Rule Of Law: Between PTI And TLP
Last week, a far-right religio-political party TLP virtually jammed the whole country through roadblocks and sit-ins after their supremo Saad Hussain Rizvi was arrested from Lahore. Being the son of the late fiery orator Khadim Rizi, Saad enjoys almost the same following: thus his arrest didn’t go well to the party which eventually kept the country besieged for over three days. Rising from deep slumber, the government ultimately banned TLP on charges that the party vandalized and ransacked public and government properties, attacked police and unlawfully created hurdles for public movement. The decision drew mixed reactions with many fearing the TLP could emerge with a different name but with the same pattern while the others hailed the move and termed it a valiant one. But the question is whether TLP did any different from PTI when the latter was in opposition. And if not, why then was only TLP banned while PTI sits at the helm of power?
The PTI was born well before TLP, but it was reinvigorated in 2011 when the party suddenly became a mammoth political force, thanks to ‘hidden hands’. The following years witnessed PTI becoming a force to reckon after it was mysteriously supported by all key stakeholders of the state i.e. judiciary, media and the mighty establishment. Its first run to power remained unsuccessful but failure put it on the path of confrontation and agitation. Disagreeing with every move of the then PML-N government, PTI would take to the street jamming traffic and public movement quite a few times either in the name of protest against inflation or bad governance.
And who could forget the sit-in lasting 126 days in Islamabad where PTI besieged the capital? The party chairman Imran Khan openly threatened security forces if they came after PTI’s followers. Signaling to the police, he even stated “I’ll hang you with my own hands.” Taking encouragement from the announcement, the PTI workers went on to attack the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) and disconnected the channel’s transmission for several hours. Charged PTI activists also beat up on-duty police officers before storming PTV headquarters. Some protesters even hung their trousers on the Supreme Court building.
On another occasion, Imran Khan publicly outlined his plan to shut down the country in phases from the capital Islamabad to economic hub Karachi and Punjab’s center Lahore. The party also ran social media campaigns with hashtags such as #ShutDownToRebuild while giant pamphlets favoring cities’ shut down were hung on major roads. PTI’s Karachi stalwart and current President Arif Alvi, was once filmed threatening the security forces and favouring shutting the city down.
The TLP, on the contrary, is a nascent party and nobody had heard of the party before 2016 until it came under patronage. The party saw its rise when late Khadim Rizvi was leading it. Belonging to the Barelvi school of thought, the TLP has a habit of taking the law in its own hands. When there was an apparent attempt to adjust a clause of the Election Bill 2017 in the declaration form of the public office holders, the TLP called it null and void and an attack on the sanctity of religion. The controversy escalated, leading to nationwide protests and traffic jams while the then Law Minister ended up resigning. That was the moment when the TLP really came to the limelight. Later, with the establishment’s discomfort with the sitting PML-N government, TLP was used as a front-line force, having been given the religion card to defame the government. It did astonishingly well. The PML-N went on to lose at least 21 seats directly and another 18 indirectly due to the Barelvi vote going to TLP – a vote bank which historically was with the PML-N. Even though TLP could only manage to win a couple of seats from the whole of the country, the damage was done: it dented PML-N’s support base.
The upward trend of TLP continued even after the 2018 elections. Last year, after controversy around Islamic religious sentiments arose from France, TLP took to streets again. Sticking to previous practices, TLP workers wreaked havoc: clashing with police officials and injuring them while blocked several roads. They asked the government to expel the French ambassador. Bowing to religious pressure, the PTI government inked a deal with TLP assuring them to resolve the matter in a matter of months.
Law-breaking, mocking state institutions and ridiculing the writ of the state are some of the common ground that both PTI and TLP share. Both have overstepped many times. TLP was banned by the state while PTI is not only in power, but ironically enough, it went on to ban TLP. The state was helpless both when PTI took the law in its own hands and when TLP blatantly violated laws. In any other civilized society, both parties would have faced the same treatment but in Pakistan, as the PM rightly points out, there are two laws, one for the powerful and one for the rest of the population.
The writer has completed a Masters in Financial Technology from Imperial College, London. She occasionally opines on politics, social issues and climate change