APPEASEMENT of reactionary forces amounts to playing with fire — and, ultimately, to setting one’s own house alight. That reality is once again starkly evident, with dozens of sites in urban areas held hostage by violent mobs suffused with self-righteous rage and, even more dangerously, confident of their power to bring the country to a halt.

Since Monday, TLP activists have been demonstrating against the arrest of their leader, Allama Saad Hussain Rizvi. He was detained after announcing countrywide agitation from April 20 to demand the French ambassador’s expulsion and a ban on imports from France in protest against the publication of blasphemous images in that country. The right to protest is contingent upon doing so peacefully. In the ongoing disturbances however, many people have been injured and several killed.

Read: What does the TLP want?

Sadly, the state has carried out multiple experiments in nurturing or at least tolerating ultra-right elements to achieve dubious short-term gains. The TLP is merely the latest in a long line of such ill-conceived initiatives. Balochistan descended into an orgy of bloodletting after extremist outfits were given virtual carte blanche to carry out their sectarian agenda in return for countering the separatist, and largely secular, insurgency in the province. Even the Pakistani Taliban were handled with kid gloves in the earlier years; ‘peace deal’ after ‘peace deal’ was negotiated. Each one was violated by the militants, but it succeeded in further strengthening their position against the state.

During the Faizabad sit-in in November 2017, the TLP was similarly indulged, perhaps on account of its potential to destabilise the PML-N government and cut into the party’s vote bank. The dharna, based on an entirely specious pretext, saw traffic between Rawalpindi and Islamabad brought to a halt for 20 days, causing huge inconvenience to citizens. The impasse was resolved only after a humiliating climbdown by the government when an army-brokered deal was negotiated with the protesters, who were given envelopes full of cash for ‘travel expenses’. PTI chief Imran Khan, in the opposition at the time, took an equivocal stance instead of condemning the TLP.

If he had paid heed to history, he would have realised that if his ambition to come to power was realised, the ultra-right group would become a thorn in his side as well. But that would have required a far-sighted clarity of thought. Sure enough, when Asiya Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy in 2018, the group led violent protests all over the country. The current unrest is a result of the PTI government having promised TLP last November that they would take up the matter of the French ambassador’s expulsion with parliament. Pandering to demands by reactionary forces only emboldens them further, making the challenge to deal with them ever greater. For the good of the country, and its image as a nation where extremism has no place, such groups must be strictly reined in.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2021

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