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Fringe movements like TLP prey on Centrists’ failures

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The rise of far-right fringe movements marks the collapse of Centrist political leadership in Pakistan, a global trend confirmed by the victory of Donald Trump in 2016. Gradually but surely, the center is shrinking in our region too. And in Pakistan the likes of Rizvis are gaining ground.

The proclivity of TLP to cripple routine life activities within few hours of agitation arrays that the religio-political outfit has efficaciously established its foothold at the grassroots level. It is also a perilous sign that status-quo comprising Centrist parties like PPPP and PML-N (who have roughly run country’s affairs for two decades or so combined) is disintegrating and that these parties have utterly failed in addressing the legitimate concerns of their voters.

What sets the alarm bells ringing is the fact that TLP has time and again flexed its muscles in country’s so-called most developed areas like Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi and Islamabad, thus busting the myths that extremism preys on poverty and illiteracy only. As a matter of fact, masses, specifically those from middle-class are sick of seeing same old leaders in power with their expired and futile narratives. Furthermore, top brass of the fringe movements in Pakistan has triumphantly coaxed public into surmising that state institutions—typically shielded by the conventional politicians—are good for none as they act as buttress to protect the illegitimate and illicit interests of the corrupt political elite while suppressing legitimate rights of the under-privileged segments of the society.

Masses are also being easily swayed by the fringe movements—particularly religio-political ones—that their beliefs and culture are near extinction because of the threats posed and conspiracies hatched by powerful international establishment with their local collaborators, thus they successfully intimidate zealots against potential loss of identity – be it religious, ethnic or political. And by provoking and hurting sentiments of Muslims under the banner of freedom of speech time and again, West becomes witting accomplice and provides much-needed oxygen to the religious hardliners. A big example lies in Middle East where ISIS served its paranoid narrative of Western Islamophobia.

Never-ending economic crisis, a decade of worst bloodbath and wanton lawlessness ensuing from bad governance, also fueled a public backlash and gave more fodder to fringe groups who took advantage of the situation.

The strong yearning of the deep-state to completely manage affairs from behind the veil has also played key role in the resurrection of far-right Sunni hardliners. Initially plotted as vote spoilers, TLP left stakeholders flabbergasted after emerging as fifth largest party in recently concluded general elections. This also marks shift in the strategy signaling an end of romance with far-right Deobandi groups. Rizvi seems perfect embodiment of doctrine once adored by the military i.e. Ziaism.

The rise of the likes of Rizvis and Khans also marks return of medieval model of political-cum-authoritarian populism in Pakistan where masses prefer strong personalities over functional state-institutions. Modern examples are Turkey and Russia where Erdogan and Putin have been in power for nearly two decades. In the neighboring India, Modi single-handedly cruised BJP to power with his ‘56-inch chest’.

Beside centrists’ failures and support of deep-state, the inconceivable evolution of TLP as a political force to reckon with lies in the pulpit of the mosque. The Rizvi-led fringe group is hammering in the message of redemption through the pulpit, on a scale not seen in Pakistan since Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan back then in 1970s and 80s. The ideologues of TLP are so bewitched with luminosity of ‘Vote Do Jannat Lo’ (Vote us and get Jannah) slogan that they see implementation of Rizvi’s gospels as the only way to repentance for their sins, hence providing much-needed force to the Sunni evangelist. Even Altaf Hussain couldn’t cherish such blind following in his peak years.

PTI’s case is exceptional. Ever since coming into power, it is gradually switching away from its previous rhetoric or ‘fringe mode’ to ‘Centrist mode’ as Prime Minister Khan—in his recent address to nation—could be heard advocating perks of peace while vowing to establish same writ of the state. TLP—if attains power—will likely go through similar metamorphosis.

Whether you like it or not, the rise of fringe groups in Pakistan is the beginning of an ugly wave which would eventually overhaul the barren political structure.

But can centrists resist or halt it? The answer is no. They have nothing to offer for future needs apart from ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makaan’ or ‘Vote Ko Izzat Do’. Masses are now less concerned with futile ideologies and care more for economic well-being. Furthermore, with noose tighten around their necks through premier anti-graft watchdog, centrists are busy making last-ditch efforts to stay on the political scene and avoid potential extinction.

The overhauling of political structure is repulsive but it has begun.

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Naya Daur