Bloodied and bruised—with swathes of bandages around his head, DSP Umar Farooq was seen visibly worn out and parched when his video was surfaced on social media.
The three-star police officer was subjected to ‘brutal torture’ and held hostage along with half dozen security personnel for many hours by a far-right religious group last Sunday.
It all started when the police of Nawan Kot station launched an operation to clear a sit-in staged by TLP, now banned, from Lahore’s Yateem Khana Chowk.
This doesn’t sit well with them.
The protestors encircled the police station; armed with sticks, stones and some guns; heavily outnumbered the police company. Violent clashes erupted—fearing of getting overrun, the police sent a distress call.
Meanwhile, the charged mob fired shots and pelted stones, only to get braved by the police. However, when the violent protesters hurled petrol bombs at the nick from an oil tanker, (seized by the demonstrators), the determination of the under-funded police started to faltered.
What followed next is a series of negotiations with a party, (which the government earlier declared terrorists), for the release of the security personnel, in return to acceding to their demands. However, the damage was done with over 1000 policemen injured, 4 died of wounds, and 57 patients died before reaching hospitals due to protests. While, 734 members of the banned outfit got off scot-free.
Taken aback from the utter capitulation of the State —one need to go back in the past to examine how a party debuted as a ‘pressure group’ end up paralyzing the State.
The group traces its roots back to the imprisonment and execution of Mumtaz Qadri. In reaction, three religious groups came under the banner of one party called Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah.
Banked on the emotive issue of honor and finality of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and blasphemy laws, the party rose to prominence so did its leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi. With his fiery (often laced with profanities) sermons, strong religious credentials and humble origins led him to make inroads in the underprivileged section of the society.
His ascendency can be gauged from his multiple sit-ins in the capital to bring government on his knees; to dictate who shall ‘advise’ government on economic issues; and halting the country to a standstill.
However, his sudden demise in November last year met with serious concerns about the party’s future. With many expected it to reduce to a rump. That’s when young Saad Hussein Rizvi took charge. The 26-year old filled his father’s shoes quickly and proved his critics wrong. Aside being the son of the firebrand chief, he also possessed his charisma. Which was evident from his pre-emptive arrest by the authorities with the purpose to ‘maintain law and order,’ however, it completely did the opposite.
Weaponizing a potent force: Blasphemy
TLP draws its support from the Barelvis, a sub-sect of ‘Sunni school’ which mostly in Pakistan adheres to. Dubbed as the ‘peaceful faction of Islam’, the Barelvis were at the forefront of the Pakistan movement, unlike their Deobandi counterparts, who many of them opposed the demand of the separate Muslim country.
Nevertheless, after the creation of Pakistan, much to the chagrin of Barelvis, the Deobandis and less populace Ahle Hadees maintained vast heft in the religio-political sphere. Repeated attempts were made by the Barelvi-centric parties from the conciliatory Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) to belligerent Sunni Tehreek (ST) to reclaim political space, but to no avail.
Against this backdrop, TLP (the political arm of TLYRA) struck the right chord with its target audience to present itself a self-appointed defender of blasphemy laws and honor of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Relied on the ‘blasphemy issue’ to sensitize the masses, TLP advertently radicalized and inspired many, especially the youth, to achieve their aims, if necessary, through violent means.
For instance, a student in Charsadda killed his principal for questioning over his absence from class to attend TLP sit-ins. Another student from Bahawalpur, exhorted by a TLP member, appallingly run through his professor for simply organizing a “farewell party”, where male and female were supposed to perform a cultural dance to folk music. Moreover, Ahsan Iqbal, a former interior minister was shot at election rally by an assailant, who received the instructions in a dream and had links with the TLP.
Mollycoddling the ‘zealots’
The infamous 2017 Faizabad sit-in of TLP was largely viewed as backed by the security establishment. Where men in uniform doled out cash envelopes to the protestors and self-serving politicians trumpeted support for TLP.
Backing of the religious hardline groups was in line with a policy adopted by state institutions to mainstream them. In the case of TLP, It was nurtured to dent the PML-N ‘Barelvi’ vote bank in Punjab.
Surprisingly the adventurism paid off. The Rizvi-led party not only managed to siphon off votes from the PMLN constituencies; but fared ridiculously well in the 2018 elections; and panned out as the third and fifth largest political party in Punjab and Pakistan respectively.
Buoyed by the massive electoral victory and existing religious clout, TLP forced every government to submit to its will; and if the authorities resisted to toe the line; they resorted to violent tactics; wrecked havoc on the streets; bludgeoned policemen to death; stamped ‘infidel’ labels on their opponents; eventually leading the governments to caved in.
Tailpiece: The powers-that-be has a disposition to prop up the ultra-right elements to achieve dubious short-term gains. The blowback of the approach is well-documented. Time for introspection is upon the policymakers to revisit their decades-long strategy to induced Frankenstein’s monsters that creates nothing but destruction and the multitude always wind up on the receiving end.
Also Read: The Road Not Taken