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Pakistan on the verge of civil war as it bans TLP for violent protests over the arrest of its leader and Muhammad cartoons in France

Pakistan was on the verge of a civil war after TLP's violent protests against two things, the arrest of their leader Saad Hussain Rizvi, and against France's defence of Freedom of Expression pertaining to drawing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad

According to Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the Pakistan Government has taken the decision to ban Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), whose supporters and members have been violently protesting since the arrest of their chief, Saad Hussain Rizvi, on Monday.

In a post on Twitter, Sheikh Rashid Khan specified that the Islamist political party would be banned under Rule 11(b) of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997. Rashid said that the Punjab Government made the recommendation to ban TLP, of which a summary is being sent to the Federal government.

“…today we’ve decided that [a] ban on TLP [will be placed] and this file is going to the cabinet for the approval from today,” Pakistan’s Interior Minister said.

This ban on TLP comes in the wake of three days of violent protests by TLP supporters and cadre, which have resulted in the deaths of two policemen and left at least 340 injured.

With regard to negotiations with TLP, Sheikh Rashid said, “It was our effort till the last moment to convince them to agree on a resolution to be presented in the assembly, but all of our efforts were unsuccessful.”

Sheikh Rashid added that TLP activists, “wanted to come to Faizabad chowk and Islamabad at any cost”.

Background for TLP’s violent protests

Pakistan was on the verge of a civil war after TLP’s violent protests against two things, the arrest of their leader Saad Hussain Rizvi which took place on Monday, and against France’s defence of Freedom of Expression pertaining to drawing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. The Islamist group has demanded that the French ambassador be expelled from Pakistan and import of goods from France banned.

On November 14, 2020, the TLP and the police clashed so violently that the government gave in to their demands the following day. In their charter of demands, TLP directed the ouster of the French ambassador within 3 months. They demanded the release of arrested members of the TLP and said that no further cases should be registered against the party’s workers.

TLP also demanded that Pakistan would not appoint its ambassador to France, else they would continue their sit-in protests. The Imran Khan government, through its Interior Ministry, issued a notification to release all TLP workers. On January 3 this year, the new successor of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan Saad Hussain Rizvi threatened to launch countrywide protests if its demand of expelling the French ambassador is not met by February 17.

“If you have forgotten the promise, see our history… You have got time until Feb 17 to expel the French ambassador,” he had earlier warned. On February 11, the Imran Khan government reached a new agreement with TLP and assured that their demands will be tabled before the Parliament on April 20. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had told TLP that no other PM had raised the issue of blasphemy on international platforms more than him. However, in his signature U-turn, Imran Khan failed to implement the agreement ahead of the April 20 deadline.

In a video message on Sunday (April 11), TLP leader Saad Hussain Rizvi urged his followers to protest and hit the roads against the government if demands are not fulfilled. This call for a countrywide protest led to his arrest at around 2 pm on Wahdat Road in Lahore. Following his arrest, a large mob of his supporters blocked the Grand Trunk Road at several junctions. Major cities such as Islamabad, Lahore, Gujranwala, and Peshawar were cut off from the rest of the country. The Islamists had also blocked motorways, highways, train tracks and clashed with the police.

While speaking about the development, TLP leader Khalid Awan said, “We will not step back from our mission because of Saad Rizvi’s arrest.” A TLP spokesperson, Tayyab Rizvi, vowed, “They (Protests) will continue till the French ambassador is deported.” He added that a total of 12 members of the Islamist party were killed in police firing in cities such as Lahore, Karachi, and Talagang. Keeping in mind the law and order situation, major intersections in Karachi and Islamabad were closed on Sunday (April 13).

Horrific violence across Pakistan

Several videos have now surfaced online that highlights the grim law and order situation in Pakistan. A Pakistani Twitter user (@nighatdad) shared a horrific video claiming to depict the final moments of a constable killed by TLP workers. In the video, the policeman is chased by a mob of violent Islamists, being mercilessly beaten with sticks.

A retired Pakistan Army Major on Twitter shared a video of a Pakistani policeman with a mauled ear barely hanging on by its skin. The video also showcases other injured policemen, sharing their experience of being attacked by TLP activists.

Another video shows a Pakistani policeman being brutally beaten by a mob of TLP Islamists.

In a video shared by Twitter user (@AbdulGJutt), Islamists brandishing skullcaps were seen brutally assaulting security personnel with sticks. Even after the victim bled from his face, the mob continued with the thrashing. Another security personnel could be heard pleading with the TLP supporters to stop assaulting the man.

Popular Pakistani atheist Harris Sultan shared a video of a mob vandalizing a car with sticks, even when the occupants were inside the vehicle. They broke the window panes while the driver tried to desperately back off from the chaotic scene. Haris Sultan tweeted, “Somes lovers of the prophet peaceful letting it out on a blasphemous car.”

In another video, a frenzied mob can be seen gathering around a lone police official and mercilessly throwing blows at him.

In a heart-wrenching video, Islamists are seen pulling a bruised police official while he pleaded with them to spare him. “Are you a Muslim? You must be a Jewish (Yahoodi)agent.” Although the nameplate read ‘Umar’, the mob assumed that he was a Jew and hurled the choicest of expletives at him. In the end, the security personnel collapsed on the ground while the mob chanted, “Labaik Labaik.”

Despite the violence wrecked by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan in the country, the Pakistani army personnel were seen raising Islamist slogans along with the party members. Journalist Shama Junejo tweeted, “This video gives a clear message to the world from our armed forces that where do they stand, who they are with, & what kind of social structure they will support in Pakistan. Yet we wonder about #FATF & being a high-risk country for the UK.”

Last year, TLP Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan released videos where Muslims said that the ‘Badmash’ (naughty) Imran Khan government was instigating the ‘Kalma’ reading forces against the ‘Kalma’ reading Muslims of Rawalpindi when Muslims of Srinagar and Kashmir were hoping that these same forces would rescue them. They lamented the fact that the Pakistani forces were taking action against Namazis instead of “fighting Hindus”.

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