The Architects Of Project TLP Have Unleashed Chaos. Will They Be Held Accountable?
After Saad Rizvi's release, the district administration of Lahore and the Punjab police issued security and traffic plans for the ‘Urs’ of late Khadim Rizvi. This appears to be a blatant display of state’s capitulation, and a stellar political victory for the TLP.
The Tehreek Labbaik-e-Pakistan (TLP) has won again. The efforts of the incumbent government to proscribe it failed and thousands of TLP workers were released last week. On Friday, TLP chief Saad Rizvi was also released from preventive detention.
Rizvi’s freedom was a moment of jubilation for thousands of TLP workers who showered him with rose petals and slogans. One of the slogans raised was chilling. After Rizvi was taken in a vehicle covered with rose petals to the TLP headquarters, the mosque Rehmat-ul-Alimeen, the devotees’ were chanting (مَن سَبّ نَبِیا فَاقتُلُوہُ). Or “Whoever insults a Prophet, kill him”.
This is a key slogan of TLP, their rallying cry since 2017, the title of their party’s anthem and an effective agenda point for mobilising the party supporters.
This slogan was also written on a large banner in a welcome video for Saad Rizvi, with his rose petal showered vehicle on the front. It is a supremely dangerous reminder of what this group stands for. A vivid and an open call for qatl (murder), a normalisation of bloodshed for their purpose.
The TLP, initially a collective of barelvi clerics with fragile egos wounded by the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the police guard who assassinated Governor Salman Taseer in 2011, was surprisingly tolerated by the military establishment and their hardliner agenda was endorsed by Imran Khan in 2017. The other splinter group of the original TLP, led by Dr Ashraf Jalali assumes Mumtaz Qadri as the real leader and hero of their movement and not Khadim Rizvi who died in 2020.
TLP’s goal in 2017 was to help create an unstable environment for toppling the then government of PMLN. The project TLP gained further ground, when these hardliner Barelvi ideologues, who use blasphemy as a weapon, registered as a political party and now have three MPAs in Sindh and significant street power to hijack cities in the Punjab.
In April 2021, the current government miscalculated TLP’s street power when it decided to proscribe the group, and placed its current leader Saad Rizvi on the fourth schedule. In the recent standoff state machinery’s inability to control TLP’s violent demonstrations like before have only demonstrated the strength of the group. It is also a collective failure as Saad Rizvi’s stature has grown manifold and TLP’s messaging has become even more effective. But it seems that the TLP induced violent chaos is not a failure for the architects of this project and who, unfortunately, cannot-be-named.
TLP’s goal in 2017 was to help create an unstable environment for toppling the then government of PMLN. The project TLP further succeeded, when these hardliner Barelvi ideologues, who use blasphemy as a weapon, registered as a political party and now have three MPAs in Sindh and significant street power to hijack cities in the Punjab.
This month the TLP ban was revoked and the proscription proved to be a miscalculation, not just because the PTI’s government bit more than it could chew, but also as it turns out the Pakistani state does not know how to handle mobs of zealots or to mainstream them. Another example of this failure is the former Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), the sectarian Deobandi supremacist party, now known as the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ). Whenever the ASWJ leaders want to, the party can gather thousands in Karachi to incite hatred against Shia Muslims. In 2011, when the establishment tried to mainstream Malik Ishaq of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the SSP’s more militant partner, it failed spectacularly and then had to extrajudicially kill him.
After Saad Rizvi’s release, the district administration of Lahore and the Punjab police issued security and traffic plans for the ‘Urs’ of late Khadim Rizvi. This appears to be a blatant display of state’s capitulation, and a stellar political victory for the TLP. In the recent acts of violence, more than 8 policemen lost their lives. But there is no accountability in sight for the lost lives of men of police forces and even the TLP workers.
As Pakistan’s civil society mourns this extension of old hell unleashed in the form of TLP, the latter’s supporters continue to assemble on the streets and on social media platforms. Twitter and TikTok are inundated with videos of Mawlid like lights up in the streets, party supporters eating mithai, out on their bikes honking, and TLP songs with Labbaik blaring out of cars and rickshaws. TLP supporters are also using Snack Video and SnapChat to spread their agenda of Barelvi supremacy. On 19th November, it was Rizvi Jr’s release on the trend panel and on the 20th, the hashtag Urs_Ameer ul Mujhadieen, had 146K tweets at the time of filing this essay.
Karachi’s Mufti Muneeb,infamous for his literalist moon sighting practices, is a big Saad Hussain Rizvi fan from a larger group of Mullahs. So understandably, TLP accounts are also widely sharing his videos and commentary.
A YouTube channel claiming to be TLP’s official account has over 49.7k subscribers. The video of Rizvi Jr’s first address on this channel is accessible to viewers in Pakistan, but the channel is blocked here. Numerous Youtube channels are widely broadcasting the TLP and Rizvi Jr’s story. The slogan – Whoever insults a Prophet, kill him is also endorsed on Twitter, including by accounts supposedly run by female party supporters, and users with over 10k followers. At times, the knife emoji appears with this slogan.
To celebrate Rizvi Jr’s release, one freelance web developer, whose paltry tweets are a sum of hating on Aurat March participants, the PMLN and PTI, had plugged his fiverr account with an offer to set up a website for TLP or any of its chapters for free.
Online expressions of support such as videos, tweets and photographs, and reports from the grounds show that TLP supporters are super confident. Possibly the most confident political workers in Pakistan at the moment. Irrespective of whether the party can eventually bring in votes, if and when the next election takes place, the party’s faith in its own position is stunning.
The EU parliamentarians, whom the TLP has made a spectacle of hating by demanding expulsion of the French ambassador, have insisted on Pakistan meeting some of its human rights obligations.
Confidence is nothing new for the Rizvis and their followers as we know. Their discourse is centered around winning votes. Even in an older video on a Barelvi YouTube channel with subscription of 356K, Rizvi Jr during speech at a jalsa in Jhang is seen smirking while trolling Tabdeeli, a word often used to refer to the PTI government mockingly in political vernacular. In that video, he also assures the attendees of having seen everything being turned upside down for Tabdeeli, during his visit to Islamabad. I guess, even then, he was in on the joke which is on all of us.
The future of the land of the pure is doomed. The state has brutally muzzled critical dissent, censored the press, and repressed peaceful movements. The incarceration of PTM affiliated MNA Ali Wazir slapped with sedition charges is a glaring example of this cruel hypocrisy. Information Minister Fawad Chauhdry, confessed recently that the government had to go on a ‘back foot’.
Dialogue is better than conflict and violence –even if perpetrated by the state. But in 2023, the EU’s review on Pakistan’s GSP+ status is due. The EU parliamentarians, whom the TLP has made a spectacle of hating by demanding expulsion of the French ambassador, have insisted on Pakistan meeting some of its human rights obligations. The list given by them includes protecting the rights of minorities and reviewing blasphemy laws, ending violence against women, and ensuring freedom of press. But we know that the core of TLP’s sectarian politics is tied to protecting the blasphemy laws, and actively campaigning against religious minorities. TLP’s agenda also includes muzzling the media if it does not act as per their orthodox understanding of Islam.
How in the world would Pakistan justify allowing TLP to bay for blood of those who hurt their barelvi sentiments? Can we afford to let such a group organise, in the face of a potential trade crisis when businesses will have to pay high EU import tariffs?
Are the architects of project TLP even prepared to handle the storm which is coming the country’s way?