Under foul-mouthed preacher, TLP gains notoriety with blasphemy activism

Khadim Hussain Rizvi, right, head of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gestures as he leads a sit-in protest following the Supreme Court decision on Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, in Lahore on Nov. 1, 2018. (AFP/File)
Updated 02 November 2018

Under foul-mouthed preacher, TLP gains notoriety with blasphemy activism

  • Leader Rizvi shot to prominence after staging countrywide demonstrations last year
  • Far-right group emerged as the fifth “largest party” in July general elections

ISLAMABAD: He has 55,000 followers on Twitter and thousands more offline.
However, those statistics alone are no measure of the popularity enjoyed by the Chief of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party, Khadim Hussain Rizvi.
With his flowy white beard, turbaned garb and fiery speeches, Rizvi catapulted to success after his far-right TLP emerged as the fifth “largest party in the vote count at the national level and the third largest in Punjab”. This was according to an exit poll conducted by Gallup International’s affiliate in Pakistan which reported that the TLP had staked claim to four per cent of the total vote bank in the general elections conducted in July this year.
The past three days have been a testament to his popularity as Rizvi continues to dominate screen space on major TV channels after fomenting his party workers and supporters to protest against the Supreme Court’s decision to acquit a Christian woman on death row. The demonstrations, which began on Wednesday, have choked and paralyzed major cities of the country.
Rizvi, born in 1966 in a small town of Pindi Gheb -- located in the Attock district of the Punjab province -- used to deliver the Friday sermons at a mosque near the largest Sufi shrine of Data Darbar, in the eastern city of Lahore. He worked at the Awqaf and Religious Affairs Department of the province until he was removed from the post for his failure to curb speeches riddled with hate.
He became wheelchair-bound after serious injuries impaired his leg movement which he had incurred during a road accident in 2006. Rizvi is often credited with attempting to resurrect the Barelvi sectarian identity in Pakistan by actively working against any individual who commits or is accused of commiting blasphemy. According to estimates, Barelvis are considered the major school of thought in Pakistan, which emphasizes on a personal devotion to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and fuses Islamic law with Sufism by honoring its saints.
Members of the sect have often been targeted, and their shrines bombed, in a string of attacks by militants who reject the ideology and seek to contain its spread.  
The foul-mouthed preacher shot to prominence last year after staging country-wide demonstrations, which took a turn for the worse, over a call to amend the text of the Khatm-e-Nubuwwat (Finality of Prophethood) in the Election Act Bill 2017. The government succumbed to the demands of the protestors after the military intervened and brokered a deal between the two parties.
However, Rizvi’s cause gained further momentum shortly after Mumtaz Qadri, an elite police commando tasked to protect former-Punjab Governor Salman Taseer killed him at an upscale market in Islamabad in December 2011. The Barelvi disciple justified Qadri’s actions because the governor was supporting Bibi at the time.
Qadri was apprehended and sentenced to death but Rizvi capitalized on the assassination, hailing the commando as a hero of Islam and spearheading a movement in Qadri’s name, going as far as to advocate for his release. It was an exercise in futility and Qadri was executed by the state in 2016.
Moreover, the TLP party was formed as a political front for the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah in 2015 -- its next sensible step towards utilizing and legitimizing the street power it enjoyed. Rizvi by that time had gathered enough support to become an influential Islamic figure, capable of moving masses. At Qadri’s funeral, Rizvi was able to lure a crowd of more than 100,000. That number, however, is insignificant when compared to the huge number of followers he has today.
The TLP’s ability to bag more than 2.2 million votes, which is roughly 300,000 less than its heavy-weight rival Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal – a five-party alliance comprising religious and veteran politicians -- “has surprised many”, according to the Gallup survey results. Except for the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and opposition party Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), the TLP crushed all other contesting parties in Punjab. This was notable when compared to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI which led with 32 per cent of the votes in the polls, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan. The PML-N, on the other hand, ranked second with 24 per cent of the votes.
“Anecdotal evidence based on the General Election 2018 constituency results showed that on many seats, the TLP vote pushed PML-N to a second position and thereby is put forward as one reason for loss of PML-N seats,” the survey suggested.
It adds that “another way to look at the numbers is that between the 2013 and 2018 general elections, PML-N lost around 9 per cent of its vote bank nationally. Of this 9 per cent, around 3-4 per cent vote bank was lost not to PTI but to TLP”.
TLP’s participation decimated the aspirations of the struggling Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi, capital of Sindh, Pakistan’s second most-populated province. Rizvi’s party surpassed Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), a splinter of MQM and PML-N showing an “impressive performance” by taking “12 per cent of all votes”.
Political analyst Qamar Cheema, in agreement with the results of the survey, told Arab News: “Since no party delivered as per expectations – the lower and lower middle class in that city voted for the right wing Islamists. Pakistan’s politics is facing a new dilemma with the rise of new Islamists and their participation in the democratic process. TLP’s inclusion in provincial assemblies will affect legislations.”


South Africa's Du Plessis says bubble life is not sustainable for players

Updated 23 January 2021

South Africa's Du Plessis says bubble life is not sustainable for players

  • South Africa's Du Plessis says bubble life is not sustainable for players
  • The South African player beleives Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi can pose problems for his team

ISLAMABAD: South African cricketer Faf du Plessis believes spending months in a bio-secure bubble could soon become a major challenge for players.

“We understand that this is a very tough season and a tough challenge for a lot of people out there, but if it’s back-to-back-to-back bubble life, things would become a big challenge,” du Plessis said during a virtual news conference on Saturday.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, cricketers have to adhere to strict procedures for an international series. In countries like Pakistan, international games are being played in empty stadiums and players' movement confined to just their hotel and stadiums.

Du Plessis is one of those South African cricketers, along with captain Quinton de Kock, to have experienced life in a bubble over the last few months. He played in the Indian Premier League in the United Arab Emirates and home series against Sri Lanka. Now he has a two-test series in Pakistan, starting Tuesday in Karachi, followed by the second test at Rawalpindi.

“The main priority is to play cricket, to be out there doing what we love instead of being at home … so I think that still remains the most important thing. But I think there would definitely come a point where players would struggle with this (bubble)," du Plessis said.

“If you look at a calendar of the last eight months, you’re looking at about four or five months in a bubble, which is a lot. For some of us (being) without family, it can get challenging. Right now, I’m still in a good place. I’m still feeling really motivated and driven, but I can only speak for myself.

“I don’t think it’s possible to continue from bubble to bubble to bubble, I’ve seen and heard a lot of players talk about it. I don’t think it’s sustainable.”

The South African team practiced at the National Stadium -- the venue for the test opener -- for the first time on Saturday. Before that, the visitors had been practicing at a stadium close to the team hotel for the last four days where they played intra-squad matches.

“For now, (I'm) enjoying the four walls of my room and then the pitch outside where we can get to do what we love,” du Plessis said.

The 36-year-old du Plessis, who has appeared in 67 test matches for South Africa with a batting average topping 40, will be playing his first test in Pakistan since making his debut against Australia in 2012. Pakistan last hosted South Africa in 2007. In 2009 international cricket’s doors were shut on Pakistan after an attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team bus at Lahore.

Du Plessis has played seven test matches against Pakistan that included two in the UAE and five in South Africa.

Du Plessis is South Africa’s most experienced player touring Pakistan, but wasn’t sure what type of wickets will be prepared for the two tests.

“I think that’s possibly the biggest thing that we are unsure about,” he said.

“As a team we try to prepare for everything and anything, overprepare, spin conditions, reverse swinging ball … if I have to call it, I probably said I think that wickets will be a bit more subcontinent like than it used to be back then (in 2007), so spinners would probably be more a little bit more in the game.”

Du Plessis has picked fit-again Pakistan all-format captain Babar Azam and fast bowler Shaheen Afridi as the two players who could pose problems for the tourists. Babar has regained fitness from a fractured thumb — in his absence Pakistan lost both the Twenty20 and test series in New Zealand.

“Obviously, having Babar back is massive for them,” du Plessis said.

“Afridi has been getting a lot of wickets, so probably someone like him would be pretty dangerous.”