At least seven police personnel were killed and many injured in violent clashes with TLP members. The protesters even threatened to block the capital Islamabad, demanding the release of their detailed leader Saad Rizvi.
This is not the first time TLP pushed the Pakistani security establishment to the edge.
The radical Sunni Muslim group, which focuses heavily on attacking actions it considers blasphemous, has mounted major protest marches that have brought Islamabad to a standstill twice in recent years.
What is TLP?
Tehrik-e-Labaik, which translates to “Movement of the Prophet’s Followers”, is an extremist Sunni Islamist group whose main focus is protecting Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws and punishing blasphemers.
The movement was born in 2015 out of a protest campaign to seek the release of Mumtaz Qadri, a police guard who assassinated Punjab governor Salman Taseer in 2011 over his calls to reform blasphemy legislation. Qadri was later executed.
The group founded a political party at Qadri’s funeral in 2016 attended by tens of thousands of people.
Following violent clashes in April, authorities designated the TLP a terrorist movement and arrested its leader, Saad Rizvi, who has been in detention ever since.
Saad Rizvi is the son of TLP’s founder late Khadim Rizvi.
Protest rally by the banned Islamist political party Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan in Lahore (Reuters)
Why is it staging protests?
Last week’s protest was the group’s third since 2017 over a series of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad published in the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.
Charlie Hebdo first published the cartoons, considered deeply insulting by Muslims around the world, in 2006. It republished them last year to mark the opening of a trial over a deadly attack on the magazine by Islamist terrorists in 2015.
What do the protesters want?
The TLP is demanding the release of Rizvi from detention and the expulsion of France’s ambassador over the publication of the cartoons.
It is also seeking the removal of the group from the terrorist list and authorisation to take part in politics.
Did the government accept these demands?
To restore peace and end the violent clashes, the Imran Khan government has reached a deal with the proscribed outfit to release nearly 2,000 activists.
As many as 860 activists of the radical Islamic party Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) were set free on Tuesday itself.
The government has also allowed the movement to contest elections, according to negotiators on both sides.
The opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) strongly criticised the deal between TLP and government, describing it as a “surrender by the government”.
In return, TLP has agreed to shun the politics of violence and withdraw its longstanding demand to have France’s ambassador expelled.
While there is no word on the release of Saad Rizvi, a report in Dawn said the government is mulling over the demand.
“The government is seriously considering to cool down the situation in a manner that its efforts do not go waste and a long-term solution is reached in wake of government-TLP agreement,” a source told Dawn.
Has the protest ended?
While the tensions have cooled down, the TLP protesters continue to camp out on the Grand Trunk Road leading to the capital Islamabad, waiting for the government to fulfil its demands.
The protesters want the government to show good progress on the agreement reached on Sunday.
What’s behind TLP’s rise?
Despite being banned by the government over its violent demonstrations in April, the TLP has been openly spreading its ideology, with the group’s banners displayed across the country.
The group represents the radical Barelvi movement, which was named after its 19th-century founder, Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi. It is the ideological rival of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who are from the Deobandi section of Islam.
In an opinion in Dawn, Muhammad Amir Rana wrote that TLP has provided a purpose in life and a sense of empowerment to many people belonging to the lower-income groups which is a major contributing factor to its rise in a class-based society.
“It has also provided a sense of relevance to the Barelvi madrassa youths, who felt alienated during the decades of jihad, and saw no prominent place for themselves in the religious, political and militant landscapes of the country,” Rana wrote.
The bigger picture
Although the declared target of the protests is the caricatures, many analysts see a connection with the wider problems facing the prime minister.
The government is grappling with a chronic economic crisis and rising inflation and has been at odds with the powerful military establishment over the appointment of a new head of the Inter Services Intelligence agency, who was finally confirmed after weeks of delay.
‘Long march’, a familiar expression of dissent
While TLP’s long march to Islamabad’s doorstep is dominating the headlines in Pakistan these days, the culture of staging a protest march has become a permanent form of expressing dissent.
In 2014, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI had organised the much-hyped Azadi march against then PM Nawaz Sharif over allegations of election rigging.
Last year, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), the opposition alliance, had also announced a similar long march to oust the Imran-led PTI government.
Earlier in 2020, Pakistan human rights activist and the leader of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement Manzoor Pashteen was arrested for taking out the Pashtun long march to highlight the plight of the community in Pakistan.
(With inputs from Reuters and other agencies)
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