from the country by April 20, 2021. Following Rizvi’s arrest, his party, too, was banned by the Pakistani government in April 2021, after violent clashes with the law enforcement agencies resulted in the death of two police officers.

However, neither the banning nor the arrest of its chief deterred the party’s personnel from taking to the streets. Its most recent protest, which started in October, was the seventh in the past 5 years. Most of these latest series of protests have primarily been anti-France, instigated by Charlie Hebdo’s republication of the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in September 2020, and their support by the French President Emmanuel Macron.

Rizvi’s release came just a day before the first death anniversary of his father, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the first ameer of the TLP. Preparations were underway for an ‘urs’ for the deceased former chief, which was set to begin on Friday, the 19th. 
Sentiments ran high in the Islamic country when Rizvi passed away on November 19, last year.

“The funeral prayers of Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi have been offered. The participation of thousands of devotees in the prayers has opened the eyes of all powers within and without the country. All parties operating from behind the veil, who wish to have the Khatam-e-Nabuwat clause altered have received a decision from the Muslims of Pakistan on the finality of the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him),” argues Islamist commentator Muhammad Akram Chaudhry.

“This funeral has proven to be a referendum for the people who wish to have the Khatam-e-Nabuwat clause altered. The relationship between these thousands of people and Khadim Hussain Rizvi is solely the love of the Khatam-e-Nabuwat clause. Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s clear and straight forward stance on the Khatam-e-Nabuwat clause is what gave him fame,” he added.

A more poised assessment of the late leader shows how it is possible to admire the drive and passion of a person without extoling him or agreeing with his goals:

“The origins of Mr Rizvi might not have been glorious. There were many leaders of Labbaik in his competition. But he did possess certain qualities that appealed to a large sector of a population borne down by life’s problems,” maintains political commentator Aasher Rehman.

“Firstly, his apparent personality or ‘persona’. A disabled man incapable of moving either of his legs, disregarding his physical weakness was pouncing towards his goals.Other than this, Allama Rizvi’s words – like a good feature – offered different content for different people. History of Islam, Iqbal, Persian poetry, and his witty conversations, which were presented as proof of his mass appeal by those who admired him.”

This is not, it is important to note, the first time that the Pakistani government has been forced to accept the radical Islamist political party’s demands. On the contrary, much of the TLP’s protests have resulted in the Pakistani government’s concession to the demands of this formerly banned outfit (the ban has since been lifted).

The first of the party’s protests came in November 2017 over the replacement of the words “I solemnly swear” with “I believe” (“in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (Peace be upon him)” among other things) on a form that election nominees had to fill out. Despite the government claiming repeatedly that the switching of the two phrases was unintentional – ‘a clerical mistake’ – the TLP demanded the clause be changed back to its original state, and for the-then Law Minister, Zaid Hamid, to hand in his resignation. Both demands were agreed upon and met by the government.

In October 2018, the TLP again rose in protest against the acquittal of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman accused of blasphemy. As a result, the government promised the party’s leadership that it would challenge the acquittal and put Asia’s name on the Exit Control List. This time, however, the government failed to deliver on its promises, resulting in another protest in November 2018. The latter protest culminated in the arrest of the-then chief of the TLP, Khadim Hussain being taken into protective custody.

Two years later, in November 2020, the group again set out for Islamabad to stage another protest, this time against the republication of the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the French President’s nod in favour of them. The group demanded the Pakistani government to expel the French ambassador to Pakistan from the country and to boycott French goods – both demands that the government agreed to meet.

Two months later, in January 2021, the group took to the streets again to pressurize the government into delivering upon the terms agreed to in November. A fresh agreement was thence signed, with the government ensuring the party that its demands would be tabled in the parliament.

Another three months later, in April 2021, TLP staged a new protest to demand action on the November agreement. This time around, the government stood its ground, arresting the chief of the party, and banning the outfit altogether under the anti-terrorism law. A spell of negotiations and another protest later, however, the government has decided to withdraw its decision to ban the outfit and, just 10 days later, has now also released its chief.

The popularity of the party among the masses certainly seems to have had a bearing upon the government’s lenient dealing with the Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan.

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