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Thursday, April 22, 2021
Pakistan Crisis: Tahreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s Terrorism is Just Part of the Problem
By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
22 April 2021
The Major Issue Is With The Religious Orientation Of The State Itself. The Decision By The Pakistan Government To Ban The TLP Is Part Of International Posturing Against Fighting Islamic Extremism.
1. Internally, the government has regularly appeased the TLP rather than actively seek to marginalize it.
2. The TLP is popular because of its support amongst the proletariat, aided by madrasa graduates.
3. Any decisive fight against religious extremism will need a re-orientation of Pakistan’s ideological foundation.
The decision of the government to ban the Tahreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) will possibly fool no one. If through the ban the government is posturing that it is serious in its fight against terrorism and extremism, then those who are paying attention to what is happening in Pakistan also remember that it was the same Imran Khan who strongly supported the TLP when he was in the running for prime ministership. In 2017, when the TLP was running amok in Islamabad over blasphemy issue, Imran Khan had blamed the then government for the situation but was silent on the blatant extremism of the TLP. The message was very clear: when he would come to power, he would be sympathetic to the demands of the TLP. Thus, even before becoming the prime minister, he was bending over backwards to appease the radicals.
This appeasement continued even after he came to power. The TLP led a huge demonstration in 2018 after Asiya Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy charges. The Imran Khan government signed an agreement with the TLP and shamelessly acceded to their demand that the beleaguered woman will not be allowed to leave the country pending a final revision of the verdict by the Pakistan Supreme Court. Asiya Bibi did eventually leave the country but then it was clear for everyone that Imran Khan had capitulated to the extremists. He could also not retain him own economic advisor, Atif Mian, simply because he was an Ahmadiyya and the TLP demanded his resignation on the same ground. In ceding ground to the TLP, Imran Khan compromised even on matters of state policy, which should have been his preserve alone.
The current decision to ban the TLP is subject to review by the highest Court. In all probability, the winner will be TLP. Even if the Court upholds the ban, the organization can continue to operate just by assuming a different name, a tactic which has been openly used by terror groups in Pakistan.
It is rather rich of the Imran Khan government to now turn around as pose itself as leading the fight against radicalism and extremism by banning the TLP. It is true that the TLP is an expression of a new phase of Barelwi radicalism which has coalesced around the idea of blasphemy. But then blasphemy in Pakistan is not an issue which was brought onto the political agenda by the TLP in the first place. Rather if the Imran Khan government is really serious about tackling the issue of extremism, then it should look inward: the policies of the state itself are an invitation for extremist politics of the TLP variety.
Till the time Pakistan does not see itself as a secular state, religious and emotive issues like blasphemy will continue to rile them. Today it is the Barelwis who are calling the shots, tomorrow it could be some other group but the issue will remain the same. The primary fault lies with the Pakistan establishment which has made ‘Islamic way of life’ and ‘protection of the honor of the Prophet’ as their cardinal principle. Groups like the TLP will always take the government hostage over some perceived insult to the Islamic Prophet. In this case, they are demanding that Pakistan should expel the French ambassador because the French President had defended the cartoons of Muhammad as a matter of freedom of expression. Such a demand is pointless as there will always be other countries where similar things could happen. If Pakistan government starts to take these demands seriously then it will have to expel many more than just the French ambassador. The TLP knows this very well and it appears that its real intention is to become a major internal political player by using this issue. However, the very fact that the Pakistan government is willing to negotiate and even discuss such demands clearly implies that it is not willing to take a hard stance on the TLP. It is beyond belief that the government is now proposing to discuss the expulsion of French ambassador in the National Assembly. The simple reason why they are unable to swoop down on the TLP is because the religious cause of blasphemy resonates with the common people.
If an entire generation has been fed a diet of Islamic supremacy and Pakistan as the land which is keeping the flag of Islam flying high in the subcontinent, then it is not surprising that average Muslims will come to associate their existence with the passionate defense of Islam. It is another matter that they might be entirely unaware of the fact that they are being used as canon fodder in someone else’s propaganda. What matters to them is the perception that Islam is in danger and that they, as conscientious vanguards of Islam, must protect this religion from any onslaught.
Moreover, the social base of the TLP is comprised of extremely poor people who have had historically no say in Pakistan politics. It is this marginalized section which forms the backbone of this movement. For this class, even a symbolic blocking of roads is some form of empowerment in a context where they have been progressively divested of any social and political rights. When this poor and marginalized class gets aided by the fiery sermons of Mullahs and madrasa graduates, we get a heady cocktail by the name of TLP.
A credible government which wants to root out extremism from its society and polity would have never engaged with the TLP. Any engagement with the TLP is the first instance of surrender and this is what seems to be happening. In the name of ‘talking to our own people’, the government is making the TLP a credible and legitimate political alternative in the eyes of the common people. At the same time, the government needs to empower the most marginalized sections of society so that they do not fall for the lumpenism of the TLP. But then, in Pakistan, sincere efforts are very few and most players are interested in exploiting Islam for their own sectarian benefits. If the government dithers anymore on dealing sternly with the TLP, then this march of radicalism will have grave consequences for Pakistan.