The TLP Factor Of Pakistan

The TLP Factor Of Pakistan
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, which came into being only six years ago, has so far achieved three major targets. It forced two elected governments to genuflect before its intimidating power. 

It pushed the the PML-N government to withdraw the 2017 election bill and sack the then law minister Zahid Hamid. The group also pushed Prime Minister Imran Khan to reverse his announcement to include known economist Atif Mian in the cabinet and most recently, compelled his government to present the resolution for debate on expelling the French envoy in the National Assembly.

The recently banned Brelvi outfit had started its activism as Tehreek-e-Rehai Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, in early months of 2015 under leadership of firebrand cleric late Khadim Hussain Rizvi and it was registered as a political party in the Election Commission of Pakistan in May 2017. 

The party was banned on April 15, 2021 by the government of Pakistan under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 Rule 11. Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that the ban on the TLP would not be lifted the same day his government presented the resolution. 

The party organised countrywide protests after the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri in 2016. It held its famous Faizabad sit-in in 2017, and later launched countrywide rallies against Aasia Bibi’s acquittal in 2018. 

And the group took to the streets once again and held countrywide protests after its leader Saad Rizvi’s arrest a few days ago. Hundreds of thousands attended the demonstrations led by TLP during the last five-six years. 

The recent violent protests started a week ago. As per reports, the government first gave its commitment to the TLP leadership to decide on the expulsion of French ambassador or otherwise through Parliament on November 17, 2020 by signing an agreement after which the TLP ended its sit-in at Murree Road Rawalpindi.  The government sought three months to implement the agreement. TLP chief Khadim Rizvi died on November 20, 2020 just three days after the agreement and his eldest son Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi succeeded him as party head. The government, meanwhile, succeeded in securing two monthly extensions from the TLP to implement the agreement. In the second week of April, Saad Rizvi again gave a call to the workers to prepare for holding a march on Islamabad on April 20.

 The government arrested Saad Rizvi on April 12, sparking a wave of violent protests across the country and leaving dozens dead and hundreds wounded and loss to the properties. The government first showed defiance but later agreed to accept the TLP’s demand and tabled a resolution on the expulsion of the French ambassador in the NA on Tuesday. 

While the PM announced the ban on the TLP would not be lifted, the party has not bothered to make any demand for it either. 

A day before the resolution landed in the NA, editorial of a leading English daily of Pakistan read as follows: “The bizarre turn of events on Tuesday — with the government introducing a resolution in the National Assembly through a private member to debate the expulsion of the French ambassador — has brought Pakistan to a stage where it will be seen as pandering to the TLP while pretending to play smart tactics.”

Over the last few years, Pakistan’s Barelvi movement –an offshoot of the nineteenth-century Sufi tradition in India –has become politically active and religiously mobilised. The assassination of Salmaan Taseer in 2011, and the hanging of his assassin Mumtaz Qadri in 2016, have radicalised sections of the Barelvi movement in Pakistan around the widely contested and controversial issue of blasphemy. The TLP, under the leadership of late Khadim Rizvi, emerged as a formidable force during the period.

Traditionally religious parties performed poorly in each election, (except on two occasions when the JUI of late Mufti Mahmood formed government in 1972 and later the six-party alliance of the religious parties MMA came to power in 2002 in KP), the TLP shocked many in 2018 polls by receiving 21,91,679 votes across the country and emerged as fifth largest party in terms of highest number of votes bagged in polls.

It contested the general elections for the first time, fielding 178 candidates for National Assembly constituencies. As per the ECP report, TLP secured 18,76,265 votes from Punjab; 4,14,635 votes from Sindh; 78,125 votes from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; and 10,999 votes from Balochistan. The TLP also outnumbered its rival religious parties, at least in Punjab, by a big margin. 

For instance, the MMA got a paltry 0.44 million votes in Punjab against the TLP’s tally of around 1.9 million votes.As per reports, in a proportional representation system, the TLP would have got nine National Assembly seats in Punjab along with 21 Punjab Assembly seats. The party’s candidates placed third in 62 NA constituencies in Punjab.

In terms of receiving the highest number of votes, the TLP remained at fourth position in Punjab. Interestingly, TLP secured more votes in Punjab than the PPP which received 1,78,4513 from the province. The TLP emerged third largest party in terms of vote bank after PML-N and PTI on 14 National Assembly seats of Lahore.

The TLP is a banned outfit now. Nothing could be said about its future as Pakistan is a land of mysteries. The group had lost its charm after the death of Khadim Rizvi but it again re-emerged with full force under its new leader, Saad Rizvi

Many blamed the military establishment for the creation of the TLP to damage the traditional Brelvi/Sunni vote-bank of the PML-N in Punjab. During the 2018 polls, the TLP workers had made it almost impossible for the PML-N candidates in different constituencies to run election campaigns by terming the contesters as traitors of the faith of finality of the prophet-hood. It seems the PTI would also face the same challenge in the next polls. Some political pundits believe marginalisation of the political forces in Punjab with TLP factor is the ultimate objective of the powers-that-be.

The author is a Lahore based journalist. He writes about religion, politics, culture, agriculture and 1947’s Indo-Pak partition. He can be reached @imiftikharalam