Why Imran Khan’s ban on TLP is an eye-wash

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Experts say that the TLP was nourished by the military establishment for its vested interests. If today it has spiralled out of control, the blame lies with those who helped it grow into the threat it is today

After banning Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a fundamentalist group, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is on the defensive. Justifying the action taken against the group, Imran Khan took to social media to make his statement “I am making it clear to people in Pakistan and around the world that when TLP challenged the state's writ, action was taken against it under anti-terrorism laws." 

But he quickly clarified that action taken was the last resort. “When TLP resorted to violence and attacked people and security forces, action was taken against them.”

Instead of blaming the TLP, Khan quicky played the anti-western card, which usually goes down well with extremist groups, and deflects public fury away from the misdeeds or incompetence of Islamabad. “My message to extremists abroad who indulge in Islamophobia and racist slurs to hurt and cause pain to 1.3 bn Muslims across the globe: We Muslims have the greatest love & respect for our Prophet PBUH who lives in our hearts. We cannot tolerate any such disrespect and abuse,” he said in his tweets.  

In a thread of tweets, Imran Khan dared western governments to "use the same standards to penalise those deliberately spreading their message of hate against Muslims by abusing our Prophet PBUH" as they did regarding comments made about the Holocaust.

Khan added these people are spreading hatred under the guise of freedom of expression.  “Those in the West, including extreme right politicians, who deliberately indulge in such abuse and hate under guise of freedom of speech clearly lack moral sense and courage to apologise to the 1.3 bn Muslims for causing this hurt. We demand an apology from these extremists.” 

According to Pakistan sources, the TLP has breached the ruling citadel in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the seat of military power. Senior leaders of Khan’s government and generals of Pakistani army are apparently in touch with the leaders of TLP. One retired army officer reportedly told TLP leaders to keep calm and that the ‘ban’ is a preventive one same as the arrest of the group supremo Saad Rizvi.

Many Pakistani political leaders, human rights activists are calling Imran Khan’s bluff.  

Senior Pashtun leader and ex- senator Afrasiab Khattak also took to the social media to declare the ban of TLP was an “eye wash”, “Banning TLP is no solution as we have seen in the case of other extremist/militant groups. Emergence of religious extremism in Pakistan wasn’t a bolt from the blue. Zia-led martial law used religious slogans to justify trampling down the Constitution. Four military leaders, from Musharraf, Kiyani and Raheel to Bajwa, have made claims about making substantial gains against extremism and militancy, but every time the problem re-emerges in more dangerous form. There is evidence that the security agencies haven’t broken their links with the extremists and have used these “non-state actors” for political engineering.”

According to Pakistani experts, the case of TLP is different from other hardliner groups like Jaish e Mohammad (JeM) or Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). “The difference is that the ultra-right TLP, for all its vitriol and predilection for violence, is a political party registered with the Election commission of Pakistan.  It contested the 2018 elections across the country and has representation in the Sindh Assembly. Can it then be technically classified as a terrorist organisation?”  

One expert says the TLP was nourished by the military establishment for its vested interests. If today it has spiralled out of control, the blame lies with those who helped it grow into the threat it is today. 

Back in 2017, when TLP was not a registered political party it had organised a 21-day long protest against Nawaz Sharif’s government a top officer of the spy agency ISI brokered a deal between the TLP and the then PML-N government. Maj-Gen Faiz Hameed of ISI, signed the agreement as facilitator. General Faiz Hameed is now the chief of the ISI and this is how top brass of the Pakistani army brought TLP into the mainstream of the country's politics. There are “whispers” among Pakistani journalists that Ijaz-ul-Haq, son of former dictator Zia ul Haq who is close to the military establishment, has contacts with the TLP leaders. Questions are also being raised about the spectacular rise of the TLP. In Pakistan, it is impossible for any party without the backing of the generals. The saying goes that most countries have an army, but Pakistan's army has a country.

 

 

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