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I was reading up on the TLP fracas which is going on in Pakistan. I came across this great line – “Haar gaye toh shaheed, jeet gaye toh ghazi, surrender kar diya toh Niazi”. Familiar? Niazi’s and surrender in Pakistan are synonymous with each other. The line might have its roots in the abject surrender by Gen Niazi in 1971. However it is being spoken of with reference to Imran Taliban Khan Niazi’s current surrender to the enemy within! The widespread opinion in Pakistan is the State has surrendered and capitulated to TLP. Some call it checkmated. This is dicey in the long run. The government has reached an ‘agreement’ with the proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) to end a two-week-long impasse. The funny thing is that Pakistan has refused to divulge the details of the agreement. Each minister who dealt with the TLP is speaking a different version in a different language. Very clearly, in this entire fracas, TLP has returned as Ghazis. The Government is the Shaheeds and Niazi is Niazi! The surrender specialist!
Incidentally, this is the seventh time in the past five years that the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has brought Pakistan to its knees. After every agitation, and every negotiation they have signed a one sided agreement in their favour and returned more empowered each time. Every time the State has looked even more weak, foolish and incapable. Imagine surrendering to a group which preaches extreme religious zealotry, repeatedly resorts to mob violence, overpowers security forces, does not have any representation in the national parliament and has been proscribed as a terrorist outfit. This group is now setting and determining Pakistan’s political and ideological future. Opinions in Pakistan are unanimous that the writ of the state has yet again crumbled in the face of violent extremism. After blowing hot and cold, the PTI government has apparently signed on the dotted line conceding to all demands of TLP.
They say that one reaps what one sows. That is what is happening now. In 2017 the Pakistani Supreme court gave a ruling when TLP staged a protest. In that ruling , the judge highlighted the role of the intelligence agencies and some political leaders in encouraging TLP and its activities to weaken the then federal government. Who was the impugned political leader? Taliban Khan of course! Which were the impugned agencies ? Every one which operates under the ISI umbrella! The Army could be the one to have given the go ahead for this group to flourish. The demands of the TLP now, are the same which were of PTI when it was in opposition to bring down bring down the previous government. The TLP is the typical bad genie which has come out of the bottle, gone rogue and is now refusing to get back in. The real problem is that this genie is not only a rogue but getting bigger.
What about the Army? Nothing! The great Pakistani Army has left it to its incredibly weak government to handle the hot potato. It is fully possible that the TLP is doing the bidding of the deep state to keep the government in check so that Immy Bhai does not get ahead of himself. In fact, if one goes by the drama of the appointment of the ISI spymaster and link it up with the TLP agitation, lot of questions are left unanswered. However on the other hand there could be lot questions answered! If the Army does not have any link with the TLP, then its actions or rather inaction amounts to cowardice. Every agitation by TLP has been violent where lives have been lost. This time around, the TLP were well armed with automatics and took on the security forces to inflict causalities on them! And the Pakistani State – Deep or Shallow, surrenders to such an organisation!
Why is TLP significant in the Pakistani discourse? It indicates the future of Pakistan. If we had thought that Pakistan was radicalised, think again. The radicalised state of Pakistan and especially its security forces were not able to put down this hyper radical outfit which whips up religious sentiments at the snap of its fingers. Such an organisation was allowed to participate in the 2018 elections. Though it did not win a single seat, it emerged as the fourth largest bloc in Punjab in terms of the share of votes. That was three years back. If TLP can make a dent and get some seats, even if they are a few , it can and will become a king maker now. As time goes by, this vitriolic outfit could gains a few more seats and might be in the Government one day. Taliban will look like saints before TLP.
Why is the TLP different is a different? Its difference lies in its geography. The TLP is a Punjab based movement which has found resonance across the country. Its main support comes from the urban and rural lower-middle classes and traders. It has support from large swathes of the Punjabi lumpen class with sections of the trader / merchant petty bourgeoisie through an embedded religious leadership that commands a large mosque network. It has also made inroads into the support base of other established Islamic parties which have been virtually wiped out in Punjab. TLPs frequent agitations keep it politically alive and maintain its financial lifeline. Unlike most other movements , it is growing increasingly popular among the masses. Its roots are deepening in urban and rural Punjab. No other religiously oriented political party has been able to match its pull. It is tied to the Pakistani heartland that makes the State of Pakistan. Turning on it is not an option like in other areas or organisations. For instance if Pakistan turns on JuD or LeT there will be no great tears shed. On the other hand, the Pakistani state has got away with it by trampling on the PTM and the Baloch Movement even though they have been largely non-violent and have popular support. These movements are in areas far removed from the core areas of Pakistan. The Army can conduct CI / anti-terror operations against TTP and explain it to the masses. The TLP is emerging as a different kind of fish. Every time the State has tried to cull the TLP, the latter has grown bigger, more violent and radical.
There is another problem. That is a major one. Imran Khan’s party has consistently spent its time in government trying to establish and enhance its own religious credentials. Imran Khan is deliberately creating more space for an administration based on religion in the name of welfare. In fact all administrative functions from nikah documents to curriculum oversight are now being given a religious overtone. In essence the Government and the non-government forces are in a competitive religious zealotry mode. They use the same rhetoric, paying fealty to the same goals, and exploit the same anti-minority fault lines. It is only a matter of time that other political parties will be tempted to join the show. Vote bank politics trumps everything else. If all political entities get into this business of competitive zealotry things are going to be bad.
If one stops to think, Pakistan is riven with myriad movements which overlap each other in one form and yet are far different from each other in another. In areas inhabited by Pashtuns there is a terrorist outfit like TTP and a popular nonviolent movement like PTM. Both fight for the same turf called Pashtun Nationalism. Baluchistan has had a long history of seeking a separate identity. That movement is slowly but surely turning more violent by the day. They sought autonomy initially. The brutal response of the Pakistani Army and the legion of missing persons kidnapped by it has pushed this movement into seeking independence and militancy. The TLP is a sectarian outfit growing politically strong based out of Punjab. Sooner or later , it will either have an accommodation with state sponsored terrorists or start competing with them. Both are bad for us. Last but not the least we have the famous duo which are the sword arms of ISI – Let and JeM. They also seek their fish from the same Punjab pond. In all this if one analyses these groups, one will realise that the TLP is the most dangerous. It is uncompromising and uncontrollable. If the TLP ideology seeps into the government, and it will; we will see a Pakistan which is even more weak and unstable than what it is now.
Imagine a hyper radicalised Pakistan whose economy is in permanent doldrums, facing absolute water scarcity with a zooming population riven by ever widening ethnic faultlines. Are we reaching a tipping point? I think so. The problem is where will this nation tip into as Pakistan plumbs new depths of failure. The bigger problem is how does India deal with this toxic overflow ? Whichever way one looks at it, the Shaheeds, Ghazi’s and Niazi’s of Pakistan are an international headache who have specialised in externalising their situation. They cannot turn towards Afghanistan anymore. The only other destination is India. How do we stay ahead of this loop?
Acknowledgement :- I fully acknowledge that I have freely pligiarised from the articles below. This is not an original conception by any stretch of imagination but more or a collation of Pakistani thoughts put in the Indian context.