Half a ban?

May 9, 2021

The TLP contests by-elections and performs well – despite getting banned for violent protests and jeopardising public order. The government must reflect on the impression this creates

The federal government’s recent proscribing of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a religio-political party with a radical extremist agenda, coincided with the by-election for a National Assembly seat in Karachi and what came to the fore was the sheer weakness of the government in implementing this ban.

Last month, the Interior Ministry announced a ban on the TLP after the group held violent protests and blocked main roads to protest against the arrest of its party chief Saad Hussain Rizvi, son of the firebrand cleric, the late Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who founded the known for exploiting the blasphemy law and sensitivities around it.

The government, which earlier entered an agreement with the TLP to take its demand to remove the French mission from Pakistan over the issue of caricatures of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) to parliament, later arrested the party chief in an apparent attempt to crush the protest campaign. The TLP had plans to hold a nationwide march and stage a sit-in in the capital city. The federal government banned the TLP under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1999.

The TLP has filed a review petition against this ban. The hearing is expected in coming days after the formation of a committee to hear the case. At the same time, shockingly, the TLP has contested the NA-249 Karachi by-election. The TLP secured the third position in this low-turnout by-poll. The TLP secured 11,125 votes as compared to the winning candidate’s 16,156 votes, according to unofficial results. Many consider that the recent conflict with the federal government on a sensitive religious matter created sympathies for the party from the ordinary Sunni Muslim citizens, the majority in the country. However, the result of general elections 2018 on the same seat indicates that the TLP support in this urban constituency of Karachi has remained intact. The TLP was third in the constituency in general election of 2018 as well and had polled nearly 24,000 votes compared to 35,000 votes of the winning candidate - Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Faisal Vawda. The TLP, had however, showed a dismal performance in the Punjab by-poll in Khsuhab last week where its candidate polled only 5,782 votes as compared the winning candidate’s 73,000 and the runner up’s 63,000 votes, respectively.

The notification banning the TLP reads: “the TLP was engaged in terrorism, acted in a manner prejudicial to the peace and security of the country, involved in creating anarchy by intimidating the public, caused grievous bodily harm, hurt and death to the personnel of the law enforcement agencies and innocent bystanders, attacked civilians and officials, created wide-scale hurdles, threatened, abused and promoted hatred, vandalised and ransacked public and government properties, including vehicles, and caused arson, blocked essential health supplies to hospitals, and has used, threatened, coerced, intimidated and overawed the government [and] the public and created sense of fear and insecurity in the society and the public at large.”

However, the government turning an apparent blind eye to the TLP candidates contesting election despite a ban imposed on the party could indicate exercise of potential leniency against the party in the coming days as well. If things continue on this track, it will only work to endorse the impression that the mainstream political parties of the country are unable to tackle the radical religio-political agenda amid fears of losing religious vote bank.

The TLP, in its review appeal, has maintained that “the government throughout acted with deceit, deception and chicanery,” The TLP review request, filed by lawyers Iftikhar Ahmed Malik and Ihsan Ali Arif, states that “the grounds mentioned in the notification for listing their client among banned outfits were quite vague and unfounded beyond the ground realities and against the norms of natural justice”. The appeal says “the party has a right to assemble peacefully on the issues of Namoos-i-Risalat, its charter, Islam, Ummah and ideology of Pakistan,” and “the TLP was loyal to the country and its ideology”. The appeal also claims that “in fact, the public at large supports the ideology of the party.” Pakistan is going through a very critical and sensitive situation. It is our duty to save and secure Pakistan for the bright future of the Ummah,” it reads.

The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

Half a ban?