A few days back we have experienced a violent anti-French protest by Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) that has paralyzed the country. This party which has recently emerged as a powerful force to be reckoned with in Pakistani politics is principally fighting against the Blasphemy case that was reported in France when a school teacher, Smaeul Paty showed caricatures of Prophet (PBUH) to the class. Therefore, it is demanding the boycott of French products, expulsion of the French ambassador, and with recent crackdown the release of TLP leader Saad Rizvi-a 26 years old.
However, to achieve their motives they were seen using violent means like protest with police and supporters clashing in the major cities leading to causality counts, massive injuries, and imprisonment. Pakistani administration has now banned the Hard-line party under anti-Terror law 1997, Section 11(B) on grounds that its actions are prejudicial to the peace and security of country and were meant to imitate the public, causing huge bodily harms to law enforcement agencies and bystanders.
Nevertheless, this protest by TLP that has wreaked havoc in Pakistan has to be analyzed from a critical lens while looking up to the factors that under the shadow are playing a major role in its propagation. There is a need to connect dots because TLP’s existence is not new, it has a history, and is time and again used as a “pressure group” by different factions openly or through back channels to achieve their vested interest.
A question arises, why TLP was not taken as a terrorist organization back in the time when the current PTI government used to have engagements with it? Why not PTM and MQM that are posing an existential threat to Pakistan and having connections with the RAW agency as well? Why only TLP has to face the music? Is it for the purpose to get out of the FATF grey list by banning such violent parties to show up for peace, but if it’s the case then the move is highly mistaken because considering the image of Pakistan internationally it is more distressing than ever.
Moving further, can we say that both TLP and State are part of the same ship befooling only the public? Or there is another undercover force behind it. Was all the criticism that the PTI government came across for mishandling the protest and not acting swiftly was intentional to point towards the failure of govt and to show the relevance of a particular faction without whom Pakistan can’t even deal with a protest?
Therefore, it’s important to understand who is acting at the backend of all the chaos as in Pakistan religion is very close to heart that is one of the reasons it is most likely to be exploited by the powerful factions for their interest. For instance, the very purpose of TLP creation by Khadim Rizvi in 2015 was to protect Pakistan’s blasphemy law and the finality of the prophet. As this is one of the factors that unites Muslims across the world. It’s not for the first time that TLP has shown up in the forms of protest, we did have the same protest in 2018 when Asia Bibi, a Christian woman was involved in blasphemy. At that time TLP had three days major sit-ins in Lahore after the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence awarded to Aasia Bibi by a trial court and upheld by the Lahore High Court, and ordered her release.
Much like this, in Nov 2020 the same protest was headed by Maulana Khadim Rizvi for dismissal of the French envoy. So the problem is with the government’s poor handling of the situation. Why it even agreed to remove the French ambassador in the first place, why it pledged to have a resolution sent to National Assemble on 20th April, if that was meant to be broken. Why not it was resolved properly through negotiations at its very beginning and even when they got sight of TLP planning to go for protests across Pakistan, or can we say that it was a deliberate move.
No matter what, it’s at the end the image of Pakistan that is under threat. Struggling to deal with a number of domestic issues, TLP emergence is no less than an extra salt for Pakistan. Thus, we need to understand TLP in the context of real and non-time threats that it is and can pose nationally and internationally to Pakistan before things get completely out of hand and where no solution seems likely.
Pointing to some of the most likely threat TLP could pose to Pakistan internationally and nationally. First and foremost, Pakistan that is already struggling to have stable economy, the TLP protestors and their demands like boycotting of French products would be a major challenge for Pakistan. For instance, EU is one of Pakistan’s largest export markets worth $6.92 billion (34%) with France alone accounting for 5% of total imports from Pakistan. Not just this, but Pakistan imports from France totaled US $356.05 Million in 2020. Hence with such massive trade going on between two states, cutting ties with France would not mean losing France but the larger European Union that will impact economy. Most recently EU has call for a review on Pakistan’s GSP+ Status because of alarming increase in the use of Blasphemy accusations. So the loss of GSP+ status would again mean another loss of $3.5 billion.
Then protests by TLP against France increase likelihood of Pakistan being in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list for years to come. Having already suffered a loss of almost $38 billion because of being in the Gray list since 2008, in this case when Pakistan FATF decision is scheduled on June, 2021 such violent protests added to the problems.
Moreover, TLP protest has given a clue to Pakistan’s enemies that always look up for such opportunities to create instability in Pakistan. Most importantly, India in our neighbors that has time and again used such religious factions for its interests and fund them across the border, so TLP protesters are yet another soft target for India to exploit. Reports too suggested out of 400,000 tweets, 70% were from fake accounts with around 380 Indian groups circulating fake news regarding the civil war in Pakistan.
Not just this, but a major real-time threat came to the government in its dealing with the protestors. As PTI government is already under severe criticism by the public for its poor performance, so in this state of crisis where it failed to tackle the situation timely, it just gives another hint for the current government’s incompetency which opposition parties exploited further.
Then the image of Pakistan that is projected internationally with the onset of such violent religious extremist protests by TLP is no less than a threat. Pakistan that is already under havoc for being referred to as a terrorist state, these actions by TLP again projected Pakistan’s image as an extremist state which is why France ordered its nationals to leave Pakistan at the earliest possible.
Conclusively, struggling to deal with the economic crisis, internal instability, separatist movements, and political divide, these protests only added to the problems. Therefore, it’s time Pakistan should take serious actions against such violent protestors. It has to rethink its policies, has to devise new strategies. Time demands thinking beyond self-interest towards the broader interest of Pakistan.