Saturday, March 25, 2023
HomeOpinionTehreek-e-Labbaik violence shows Pakistan is at war, can’t play peacemaker in Afghanistan

Tehreek-e-Labbaik violence shows Pakistan is at war, can’t play peacemaker in Afghanistan

Within Pakistan, the rise of TLP is the result of securitisation of internal politics, with the military backing its favourite group of the moment.

Text Size:

It’s now official. Pakistan blocked all social media access across the country, reflecting the dire state of the nation as it faces street protests by the conservative Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah or the TLYRA that have already injured over 40 and killed an unknown number of policemen and protesters. The State says the ban is temporary, but the lull in the protests and violence may be equally brief.

Though a newbie in the world of Pakistan’s toxic Right-wing politics, the group is no pushover. In the five short years of its existence, it has gained heft, and is now taking the State head on, leading to a situation that is in some ways worse than what even neighbouring Afghanistan is going through. After three decades of war, Afghanistan is barely a State. Pakistan is, at least on the outside. But the current collapse of order, with even Prime Minister Imran Khan publicly excusing action against Tehreek-e-Labbaik, is a symptom of severe trouble within a nuclear weapon State.

The three-day chaos saw severe violence across Pakistan, including in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi and elsewhere as supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) went on the rampage to protest the arrest of their young 26-year-old leader who had dared the State. Social media was awash with pictures of bleeding policemen and Rangers, indicating the seriousness of the situation.

All this comes at a very awkward time for Rawalpindi.

For one, a country that is at war with itself is hardly capable of playing peacemaker in Afghanistan, even while it is itself under pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to end its support to more than three dozen or so terrorist groups operating both to the east and the west. Second, the severe erosion of internal security – not to mention the internet ban, however ‘temporary’ – gives it a weak hand in the reportedly ongoing secret talks, especially since Delhi may already see Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s peace overtures as arising from severe financial weakness and economic decay. Add to that, the current social chaos, and there’s going to be a lot of hand-wringing somewhere.

Also read: Pakistan’s religious extremism didn’t start with TLP. It won’t end with banning it

The setting for the rise of the right

Within Pakistan, the rise of TLP is a clear result of the securitisation of internal politics, with the military or factions within it backing its favourite group of the moment. As a result, there is competition within groups for patronage. In the present case, competition between the Barelvis represented by the TLYRA, and the Deobandis who are aligned with the much harsher Wahhabism is fueled by access to better funding and power through control over madrassas. In the process, the Barelvis have turned further to the Right to cater to the rising extremism apparent in the general populace because of a direct result of the army’s divide and rule approach inside the country, and its support to militancy outside.

Few places in the world have seen such societal deterioration as Pakistan. Notably, despite the provocation of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, no Islamic country has severed ties with France. Such instability hasn’t been seen even in war-torn Afghanistan. Diplomats and foreign citizens work under daily threat from the Taliban, but have never been in any danger from the larger population. In Pakistan, #FranceLeavePakistan saw more than 55,000 tweets. Afghanistan has its Shias who have lived in amity with others for decades with even an Islamic Brotherhood Council to ensure cooperation. Even after attacks against it by the Islamic State, the Shias themselves have not faced hostility from the locals. Blasphemy has never been an issue in tribal communities in particular, where the village leader has always had more clout than the mullah. In fact, despite the best efforts of Pakistan, it is not Afghanistan, which is societally radicalised and divided. It’s Pakistan. The TLP is a classic example of the chickens coming home to roost. And they’re not going anywhere just yet.

Also read: Indian Sikh pilgrims in Pakistan affected due to violent clashes between police, protestors

What’s with the TLP?

There is now enough in the public domain about the group, registered as Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan with the Election Commission in 2015, with a manifesto that seemed relatively harmless, compared to hot heads like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. But it is unabashedly anti-Shia, against all ‘foreign influences’ and came together under the leadership of a man who thrived on implementation of the harsh provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code against blasphemy. Those provisions have led to frequent attacks against minorities and Shias across the country on the slenderest of pretexts. Experts also point to the fact that Pakistan’s constitution has more Islamic clauses than nearly 40 other such States, with only Saudi Arabia and Iran competing for the top spot. So there’s enough material for any ambitious extremist to work on. And that’s what Khadim Rizvi, a former lowly auqaf worker in the Punjab government did in 2011, creating the group that started a series of agitations and violence, including one as ridiculous as alleging blasphemy against the country’s law minister Zahid Hamid, simply over changing the wording of an oath for prospective legislators. The violence was ended after the minister’s resignation and the military playing broker, famously, with Major General Navid Hayat, DG of Punjab Rangers, filmed paying money to the protesters.

All this made for great publicity, which led Khadim to contest elections in 2018 that essentially ate into Nawaz Sharif’s vote bank in Punjab. The TLP garnered 2.5 million votes across the country, and a newbie Right winger emerged as the fifth largest party. That this immensely helped the establishment’s vicious campaign against Sharif goes without saying.

Also read: What the amazing rise & sudden death of a ‘Holy Warrior’ tell us about Islam & politics in Pakistan

The puppet turns ugly

But somewhere thereafter, the puppet turned master. More protests followed in 2018, this time on the issue of Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy by the Supreme Court. Khadim was heard calling General Bajwa a ‘Qadiani’, a religious slur in Pakistan — this when Bajwa had performed the nikah ceremony for his son. The cleric had been ‘turned’ from an asset to a scourge.

Matters came to a head in the aftermath of the Paris attacks in 2020. The attacker, Ali Hassan, who was a Pakistani, was unsurprisingly a follower of the firebrand Khadim Rizvi. Pakistan again erupted into violence. As French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the Right-wingers, the TLP took to the streets, with demonstrations demanding a complete snapping of ties with France, a boycott of French products and release of its cadres. Prime Minister Imran Khan raged on television, and a huge operation seemed imminent, until a visit by the Army chief led to negotiations instead. The group triumphantly announced on 17 November last year that all its demands, including the expulsion of the French ambassador, had been met. Two days later, Rizvi was pronounced dead, shortly after a meeting with security forces, under suspicious circumstances.

Also read: Gen Bajwa wanted a ‘paradigm shift’ with India, but Pakistan military isn’t ready

Chaos and the TLP 

Khadim’s son Saad Hussain Rizvi was declared the Ameer at the highly charged funeral. Under the young leader, the group was soon messaging furiously on Twitter and other social media platforms, extending its reach and leading it to do well in by-elections in Sialkot, Tharparkar, Nowshera, among others. In other words, it was gaining a national signature. By February, the new Ameer was demanding the implementation of the Faizabad Agreement 2020, reached between his father and the government on expulsion of the French ambassador, signed by no less than the interior and religious affairs minister, as well as the Islamabad deputy commissioner. Frenetic dialogues later, the government agreed to table its demands in parliament before 20 April, thus seemingly buying Islamabad some time. But it was not to be. Saad Hussain declared that the French ambassador should be expelled well before Eid.

Somewhere something clicked. The leader was picked up in broad daylight in Lahore as the police allegedly filmed and put out the arrest video on social media. The result was serious violence with the police and the Rangers bearing the brunt. Videos, however, showed army deployment, some of whom seemed to be leading the protests rather than stopping them.

Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid – long an eager army pawn – declared that an order to proscribe the TLP had been moved. The order is now out, and declares rather weakly that the TLP is engaged in terrorism, because among other things it “overawed” the government. That’s a rather questionable action since the members of the alleged terrorist group are elected representatives in parliaments. Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi argues that the charge of terrorism – under 11 B of the Anti Terrorism Act 1997 — might have been used to circumvent constitutional provisions that apply to the Supreme Court adjudication in the case of a political party. It’s also ironic that the prime minister is on record in supporting the TLP previously, and his cadres had joined it in protests when he was in opposition. This is the anomaly that is Pakistan. A group that became expert in protests under the protection of the administration, has now become the target. Meanwhile, French citizens have been advised to leave the country due to serious threats. They may as well pack for the long haul. Everything indicates that the war has come home, even as it stays off the papers, for now.

The author is former director, National Security Council Secretariat. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. Pakistan has the most important role in Afghan peace process, we have been in much worse condition and right now thanks to Almighty Allah protests have calmed down.Stop your propaganda against Pakistan

  2. It seems that Now Pakistan is Digging It ‘ s GRAVE .
    Keeping our Security SAFEGUARDING well Secured , we must carefully watch how they will fall into their own Grave . We must do our Best to AVOID THE REFUGEE CRESIS OF 1971 in the east .

    As tactically and as diplomatically as possible we must TRY OUR BEST TO DEVELOP A PEACEFUL NEIGHBOURLY SITUATION IN THE WEST.


    With Best Wishes For Betterment Always ,

  3. When Taliban capture Kabul, what changes in the SECURITY SCENARIOS would take shape with Taliban coordinating with pakistani religious groups and drug trade with involvement of PAK ARMY, This is going to shape the future of PAKISTAN as a failed state or on the brink.

    Specifically how IRAN reacts to a very aggressive Sunni Muslim countries on it’s borders will also affect the region.

    With largest muslim population who are equally influenced by religious dogmas INDIA is also going to face more internal security dilemmas for a long period to come.

  4. People in Pakistan and India ignored the observation of Professor Raghupati Sahay ‘Firaq’, (so popular in Pakistan as a Urdu poet that it officially mourned his death in 1982), made in the essay “The Mistake of Pakistan” in his book ‘Readings and Reflections’ published by Bharti Bhawan Publishers and Distributors 1973. He explained that this mistake of some ‘honourable’ men proved to be more harmful and destructive than what are recognized as ‘crimes’. Agreeing with Dr Zakaria, he considers the mistake of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan educating his Indian followers ‘that the safety and welfare of Indian Muslims depended on British rule and British overlordship over India’. This view was shared then (during the closing two decades of 19th century) by most of the Indian Muslims.
    However, it was not a mistake but a strategic move by the imperial powers who did not want to part with the golden egg and therefore extended the moves of the great game; as the seeds of the 2nd world war were sown at the time of the conclusion of the peace treaty at the end of the 1st world war; similarly, after the 2nd War, the seeds of post-colonial conflicts were sown to safeguard the interests of powers that be and the areas of conflict were pushed towards the east so that the great game may continue in future and world peace may be used as an scapegoat for continuing hegemony for the future imperial powers.
    Mahatma Gandhi’s policy of non-violence as a weapon against imperialism got an oral support world-wide but the complete teaching of the great book ‘Gita’ was forgotten – without justice non-violence cannot survive. The tragedy of India’s ruthless exploitation for centuries became self-evident and the record of 20th century onwards hardly evince any sign of abatement of imperial injustice and greed, or any intent to relent in favour of a more just system. Pakistan has deviated fundamentally from its proclaimed objectives; rather from its very beginning, it proved it was meant to be a backyard for dubious power-games and now it is badly hurting the interests of its own people. Time is running away and the world as a whole will have to drastically reform the International Body to enable it to effectively solve the aggravating conflicts on the basis of the will, not force or manoeuvre, as the key.

  5. Pakistan was founded on the belief that Islam united all Muslims, irrespective of their culture, language and social upbringing. The break up of Pakistan in 1971 proved this a wrong assumption. It was Zia ul Haq who converted Islam into a tool of State Craft. He officially Islamised Pakistan, encouraged terrorist groups inspired by religion. It was only a matter of time before religion seeped into politics and public life. Now, Pakistan is paying the price. The monster created by it is threatening to devour it. As you sow, so you reap. Or, Sow wind, and reap Whirlwind!

Comments are closed.