Pakistan enters another grip of tamed religious right


A new Sunni-Brailvi political force emerged with alleged endorsement of military establishment

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s politics entered a new wave of religious-right with the emergence of Tehreek-i-Labbaik-Pakistan (TLP), a Sunni brailvi vibrant group developed in reaction to the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, an official bodyguard who had killed Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, on January 2011 for criticizing blasphemy laws.

Following a recent attempt to change the language of the oath of parliamentarians, which TLP believes was changed to favour non-Muslim declared Ahmadiyya community, a few thousand activists of the party, led by their leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, sieged the capital of the country for three weeks until their top demand of the resignation of law minister, allegedly responsible for this change were met.

Protestors continued to block the main road connecting the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi for over 3 weeks, despite a security operation that failed to remove them on November 25. Later, the government with the help of the powerful institution of Pakistan Army reached an accord to end this crisis that had resulted in widespread violence across the country killing at least seven and injuring several hundred in the aftermath of the security operation.

“We have no other option to save the country from a civil war,” Interior Minister told Islamabad High Court while admitting failure of the crackdown. The six points of this agreement, also signed by a military general (approved by army chief), endorsed all key demands of protestors demolishing the writ of the state. According to the agreement the government would also compensate for the human and property losses and will thoroughly investigate the whole matter of these changes in the election law that caused this trouble in the first place. In a separate agreement, according to TLP, the provincial law minister of Punjab will also appear before a committee of senior clerics to satisfy them about his controversial statement and sympathies towards Ahmadiyya community.

“Elected government is being run on gun-point. And this time military establishment is exposed badly. Even a blind person can see what is happening in the country,” Asma Jehangir, a leading human rights activist and a lawyer, lamented through a viral video in which a major-general rank official of Pak Army who heads a separate paramilitary force, is seen disbursing some money in envelopes to the arrested protestors after they were released.  “You are our men. So don’t hesitate to accept this small amount,” he said in video while addressing these young protestors.  The video has drawn huge criticism.

“One army general is becoming guarantor of an elected government and signing it while another is disbursing money to disperse a protest against an elected government,” she complained. “Was the general thanking the protestors for blocking roads and inciting violence?” she asked.

On the other side, TLP denies its links or any alleged backing by the military establishment. Pakistan Army said they came to rescue the government on their request and that a peaceful dispersal was a better option for this protest turning-violent. Earlier, the government had called the army to rescue the capital from this siege but the army said it is better to handle the matter carefully and peacefully because it contains highly sensitive religious sentiments.

TLP was registered as a political party last year and its two candidates, contesting in two bye-polls – one in Peshawar and another in Lahore, have secured small but a reasonable proportion of votes. During the campaign, they have been focusing on voting against PMLN, a party that executed Mumtaz Qadri, official guard who assassinated his own boss governor Salmaan Taseer in broad daylight in the capital city. Initially, this group started as “Mumtaz Qadri Rehai Committee” and later after his execution, it became Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and last year converted into TLP with political motives.

Political critics fear that the military may be meddling in politics – always a concern in a country where the army has repeatedly seized power. “Military’s recent role in concluding this sit-in has raised many questions,” analyst Zahid Hussain disproved.

History shows how religious right played a decisive role in country’s politics in crucial times with alleged support of military establishment. In 1970s, they were used to topple Zulfikar Ali Bhutto regime, a military dictator General Ziaul Haq made the right an effective tool to prolong his powerful regime in the name of Islam. In 1990s, this religious right, with the key partnership of present riling PMLN (which is trouble now), ousted Pakistan Peoples’ Party prime minister Benazir Bhutto twice. Recently ousted PM Nawaz Sharif had served as the key instrument of military establishment to act with the orchestrated support of religious right.

TLP aims to contest next general elections scheduled in mid-2018.  This three-week widely covered TLP siege of Islamabad has brought the party and its unknown leader – Rizvi – who is known because of straight and filthy rhetorical style, in the limelight to give PMLN “a taste of her own medicine”. Finally, the recent attacks on the house of ruling PMLN ministers and members of parliament, happening after the failed security-operation against Islamabad protestors, ring alarming bells for the ruling party.


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