The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistans (TLP) long march to Islamabad had camped at Wazirabad for four days before it finally reached an agreement with the government on October 31.
The TLP had begun its long march on October 22 from its headquarters at Ammir ul Momineen Mosque in Lahore. The group’s demands included old ones such as expulsion of the French Ambassador and boycott of French products and new ones of lifting ban on TLP and release of their leader Saad Rizvi, who was arrested on April 12, and their workers.
TLP’s demand of expulsion of the French ambassador came last year after blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammed were republished in France. TLP had taken out protest and did a sit-in in Islamabad blocking the main artery between Rawalpindi and the capital. It ended only after the civilian government gave in and signed an agreement with the TLP according to which the it was bound to discuss the matter in the parliament by April 20. The debate never took place.
Previously in November 2017, the TLP dharna was carried out to oust the then Law Minister Zahid Hamid who they accused of committing blasphemy and demanded his resignation. Matters were resolved only after the military stepped in and brokered an agreement between the then sitting government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and TLP. The Minister had to resign.
As the dharna was being wrapped up, the Director General of Punjab Rangers Maj-Gen Azhar Naveed Hayat was captured on video distributing envelops among the participants of the protest. Each envelop is said to have contained 1,000 PKR which was paid for ‘their bus fare home’. The General could be heard telling them that “this is a gift from us to you, aren’t we with you too”.
In 2018, the stage was set by the ISI and military establishment to bring in Imran Khan as the new leader of the country. In an attempt to spilt the conservative vote bank of the PML-N in Punjab, TLP was launched to contest elections.
In September 2016, the Indian government’s then Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drain signed an $8.7 billion deal to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets. But it was not until July 29, 2020 that the first Rafale landed on Indian soil.
This upset the Pakistani military establishment. It decided to punish France. This is when the jinni of TLP was once again released from the military headquarters in Rawalpindi.
On November 2020, TLP leader late Khadim Rizvi issued a statement demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador from Islamabad, cancellation of all trade deals with France and a boycott of French products on the pretext that French magazine Charlie Hebdo had republished objectionable cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.
The demand followed by protests and another dharna in Islamabad ended in an agreement that a motion for the expulsion of the French ambassador would be tabled at the Parliament session no later than April 2021.
On October 6, 2021, Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa announced transfers and postings of his corps commanders including the posting of director general of the ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed as corps commander of 11 corps in Peshawar.
This upset the Prime minister for the simple reason that it was Faiz Hameed who had orchestrated his accent to power in July 2018. Rumour goes that Khan was told by his wife that Lt Gen Hameed’s transfer before the month of December will be a bad omen for his government.
Khan refused to accept the posting of Lt Gen Hammed and complained that he was not consulted for the appointment of the new DG ISI.
This led to a bitter confrontation between the prime minister and the army chief. Khan did not sign the summary until last week.
The whole episode was to undermine the military chief with whomKhan is not on good terms any longer. Contrary to the wishes of the army chief who wanted Hameed to take charge of the 11 Corps immediately, the Prime Minister signed and ordered the posting of Lt Gen Hammed to take place on November 20.
Once the summary was received at the GHQ in Rawalpindi, the TLP was reactivated it way payback time. Thousands of TLP workers were mobilised and protests against Khan’s government kicked off with demands to expel the French ambassador, released of their leader and workers and lifting ban on their party.
On October 31 in a hurriedly called press conference by the government’s negotiating team it was announced that an agreement had been reached with the TLP, however, details were not be revealed!
The press conference was led by Mufti Munib ur Rahman, who is a pro-military establishment cleric. The Speaker of the National Assembly was also in attendance. Nevertheless, the most important person present was Gen Bajwa’s pawn against Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
TLP is anything but a force to defend Islam. TLP has not asked the Pakistani government to cease relations with China for the latter’s inhuman treatment of Uyghur Muslims, conversion of mosques into public toilets in Xinjiang or for that matter against Saudi Arabian government’s decision to allow Jews to enter the holiest place of Muslims, the Kaaba.
In the final analysis, TLP has nothing to do with the sanctity of Islam or its prophet and everything to do with arm-twisting tactics of the military establishment. It was created by the ISI to act as a proxy against civilian governments that get out of line and blackmail them back into submission. That is exactly what has taken place now.
Khan might think that he has won the round with Bajwa over the appointment of the new DG ISI but he has conclusively lost the second round.
In the form of TLP, the military establishment has for the first time created, launched and executed a homegrown right wing extremist and religious cult out of the Barelvi sect of Islam for domestic consumption.
In future, like in the past, the TLP’s will remain at the service of the Pakistan military establishment to undermine civil governments who dare to challenge it on the domestic front.
(Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is an author and a human rights activist from Mirpur in the PoJK. He currently lives in exile in the UK.)