NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 6

TLP protests and government’s helplessness

Religion and nationalism have always been used to control the masses and divert the attention of the poor and ignorant people from burning issues in Pakistan. The ruling elite, including politicians and civil-military officials, used the religious card very expertly to defeat the USSR in Afghanistan. However, the use of religion has not only given birth to many religious parties but also increased extremism in the country.

The banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) is again taking to the streets for the fulfilment of its demands by the government. The PTI government has failed to stop the protest and, so far, around ten people, including three policemen, have been killed and many others injured in the protest.

Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said: “It is our desire and endeavour to resolve the law and order problem as early as possible while settling all matters through negotiations.” Addressing a press conference on Oct 25, Sheikh Rashid said, “the government does not want any confrontation with religious forces and the issue of the French ambassador will be taken to the assembly as per promise”.

He said that their complaint about not giving any positive response for the last six months was true. “I also met with TLP head Saad Rizvi to have a detailed discussion with him. Out of 7,000 arrested people of the TLP during the last protest, only 176 are in jail. Being a political worker, I am ready to hold talks with any political party. Our responsibility is to ensure a calmer atmosphere rather than creating confrontation,” he added.

In response to a question about his statement a day earlier in which he said the government “had not banned the TLP”, he clarified that the organisation had been banned but “we are talking about it too.” Replying to another question about the damage caused during the TLP protests, he said: “Vandalism is illegal. No one should cause damage because Pakistani organisations have been banned internationally. I asked Saad Rizvi that France is heading the European Union right now and is against our atomic technology and missile system. We are the Muslim world’s biggest power. There is talk of sanctions in America, there is one point left to be fulfilled in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and there are economic crises. In this situation, the TLP should also understand the gravity of the matter.”

The interior minister later tweeted: “We have released 350 TLP workers and we are still waiting to open both sides of the road at Muridke as per the decision with the TLP. Perhaps the people will say that the state has surrendered. But it is not the job of the state to use the stick (force). The duty of the state is to find a path of reconciliation. This is my viewpoint as the interior minister.”

The TLP has indulged in violence many times in the past. But, the PTI government has not learned any lesson from history. It has failed again to stop the violence. In fact, the PTI government’s confusion about the TLP demands is evident by the statements of Sheikh Rashid.

An English language newspaper writes: “This is an absurd statement that defies logic. Perhaps the minister has forgotten that in April this year, his own ministry issued a notification declaring the TLP a proscribed organisation after the federal cabinet approved a summary to ban the party. The step was taken after TLP supporters staged violent protests across the country in the wake of their leader’s arrest. The notification said the federal government had grounds to believe that the TLP is engaged in terrorism and that it threatened security, caused harm and promoted hatred. At that time, the minister himself had said the government would move to dissolve the group, and that a separate summary would be moved to this effect in the cabinet. If approved, he had said, a reference would be filed in the Supreme Court for the party’s dissolution. Six months later, Rashid is telling the public that the government never approached the apex court for the dissolution, and indicating that the party’s ban is merely a verbal one. By talking in this way, Rashid is making a mockery of his own government, and implying that its actions are not just poorly thought out but also simply token steps to create the illusion of action. Though an outright ban of a political party not proven to have terrorism links is against democratic norms, this hypocrisy has exposed the government’s tendency to sleepwalk into disasters at its own expense”.

The TLP, a religious group, is the fifth largest political party of the country. It is challenging the writ of the government without any fear. The state has already shown its helplessness by releasing its 350 members. By doing this, the government has also ignored the orders of the court. In the Faizabad sit-in verdict, the judges have categorically declared: “Protesters who obstruct people’s right to use roads and damage or destroy property must be proceeded against in accordance with the law and held accountable.”

The state should not succumb to illegal TLP demands and try its best to solve the problem once and for all by using pragmatic and constitutional ways. Otherwise, extremism will increase in the country.