Ban is no answer

Published April 16, 2021

THE government has officially banned the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan and issued a notification accordingly. This extreme step comes in response to nearly three days of rioting by the TLP after its leader Saad Rizvi was arrested. The government was unable to stop TLP workers from blocking roads and highways across the country and destroying public and private property.

The enraged workers also attacked policemen, leading to the loss of precious lives. The writ of the state was seriously damaged as TLP cadres ran amok without facing any effective resistance from the law enforcers. When the government finally took action, it chose to do so by banning the party. This has been the state’s modus operandi in the past too when extremist groups it nurtured went out of control.

Read: Why could PTI not manage TLP challenge?

The difference is that the ultra-right TLP, for all its vitriol and predilection for violence, is a political party registered with the ECP. It contested the 2018 elections across the country and has representation in the Sindh Assembly. Can it then be technically classified as a terrorist organisation — although its workers have routinely unleashed violence that simply should not to be tolerated at any cost? A far better option would have been for the government to use its administrative and legal powers to hold the rioters accountable and make them face the law.

ECP-registered parties hold demonstrations that often result in the disturbance of law and order. The PTI itself has been down this path. During the 2014 dharna, its workers, along with those of Tahirul Qadri, had attacked the PTV centre and manhandled law-enforcement personnel. But few would argue that the PTI should have been banned. The law should not spare a single violent worker of the TLP but banning it is no answer to the challenge it presents to the state. The government must do some introspection: why did it feel compelled to sign an agreement with the violent outfit a few months ago? This was a wrong step and it is important that it acknowledges its mistake and holds all those officials responsible who made that agreement possible and signed it.

It is an open secret that the TLP was nourished by the state for its vested interests. If today it has spiralled out of control, the blame lies with those who helped it grow into the threat it is today. But a blanket ban on the party is a futile attempt to solve a complex problem, and is an acknowledgement that the government does not want to take the difficult decisions needed to address the challenge thrown up by the TLP. The ban will not dilute the narrative that fuels the party, it may even fan it. The government would be advised to take a more nuanced approach and desist from actions that are unlikely to produce the intended results.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2021

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