Anti-Politics Dream Of Establishment And The Rise Of TLP
The late Khadim Hussein Rizvi, the charismatic leader of Tehrik-e-Laibak Pakistan (TLP) was the very opposite of the image of a conventional politician in our society. In conventional sense his party is not a political party—pursuing a single point agenda of protecting the honor of Holy Prophet (PBUH). The TLP, right from the very beginning epitomizes the “anti-politics” machine that strikes at the very root of representative politics in our society. Mr Rizvi was everything that a conventional politician was not supposed to be—he believed in no institutions, at least this is what one gathered from his rhetoric. He believed in no history. His rhetoric mostly concerned with the medieval period of Islam and then jumped quite unsavourily into the present when some crooks had attempted to change the law relating to the issue of last Prophethood in Pakistani law, society for him was there only to listen and implement what he has to say on the interpretation of Islam and his axioms. There was absolutely no place for needs, requirements and enormous problems that existed in our society in his rhetoric.
Politics and politicians were filthy—he used abusive language against them and their traits and deeds. Politicians were portrayed as crooks in his rhetoric and political system, any part of it or any institutions in it finds a mention in his rhetoric only to the extent that deals with his mythological understanding of religion. Unlike the modernist-revivalist, Islamic political leaders that came to dominate public and political life in Pakistan after independence, Mr Rizvi hated politics. He never talked about politics as a requirement of the society, something that needs to be done in order to keep the political and social forces on track of normalcy and stability.
There was nothing new about this type of rhetoric as it has been a part of our village clergy’s life since time immemorial. In this state of mind our village clergy readily put all their eggs in the basket of those who command power in their vicinity. At the local level this would mean the village cleric could be extremely abusive towards everyone on the face of planet earth, but not against the feudal, in whose area his mosque is located. At the national level this would mean that Khadim Hussein Rizvi would not say a word against those who have brought him to Faizabad in the first place.
The religious clergy or leaders belonging to the Barelvi sect — believed to be the largest in central Punjab — started to mobilise themselves politically back in 2009, when they were used as a bulwark against the rising tide of the Taliban movement. If one was to delve deeper into history, religio-political parties belonging to the Barelvi sect had been active in Pakistani politics since the 1970s, especially during the political agitation against the Bhutto regime. But these parties became dormant following the rise of Deobandi-led jihadism during the Afghan jihad in the 1980s and 1990s.The establishment was looking for allies in the civil society when military operations began in tribal areas and Swat in late 2000s. Images of Sufism as the soft face of Islam took the military establishment to the doorsteps of the Barelvi leadership whom they found ready to oppose their old theological rivals — Taliban or Deobandi jihadists. This honeymoon between the establishment and Barelvi leadership ended in 2011 when the latter started violent protests against the arrest of Mumtaz Qadri, the police guard who killed Governor Salmaan Taseer on charges of blasphemy. But it was perhaps too late. What had been mobilized could not be demobilized so easily.
The rise of the anti-politics machine in the form of TLP is beneficial for the military and political establishment from two perspectives. Firstly, TLP is deadly against the traditional politicians, who, in the present political context, are the sworn enemies of the establishment. When hundreds of TLP followers gathered at Minar-e-Pakistan to attend the funeral of Khadim Hussein Rizvi, the pro-military journalists started comparing this mammoth gathering with the “tiny gathering” which assembled to listen to the anti-military tirades of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Secondly, TLP type of religion-political party could easily eclipse the troublesome religious-political parties like Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam and Jamat-e-Islami, which can cause trouble for Pakistani political and military establishment on issues like Kashmir and Palestine.
The organizational structure of the military and bureaucratic state of Pakistan has undergone numerous changes since the creation of Pakistan, but these structures have been persistent in their anti-politics dream—for them politics is bad, corrupt and decadent. Military is clean, disciplined, with a clear national sense of purpose. Twice in our history Pakistan masses judged this to be wrong — first in 1988 when Benazir Bhutto came to power in Pakistan after the dark era of military rule came to an end when Zia’s plane crashed. Secondly when in 2008 PPP again came to power through a parliamentary election. At present it is difficult to roll back the advances that the popular politics has made in our society. But the forces who find themselves on the wrong side of history are making a last ditch attempt to prevent popular forces from making further advances by putting this anti-politics machine of TLP in their midst.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.