How Tehreek-e-Labbaik, a banned Islamist outfit, has gained ground in Pakistan

On Monday, the Pakistan government headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan released 350 activists of the banned Islamist outfit Tehreek-e-Labbai...

On Monday, the Pakistan government headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan released 350 activists of the banned Islamist outfit Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).

The TLP workers have been holding violent protests across the nation, especially in Lahore, against the government for not releasing their party chief Saad Hussain Rizvi.

Pakistan's newspaper Dawn in an article on 25 October wrote, "In what appears to be another total surrender before the violent protesters marching towards the capital via GT Road, the federal government on Sunday released more than 350 activists of the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), besides announcing that the cases against others would be withdrawn by Wednesday."

As Islamabad deals with this latest crisis, let’s take a look at who and what this banned outfit is all about.

Formation of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan

The TLP is a far-right Islamic extremist political party in Pakistan and was founded by Khadim Hussain Rizvi in August 2016.

As per a The Print report, the TLP came into being after the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard policeman of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Qadri shot Taseer in 2011. This was after Taseer publicly voiced support for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who was arrested for blasphemy and accused of insulting the Prophet.

The members of the TLP subscribe to the Barelvi school of thought. The trademark of Barelvis is popular sufism, a cult of shrines, and a profound reverence for the Prophet. They are generally regarded as adherents of a gentler, more moderate approach, except when it comes to khatm-e-nabuwwat (finality of the Prophet-hood) and tauheen-e-risalat (blaspheming the Prophet).

Scholar and author Khurshid Nadeem told TRT World, "Rizvi weaponised the Barelvi sect in the name of blasphemy in a way that’s unparalleled in Pakistan."

"They have presented themselves as the sole flag bearers of the blasphemy issue... Violence is a currency which sells in today's times. They have proven that they can also kill and be killed for their cause," said columnist Khurshid Nadeem.

The TLP is known for its protests in opposition to any change to Pakistan's blasphemy law.

Protests by TLP

In 2017, the country was made aware of TLP's strength and influence when it held weeks-long violent protests over the language change in the oath taken by parliamentarians.

Muslim parliamentarians in Pakistan are required to declare that they consider members of the Ahmadi sect to be non-Muslim, and their prophet to be “an imposter”. The electoral reform bill changed the wording of the declaration to “I believe” from “I solemnly swear”, which Rizvi and his supporters deemed unacceptable.

Demonstrators, almost 2,000 in number, armed with sticks, had blocked the main entrance to the Pakistani capital and had demanded the resignation of the federal law minister.

The protests saw the death of six people and over 200 others were injured and finally, Pakistan's Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid had to resign.

In May 2018, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was shot and wounded at a political rally in his home constituency of Narowal, in an apparent assassination attempt. It was later reported that the attacker belonged to the TLP, a claim which they denied.

In another case, in March 2019, a student identified as Khateeb Hussain had stabbed associate professor Khalid Hameed, of Bahawalpur's Government Sadiq Egerton College. Investigations revealed that Hussain was in contact with a senior member of the TLP prior to the murder and had sought approval for the same. The motive behind the stabbing was blasphemy.

In April, Pakistan witnessed anti-France protests when the supporters of the TLP took to the streets to protest against France over the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. The protests, which turned violent, saw hundreds being injured as well as several police vehicles and building being torched.

It was reported that the protests led to the death of at least six policemen and over 800 others had been injured.

The current protests in Pakistan are a result of the arrest of Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s son, Saad Hussain Rizvi being arrested. At least two policemen were killed during clashes between protesters and riot police in Lahore, authorities said, with unconfirmed reports of several protesters also being killed.

Rizvi has been held in custody since April when he led protests calling for the expulsion of the French ambassador to Pakistan over comments by French President Emmanuel Macron last October that were interpreted by many as Islamophobic.

TLP’s political presence

The party in the 2018 general elections astonished many, emerging as the fifth largest party in terms of votes received nationally. Surpassing the Pakistan People’s Party, in terms of the number of votes received in Punjab, the TLP emerged as the third-largest party in the province, with four out of every five votes polled for the party coming from Punjab.

As per a paper in the ORF, the TLP's electoral performance showed that "unabashed extremism and unrestrained religious rhetoric pays electoral dividends".

Many believed that Khadim Hussain Rizvi's death in November 2020 would result in the waning of the movement, but the mammoth crowd marching to the federal capital and its ability to arm-twist the government shows the TTP's relevance in Pakistan's political landscape.

With inputs from agencies

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