It’s no secret that Rawalpindi rules Pakistan through its ‘selected’ civilian proxies in Islamabad. And then there are pawns, who are bred upon extremist Wahhabi thoughts, to keep the civil proxies under check. Anything good is promptly credited to the Rawalpindi generals and everything that’s wrong slides into the account books of these proxies and pawns.
The new pawn in Rawalpindi’s filth pot is Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and its chief Saad Rizvi, who has now been released after being incarcerated for seven months.
Background of Saad Rizvi’s release
In April 2021, TLP chief Saad Hussain Rizvi was arrested for instigating riots during protests that demanded expulsion of French ambassador from Pakistan and severance of all diplomatic ties with France. Thousands of Labbaik members were arrested across Pakistan and put to jails. Saad Rizvi was brutally tortured in police custody. Imran Khan’s government was on the offensive and it seemed that Tehreek-e-Labbaik would soon be history. Come October and there was a drastic change in the landscape.
General amnesty was announced for all TLP members and over 3000 were released from various prisons of Pakistan. There are reports about generous doles being handed over to Labbaik members so that they could ‘start afresh’. Even as other Labbaik members stepped out of prison cells, Saad Hussain Rizvi continued to remain behind bars. By now he had graduated from being called a proclaimed offender to being a state guest who has been placed under ‘house arrest’. Over the last fortnight Saad Rizvi was involved in hectic backdoor negotiations with the generals of Pakistan Army.
A jittery Islamabad explained these developments as ‘peace initiative’ to contain Islamic extremism, and released Saad Rizvi only after seeking commitments from him that TLP cadre would refrain from violent activities. At least, this is the popular narrative being propagated by Islamabad.
The inside story is different, rather murky.
The current ruling faction of Pakistan Army led by Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa wants to continue its stranglehold on Pakistan well beyond November 2022, when Gen Bajwa is scheduled to step down. The ‘selected’ prime minister Imran Khan is desperate to step out of Bajwa’s shadows with able support from another section of Pakistan Army led by Lt. Gen Faiz Hameed, who himself dreams to be the all-powerful Army chief.
Gen. Bajwa is still smarting due to the open defiance shown by his ‘selected PM’ Imran Khan when he refused to immediately endorse Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum as the next ISI chief. Imran Khan shares bonhomie with incumbent ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed and wanted him to continue in office. Officially the ISI chief is appointed by Pakistan PM, but that’s just on paper. The diktat as to who would be the next ISI chief comes directly from Pak Army chief and civil government is expected to simply sign on the dotted lines.
Imran Khan ‘dared’ to delay Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum’s appointment as ISI chief by a fortnight, which was enough to send a message that Gen Bajwa is now a fading star and that the next generation within Pak Army must start their ground work to grab power.
As factionalism within Pakistan Army came to the fore, Gen Bajwa looked for a pawn to make his move. In this backdrop Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and its chief Saad Rizvi fit the bill for Bajwa.
Akin to all other Islamic extremist organisations in Pakistan, TLP has also been created by the ISI. However, despite a large following Saad Rizvi is still a political novice in Pakistan’s political landscape. Yet he nurtures big ambitions. When Bajwa faction of the Pakistan Army reached out to him, Saad Rizvi sniffed an opportunity and willingly agreed to play along the tunes of Gen Bajwa. At least for now.
Factionalism within Pakistan Army
Imran Khan’s defiance to Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has brought to fore the factionalism within Pakistan Army. Lt Gen Faiz Hameed has all along been eyeing to be the all-powerful chief of Pakistan Army. Gen Bajwa knew about Faiz Hameed’s ambitions and went ahead to sort him out, hoping that Imran Khan would play along. But Imran Khan had now switched loyalties as he too wants to cling on to power in the post-Bajwa era.
Bajwa knows quite well that the moment he steps down as Pak Army chief, corruption charges would be slapped against him and he would be forced to flee Pakistan and live in exile like Gen Pervez Musharraf.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik enters in this murky state of affairs. Adherents of radical Barelvi School of Islamic thought, TLP cadre could easily inflame passions in the name of Islam and foment trouble across Pakistan. In return, TLP gets financial backing to stay afloat.
Imran Khan must have understood by now that Labbaik members are no pushovers and with tacit support from GHQ Rawalpindi they will be the major disruptors across Pakistan in the near future. During the last three years TLP has taken to the streets nine times and each time the government was forced to come on its knees. Imran Khan had wanted strict action against Labbaik but the military establishment has vetoed all such plans.
Barely a couple of months ago the Labbaik members were on streets creating mayhem. Islamabad’s civil government had to dig up trenches and unleash heavily armed policemen to contain Labbaik’s hooliganism. Clashes between TLP workers and police have so far killed several policemen.
Saad Rizvi’s release and his rousing welcome means Tehreek-e-Labbaik is gearing up to foment trouble on a turn-key basis.
History of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP)
Khadim Hussain Rizvi, follower of the Barelvi school of radical Islamic thought, laid the foundation of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in 2017. A preacher at Lahore mosque, Khadim Hussain Rizvi worked in the department of endowments.
In 2011, a Punjab Police guard Mumtaz Qadri murdered Punjab Governor Salman Taseer over Taseer’s sympathizing with Asia Bibi, a Christian woman. Asia Bibi was wrongly convicted under Pakistan’s dubious blasphemy laws and Salman Taseer had expressed his concern over misuse of blasphemy laws. This was good enough reason for Mumtaz Qadri to feel offended and kill Salman Taseer.
Khadim Hussain Rizvi openly supported Mumtaz Qadri’s murderous act and started drumming up support for Qadri’s release. Rizvi was fired from his job but he remained undeterred.
In January 2016, Khadim Rizvi held a rally in favour of Mumtaz Qadri without the government’s permission. Later, when Mumtaz Qadri was hanged Khadim Rizvi turned to Islamabad’s D-Chowk to protest against his hanging. After Rawalpindi’s intervention Khadim Rizvi ended the protest after four days and announced that he would form an Islamic religious party by the name ‘Muqtah Labbaik Pakistan al-Rasoolullah’. Thereafter this Labbaik motley held several protests across Pakistan’s Panjab province, most notably at Islamabad in 2017 with active support from Pakistan Army and the ISI.
The Labbaik movement helped Rawalpindi remove the then Pak Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and install their new puppet PM—Imran Khan at Islamabad in 2018.
The Labbaik movement had grown in size and the world came to know about it as Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).
Thereafter, Tehreek-e-Labbaik contested the 2018 general elections and garnered over 2.2 million votes. Khadim Hussain Rizvi was emboldened by now and Labbaik members started thinking that Islam rests on their shoulders. When row erupted over France’s Charlie Hebdo magazine about Prophet Mohammed’s caricatures the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) under Khadim Rizvi demanded that French ambassador be deported from Pakistan. TLP also demanded a total boycott of French products in Pakistan and severance of all diplomatic ties with France.
However, Khadim Hussain Rizvi died abruptly in November 2020 and his son Saad Rizvi was appointed as the new chief of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan. TLP continued its movement to boycott France. In April 2021 the Imran Khan government arrested Saad Hussain Rizvi along with thousands of Labbaik members.
The trajectory of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) can be further understood by having a closer look at a similar sounding tanzeem Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Just like the Labbaik the Tehreek-e-Taliban was ISI’s pawn that carried out attacks across Pakistan killing thousands. Both Labbaik and TTP draw inspiration from Wahhabi extremism and vow to establish Islamic caliphate across the world. After the fall of Kabul, TTP shifted its base to Afghanistan and has grown bigger than the shoes provided by Pak Army and ISI. The Tehree-e-Taliban has now begun attacking Pakistani security forces with the help of Afghan Taliban, bringing huge embarrassment to GHQ Rawalpindi.
Bajwa knew his time was running fast and he cannot rely on the Tehreek-e-Taliban to further his interests. He was getting restless. After careful evaluation Labbaik was chosen. Saad Rizvi is young, restless and, most importantly, ambitious. In the coming weeks expect Tehreek-e-Labbaik to increase its activities across Pakistan. Saad Rizvi will be branded as the saviour of Islam and Tehreek-e-Labbaik will leave no opportunity to embarrass Imran Khan. As Pakistan slips into chaos General Qamar Javed Bajwa would use the opportunity to curb the wings of Imran Khan and assert his position.