Banning the TLP: Pakistan’s reactive approach to disbanding a religiopolitical group?

Script by: Zainab Akhter
PhD, Research Analyst, South Asia Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses 
The PTI government led by Imran Khan is currently confronting one of the most serious internal security crises of its term.
Protests erupted across major cities in Pakistan on 12 April after now banned religiopolitical group Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Saad Rizvi was detained by security forces in Lahore as a “pre-emptive measure” ahead of the TLP’s 20 April deadline to the PTI government to fulfil its promises.
Alternatively, the government also banned the TLP officially under the anti-terrorism law and filed a reference in the Supreme Court for the dissolution of the TLP. What does the TLP want? Can a ban guarantee an end to TLP’s violent activities?
The TLP is a far-right Islamist political party that was founded by the late Khadim Hussain Rizvi on the core belief to promote Namoos-i-Risalat that is ‘to protect the sanctity of the Holy Prophet’ (PBUH).
Last year in November 2020 the TLP registered strong anti-France protests and sit-ins after the publication of the blasphemous caricatures in France. They demanded a boycott of French products, the expulsion of French
Ambassador from Pakistan, no appointment of Pakistani ambassador to France, and finally to release all TLP workers arrested during protests and to drop all cases against them.
The government released all TLP workers and promised to work on other demands in the coming days. But the death of the founder of TLP on 19 Nov 2020 paved the way for his son Hafiz Saad Rizvi who issued a series of new threats to the government to re-launch the protests if the promises are not fulfilled.
The TLP reached a new agreement with the government and PTI promised to take the matter to the parliament before 20 April 2021.
Imran Khan Government took a U-turn, turned back on its promise to expel the French Ambassador, and took Saad Rizvi into custody. Things got out of the hands of the government when the TLP workers attacked a police station in Lahore and kidnapped eleven police officers and its DSP.
The government maintained that it will not be blackmailed by stick and stone wielding TLP workers and The National Counter-Terrorism Authority also swiftly added the TLP to the list of banned terrorist organizations.
Some analysts argue that the TLP is not a case of counter-terrorism but counter-extremism, therefore this reactive approach of the government to put it under banned terrorist organizations might backfire.
The PTI government has encouraged the resistance politics of the TLP in the past and has never stopped its rallies and protests.
In fact, the TLP came to prominence after its 2017 anti-government sit-ins against PML-N government in Islamabad that was fully supported by the PTI. This is the first time the state is stopping them and using force against the TLP.
Critics believe that banning the TLP is not the solution; extremist outfits that have been banned in the past continued their activities by operating under different names.
They have also contested elections without being questioned about the ‘banned’ status of their groups. There is very little indication that the policy of tolerance for extremist outfits by the government has changed, which is why a ban alone cannot guarantee an end to TLP’s violent activities.
On the one hand, recently Imran Khan lamented that political and religious parties in Pakistan misused Islam and on the other hand is justifying the case for Prophet’s honour. PM has informed that he had started a campaign with heads of other Muslim countries to present the case of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) honour on international forums.
It has to be noted that there is a ban on the mainstream media to debate or discuss the activities of the TLP as now is a proscribed organization but social media in Pakistan is full of TLP sympathizers that are calling to call off the ban on the organization.
The JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl Ur Rehman who is also the head of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), the alliance of the opposition has promised his support to the TLP.
In Pakistan politicians, religious groups, and everyone has become the gatekeepers of Namoos-i-Risalat and are using Prophets Name for their own selfish motives.
The religious economy revolving around the protecting sanctity of the Prophet is huge. The TLP is registered as a political party with the election commission of Pakistan and interestingly there was no background check on the source of funding.
Namoos-i-Risalat is a very sensitive topic in Pakistan and the blasphemy law is enshrined to defend this concept.
There is a possibility that all the religious-political groups may unite with the TLP on this issue and demand for passing a bill to protect the sanctity of the Prophet.
As far as the demand of the TLP for the expulsion of the Ambassador of French, the government will be very careful as they fear a sanction from the European Union.
TLP and PDM might join forces in anti-government protests in the coming days, in case the government decline to talk with the TLP.