Firebrand Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) patron-in-chief Pir Afzal Qadri, who is currently on judicial remand pending multiple cases against him, has announced his retirement from the movement and issued an apology for incendiary remarks made by him during a protest against the Supreme Court's acquittal of Asia Bibi.
Qadri was booked under sedition and terrorism charges in Gujrat and taken into "protective custody" by the state during a crackdown in November after the TLP announced it would observe martyrs’ day on Nov 25, 2018.
Currently, the Lahore High Court is hearing a bail plea filed by Qadri and TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi since their earlier applications were rejected by an anti-terrorism court. In the last hearing of the case, the court had asked police to submit a record of proof that led to the arrests of Rizvi and Qadri.
Pir Afzal Qadri read out a statement announcing his retirement in a video shared with DawnNewsTV on Tuesday night. An accompanying press release stated that the TLP patron-in-chief is sorry for "hurting the sentiments of the government, the judiciary and the chief of army staff".
"I am a patient of heart disease, paralysis, kidney disease, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure etc, and when the verdict of the Asia Masih case was pronounced, my religious sentiments got hurt and I delivered a speech. I am very sorry for hurting the sentiments of the government, the judiciary and the chief of army staff," he said.
Qadri also distanced the TLP from an incident at a university in Bahawalpur earlier this year, in which a teacher was killed by a student allegedly associated with a senior TLP leader.
He directed party leaders and workers to propagate their viewpoints in a manner consistent with the teachings of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah, and also in line with the law and the Constitution of Pakistan.
"No one will be allowed to resort to arson, vandalism and destroying public and private properties," he said, adding: "Terrorism, killings, discord and armed sectarian actions will be discouraged."
"All the institutions, the law, the Constitution of Pakistan will be honoured," he vowed, adding that that the party workers would stand by the Pakistan Army to defend the country.
The TLP leader called on party workers to "behave well, remain peaceful, and refrain from engaging in any activity against the integrity of the state".
He said that he had decided last year to retire from the movement and had informed his friends, but had announced the decision now as his health had further deteriorated.
In November 2017, TLP workers demanding the resignation of the then law minister Zahid Hamid had staged a weeks-long sit-in at the Faizabad interchange that had virtually paralysed the federal capital and led to several people losing their lives.
On Nov 21 of the same month, the apex court had taken notice of the sit-in and directed the defence and interior secretaries to submit a detailed report on the matter.
Days later, the PML-N-led government had launched against the protesters an operation which, when failed, had forced the authorities to cave and Hamid to resign.
Crackdown on TLP
On Nov 23, 2018, the top TLP leaders, including Khadim Rizvi and Afzal Qadri, were taken into "protective custody" as they had announced holding a public rally in Islamabad. The were arrested amid a massive crackdown against workers of the TLP and Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA).
The crackdown came ahead of the party's call to party members to observe martyrs’ day on Nov 25, 2018. The party had asked workers and supporters to gather at Faizabad in the federal capital — the same venue where the party had staged in 2017.
Subsequently, sedition cases were lodged against the TLP leaders as in the aftermath of Aasia Bibi case's verdict acquitting her of blasphemy charges, the leadership during the protests had termed the chief justice “liable to be killed” and had called for a rebellion against the army chief “because he is a non-Muslim”.