LAHORE: The year 2017 saw the rise of renewed and revitalised far-right political parties in Pakistan. The ultra-conservative made news headlines after a far-right candidate garnered 7,000 votes in a by-election in Lahore, raising alarm in political circles across the country.
Pakistan Today spoke to representatives of the three parties that have stood out; the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the Milli Muslim League (MML), which is the political face of Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaatud Dawa and the Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) led by hardliner Sunni cleric Ahmed Ludhianvi.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP):
Khadim Rizvi rose to prominence and the TLP was born following the murder of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer by his own police guard, Mumtaz Qadri.
Rizvi opposed Qadri’s sentence vehemently and became a ‘political leader’ in the process.
TLP follows the Barelvi sect and blasphemy is a fundamental issue for the party and also its rallying point as was seen in November 2017, when Rizvi marched into the federal capital with thousands of his followers.
The march, also known as the Faizabad protest, had been prompted due to an alleged ‘clerical error’ while amending a clause that requires a public office holder to take an oath and affirm his or her belief in the Holy Prophet (PBUH) as the last Messenger of Allah. The march was called off after the military concluded successful negotiations with Rizvi.
Speaking to Pakistan Today, TLP South Punjab Nazim-e-Ala Murtaza Ali said, “Anyone who tries to change the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (Finality of Prophethood) order is a traitor.”
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) stalwart and former interior minister Ahsan Iqbal was shot by a man in May earlier this year when he was still a minister while he was addressing a public gathering in his constituency ahead of the general elections. The perpetrator was identified as a youth leader of TLP.
Commenting on the incident, Ali explained to Pakistan Today, “We believe in peaceful protests but look at Iqbal’s character during the blasphemy issue when he was a minister,” adding that, “All that the former interior minister did during the issue was suppress our rallies.”
“Raja Zafarul Haq report must be made public and the perpetrators must be barred from contesting elections,” the TLP South Punjab leader demanded.
The TLP has fielded 102 candidates in the elections and is running its election campaign with Islam as its basis. On a question regarding whether the use of religion for canvassing violates election campaign rules set by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), he said, “This is an Islamic country so talking about Islam during election campaigns is justified.”
Commenting on the destruction of an Ahmadi worship place by a mob, the TLP leader said, “Minorities must be safeguarded but in a country with a Muslim majority, a minority community member cannot ascend to the office of prime minister (PM) or president.”
Milli Muslim League (MML):
The MML was launched in August 2017 after members of the Jamaatud Dawa announced the creation of a political party that in MML President Saifullah Khalid’s words would “make Pakistan a true Islamic and welfare state”.
MML Secretary Information Tabish Qayyum spoke to Pakistan Today and said, “Our leaders and our workers have never indulged in terrorism.”
MML President Khalid and seven others of the party were designated as “global terrorists” by the US, which is Pakistan’s ally in the war against terror.
“Khalid gave speeches against the Taliban, and the US along with India is trying to pressurise Pakistan and that is why they declared Khalid as a terrorist,” he added.
The information secretary asserted, “This is Pakistan’s internal matter and the US has no right to interfere.”
The ECP rejected MML’s party registration papers and the league’s “250 candidates” fielded for the upcoming polls are now running their campaign under the Allah-hu-Akbar Tehreek.
“It is every political party’s right to contest the elections and the ECP rejected MML’s registration because of international pressure,” Qayyum claimed.
“Our political strategy is inclusive,” he added.
Commenting on the political and social polarisation in the country, he said, “Everyone has the right to practice their faith independently as long as it does not hurt anyone else.”
Jamaatud Dawa, headed by Hafiz Saeed, is deemed by the United Nations and the US as a front of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was also founded by Saeed.
“Even minorities in Pakistan welcomed Saeed,” the information secretary told Pakistan Today.
On a question pertaining to other political parties, Qayyum explained, “We are ready to make an alliance with any party and our candidates include Shias, Christians and women as well.”
The ASWJ is led by Ahmed Ludhianvi and was born after the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) split into two groups; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sunni hardline sectarian group which is reportedly led by Malik Ishaq’s wife and is allegedly responsible for the deaths of more than 2,000 people since 2007, and the ASWJ which is led by Ludhianvi who reportedly seeks a political route to achieve his goals.
Pakistan recently lifted security and financial restrictions on Ludhianvi after he was removed from the Fourth Schedule.
ASWJ candidates had garnered 12 seats from Jhang from Rah-e-Haq party’s platform as opposed to the PML-N’s 56 seats.
PML-N stalwart and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reportedly sought Ludhianvi’s support for the upcoming general polls which the ASWJ allegedly granted.