Ban Not Enough: 5 Critical Steps Needed To Deal With Pakistan’s TLP Problem
The government’s decision to ban Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) under anti-terrorism act amid the group’s violent protests in the country is a case of too little, too late. Unless the ban on the extremist group is accompanied by a serious policy shift, it is bound to fail and remain largely ineffective.
Extremist outfits that have been banned in the past continued their activities by operating under different names. They have also contested elections without being questioned about the ‘banned’ status of their groups. In 2018, civil society activists and public figures including slain politician Ali Raza Abidi had called on the authorities to stop banned outfit Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) from taking part in the polls. Petitions were filed in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to bar extremist individuals from trying to enter the electoral process, but the concerns fell on deaf ears.
Banned organisation ASWJ contested the 2018 general elections from the platform of a new group called Pakistan Rah-e-Haq Party. The TLP also actively participated in the 2018 polls and bagged two provincial assembly seats from Sindh. Although not banned at the time, TLP’s indulgence in hate speech and incitement to violence was clear, yet it was given an open space in the electoral arena.
There is little indication that this policy of tolerance for extremist outfits has changed, which is why a ban alone cannot guarantee an end to TLP’s violent activities.
Here are five crucial steps that need to be taken alongside banning the TLP if the state is serious about addressing the issue of extremism.
1- Implementation of the SC Faizabad verdict
The 2018 Faizabad verdict by Justice Qazi Faez Isa had correctly identified the root cause of Pakistan’s TLP problem, yet it remains unimplemented. The judgement stated that the ‘free publicity’ TLP got during the Faizabad dharna made it a ‘phenomenon’. Ironically, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed who announced the ban on TLP had been named in the SC verdict as a facilitator of the TLP protests in 2017. Rasheed had delivered inflammatory speeches and issued video messages extending support to the rioting leaders of the TLP.
The judgment also questioned the role of the ECP which had failed to get the requisite information from TLP about its funds.
“The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) confirmed that TLP did not account for its funds and election expenses, but, surprisingly, professes its helplessness because the law according to it is cosmetic in nature,” the verdict read.
Another important point of the Faizabad judgement was the impunity the group enjoyed as its workers rioted and beat up citizens.
“The right of assembly, the freedom of association and the freedom of speech cannot be exercised by infringing the fundamental rights of others. Without obtaining permission public meetings cannot be held on roads. Nor can a road be used as a camping ground or to assemble on it indefinitely,” the verdict had noted.
If the state had implemented the Faizabad verdict when it came out in 2018, Pakistan would not be facing this situation today. It is therefore time to revisit the verdict and ensure implementation of all its points.
2- PM, Interior Minister should issue apology
During the 2017 Faizabad dharna, Prime Minister Imran Khan had said that PTI workers wanted to join the TLP protests because they felt as strongly about the Khatm-e-Nabuwat issue and the PML-N government’s alleged attempt to remove that clause from the election law. By supporting an extremist group which his own government has now banned, Imran Khan had participated in inciting violence against state officials. Former interior minister Ahsan Iqbal was shot by a TLP sympathiser as a result of the anti-government narrative created by the TLP over the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause issue at the time. Those who lent support to TLP’s dangerous rhetoric are also responsible for the attack on Ahsan Iqbal and the power that the TLP now enjoys.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed had also supported the TLP, as was stated in the ISI report submitted to the Supreme Court in Faizabad dharna case. It makes little sense that these two individuals will now lead the action against TLP. Both Imran Khan and Sheikh Rasheed should apologise for their past support to the extremist group and acknowledge their mistake. This is the only way the government can regain a semblance of credibility as it mulls over action against TLP.
3- No more agreements with extremist groups
It is also time for the state to restore its monopoly over legitimate use of force. (Use of force by the state in Pakistan these days is hardly legitimate, but that is a separate discussion). The government needs to give a clear message that no group can be allowed to use force and take law into its own hands. The many agreements signed with the TLP gave it the legitimacy based on which it is now challenging the state by killing and beating up policemen. There needs to be clear messaging that no agreements will be signed with any group that uses religion to incite violence or engages in any form of violence. Appeasing these groups by trying to prove its sincerity to Islam will not help the government overcome the menace of extremism. Appeasement of the extremists, as is evident from recent history, does not work.
Moreover, political parties must also learn from their mistakes and avoid entering into alliances/seat adjustments with extremist groups.
4- End policy of using extremists for political gains
If the establishment’s policy of using extremist groups for political and strategic gains continues, banning TLP will be useless. A major course correction is in order if the state is to combat the issue of extremism once and for all. The practice of launching and patronising religious groups to make and break governments always backfires. These flawed security policies must therefore end for good.
5- Counter extremism interventions
Pakistan needs a comprehensive de-radicalisation plan to save the citizens especially youth from bring radicalised by extremists. A counter extremism strategy in the country is long overdue. The state must build a narrative against the practice of using religion for violence and bring moderate clerics on board for this purpose. The misuse of blasphemy law and all forms of violence in the name of blasphemy/religion must be dealt with an iron fist so mob justice which has become a routine occurrence in Pakistan over the years can be ended.
Federal investigation Agency (FIA) and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) should launch action against hateful literature on social media and take notice of online campaigns inciting violence against minority communities.
Further, curriculum reforms will have to be a vital part of counter-extremism intervention. Lessons of tolerance and interfaith harmony should be added to the curricula to undo the results of decades of radicalisation.
Lack of student unions often paves the way for extremism on campuses where there is little space for progressive views today. This needs to change if Pakistan is to save the future of its younger generation. Campuses are meant to be spaces for critical expression and ideological debates.
These steps can help us fight the monster of extremism that was created by our own policies. Banning TLP without putting the house in order will make little difference.