Banning a radical party could be the “beginning of the end” for Pakistan

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The radical Islamist party was banned, and its leader, Saad Hussein Rizvi, was arrested after he launched an anti-French protest campaign.

The party sought to sever diplomatic relations with France and expel the French ambassador from Islamabad. After the head of the movement was arrested and the party was banned as extremist, anti-French sentiment reached the point that the French embassy in Islamabad ordered French citizens to leave the country out of fears for their safety.

The Pakistani government blocked social media and instant messaging applications for several hours the day after Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced the dissolution of Tehreek-e-Lubbike in accordance with the country’s anti-terrorism law.

Party leader Saad Rivzi was arrested on April 12, hours after he called for protests demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador. His detention sparked many days of unrest in Pakistan. Tehreek-e-Labbayk is a movement of the Barelvi, Sunni Muslims who adhere to the Hanafi school. The party is conservative, in particular, it advocates the death penalty for those accused of blasphemy (now, according to Pakistani law, this crime can be punished with life imprisonment).

“Tehreek-e-Lubbike was originally created as a political movement to demand the release of a bodyguard accused of assassinating the governor of the Punjab region in 2011,” said Jean-Luc Racine, Indian subcontinent specialist and director emeritus of the CNRS think tank in Paris. … “In 2015, she became a political party led by Khadim Hussein Rizvi, the father of the current leader.”

The party became widely known in 2018 through the Asia Bibi case: a Pakistani Christian woman was sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy after drinking water from a Muslim spring. She spent eight years on death row awaiting execution. She could have become the first woman to be officially executed for blasphemy, but her story became known to the international community and had a great public response. On October 31, 2018, the Pakistani Supreme Court acquitted her, but banned her from leaving the country under pressure from radical groups: Tehreek-e-Lubbike coordinated several of the same movements and staged demonstrations demanding the execution of a woman. In Pakistan’s 2018 parliamentary elections, she won just 2 million votes in a country of over 210 million. But the party has influence due to its enormous ability to mobilize its activists, and its popularity has clearly grown in almost three years.

France became one of the organization’s targets when Charlie Hebdo’s trial began in September 2020. The gruesome massacre of 12 people at the office of a satirical weekly in January 2015 was the first major incident in a wave of Islamist violence, which has left more than 250 people dead in France since then. A month after the start of the trial, France was shocked by the October 16 beheading of teacher Samuel Pati, a native of Chechnya, outraged by his decision to share Charlie Hebdo’s scandalous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a classroom discussing freedom of expression. Party showed the pictures to his civil law class, emphasizing that students need not look at them if they are offended. In response to Paty’s assassination, President Emmanuel Macron vowed that France would never abandon its liberal Enlightenment values, including the right to mock religion. He hailed the murdered teacher as a “hero” for “representing the secular, free-thinking values ​​of the French Republic”: France has a long tradition of caricatures of political and religious authorities, including Catholicism. After that, there were massive protests in Muslim countries – people took to the streets and burned French flags and images of the French president. In Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Lubbike was the core of the protests. The party demanded that Pakistan sever diplomatic relations with France and send the French ambassador out of the country.

The Pakistani government has signed an agreement with the party to persuade it to end the protests – agreeing to a boycott of French products and promising to hold a parliamentary vote by April 20 on the expulsion of the French ambassador. But as that deadline approached, Islamabad distanced itself from the party, outlawed it and arrested its leader. After that, clashes with the police of the arrested man’s supporters began in the capital of Pakistan, the city was practically blocked. At least seven people were killed on both sides, and more than 300 police officers were injured. More than 200 Tehreek-e-Labbike activists have been arrested, but there may be more.

“[Идеи]Tehreek-e-Labbike is relatively popular among young people, especially in the Pakistani working class, because the party’s political platform aims not only to change how Islam is practiced in the country, but also to combat Pakistan’s socioeconomic inequality. This obviously speaks of precarious young people who are losing under the current system. This week’s events show that the government of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is unable to negotiate with radical movements. They are popular among the general public, so it is difficult for the government to take a firm stand against them, ”explains Racine.

Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussein expressed a similar point of view in the English-language daily Dawn.

“The government only managed to postpone the crisis. What was happening now was inevitable. The way the administration collapsed in the face of crowd violence is at least alarming and underscores that we are not coping with growing religious extremism, ”he stressed.

At the same time, the ban on the party may have another justification, not related to the desire to avoid the scandal with Paris. In time, the measures against radical unification coincide with the extension of Pakistan’s presence in the FATF “gray list” – its revision will be soon. Perhaps Islamabad thinks that the country will be less criticized for financing terrorism – although there are no clear links between Tehreek-e-Labbike and MTO. However, banning it does not mean that this radical group and its ideas will disappear: in the history of Pakistan, the government bans radical parties and movements, and then they reappear under different names, but with the same leaders and program of action.