04/16/2021, 17.48
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Authorities ban Tehreek-i-Labbaik

by Shafique Khokhar

The extremist Islamist party has violently attacked France over the Muhammad cartoons. Paris urges its citizens and businesses to leave Pakistan.


Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Pakistani government on Wednesday banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), an extremist Islamist political party. The decision followed violent protests by its supporters after its leader was arrested.

The  party has been holding protest against France over the Muhammad cartoons. As a consequence, The Punjab government recommended banning the TLP in a note sent to the federal government.

Meanwhile, the French Embassy in Pakistan urged all French nationals and businesses to temporarily leave the country for fear of attacks.

The protest in Pakistan's major cities began on Monday after TLP leader Saad Hussain Rizvi was arrested by security forces in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province. The next day, protesters blocked roads in many cities; in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad as well as smaller towns clashes with police forces followed.

During the confrontations, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters, who fought back by throwing stones. One police officer was killed and many others were badly injured by TLP militants.

The arrest of the group's leader was taken as a “pre-emptive” measure after the Islamist party set a deadline for the government, 20 April, to take concrete steps against France, whom they accuse of blasphemy.

The issue dates back to October 2020, when a French history teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded after he showed “blasphemous” cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad in his class. His attacker was killed by police as they tried to arrest him. The same caricatures were later projected onto the façade of a building in France.

In the wake of the incident, French President Emmanuel Macron criticised Islamists and promised not to give up the prophet cartoons.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan reacted slamming the comments of French authorities, while protests broke out across the country with people calling for a boycott of French products and demanding Pakistan break off diplomatic relations with Paris.

Saad Hussain's father, Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who was TLP leader in October 2020, threatened to take “extreme action” if no concrete measures were taken. He also called on Pakistan to “declare jihad” against France.

Since 1990 the TLP has held major rallies against “blasphemy”. According to Al Jazeera, at least 78 people have been murdered in Pakistan in connection with blasphemy accusations.

In a tweet Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed explained that the party was banned under Article 11(b) of the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act.

Minister Rashid noted that TLP leaders used to attend talks with the government while instructing their militants on setting up roadblocks.

“They were more prepared than us but today we have decided that a ban on TLP will be placed and this file is going to the cabinet for the approval,” the minister wrote.

The Election Commission of Pakistan also announced that Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan candidates cannot run in upcoming by-elections under the party's banner. 

“The situation in the country is increasingly serious and there are many reports of violence on social media,” said researcher and writer Amer Kakkazai, speaking to AsiaNews.

“The government’s decision is good, but it comes late. Unfortunately, some state bodies are in league with these groups and often consider them their own people. This monstrous group was created to counter the electoral base of another party, but history teaches that this type of operation always backfires.”

Banning a party “means that it will not be able to participate in elections, but it cannot be banned from the backrooms of powers. It would be a pity if the government did not learn from its mistakes.

“We call on the government to pass a law to deal with such extremist groups with an iron fist. Otherwise, in the end, the authorities will lose control of the state.”

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