EDITORIAL: After three days of unremitting violence and vandalism across the length and breadth of the country by Tehrik-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) activists that left six people dead, two of them policemen, and hundreds of other injured, Interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad announced the government decision to ban the religio-political party under the anti-terrorism law. Notably, the TLP men had blocked most of the highways, motorways and thoroughfares in various cities clashing with the police to protest the arrest of their party chief, Saad Rizvi, who had demanded the expulsion of the French Ambassador to Pakistan over blasphemous caricatures published a while ago in that country. As the minister rightly asserted, “a single political party cannot lay claim to the matter of Namoos-i-Risalat as it is an issue close to the hearts of all 200 million people of this country.” Talking to journalists the same day, Prime Minister Imran Khan said it was the responsibility of the state to ensure protection of public against riots and also establish writ of the state, adding the government had decided to ban TLP in the larger interest of the public and state.
Deeply distressing as the events of the last few days are, they originate from a long-standing policy of appeasement of such elements. Not only did the government entertain a highly unreasonable TLP demand, it also promised that their demand would be placed before Parliament for approval. According to the Interior Minister, even a text on the issue was presented to Rizvi which he rejected. Realizing that the government was dilly-dallying when it asked for more time, he asked his men to get ready for countrywide agitation, leading to his arrest and the ensuing mayhem. The government itself is to blame if the TLP thought it could dictate foreign policy. This though was not the first time the party had sought to impose its diktat on the state and gotten away with it, too. In 2018, it had launched countrywide protest sit-ins against the acquittal by the Supreme Court of Aasia Bibi, a blasphemy accused. Its leaders had the effrontery even to call for the assassination of the judges who set the innocent woman free as well as the Prime Minister, also asking army officers to rebel against their chief. At the time, Imran Khan had made a similarly strong statement as at present, yet his government did not take long to try and placate the rabble rousers, agreeing to “initiate legal process” to place Aasia’s name on the Exit Control List, and not to oppose a review petition against the SC decision. No wonder the group has felt emboldened to take on the state at will. In fact, the TLP rose to prominence in November 2017, when it staged a sit-in against the then PML-N government terming a minor change in the legislators’ oath as blasphemous, and resorted to strong-arm tactics even after the government acknowledged that as an inadvertent mistake and restored the original oath. The establishment helped broker a controversial agreement with the TLP and also handed its protesters money envelopes, ostensibly, to pay for the return fare. It is worth recalling that at the time, instead of expressing concern over what the TLP was doing Imran khan had expressed sympathy for the same. Eventually, he would face similar crises.
Unfortunately, the fair name of religion has been freely used by power elites in this country to play politics and/or to get even with one another. Consequently, matters have come to a point where no one is safe. Some have taken exception to the ban decision expressing the worry that it could set a wrong precedent. However, whilst peaceful protest is a democratic right no group or a party can be allowed to challenge the writ of the state. The situation being what it is, the government must ensure that, unlike some other groups proscribed for involvement in acts of terrorism, TLP leadership does not resurface under a new name. Those involved in violence must be handed exemplary punishment. The relevant agencies must also uncover and plug the sources of its funding.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021