THE chaos is closing in on the government and its perpetual mismanagement inspires little confidence. On Friday, all the major opposition parties in the country took to the streets to protest against the government. The PDM alliance, led by the PML-N and JUI-F, held rallies in Karachi and Lahore with other demonstrations in parts of KP where political leaders hit out at the government. The PPP had a show in Karachi and the Jamaat-i-Islami staged protests in Dir, Battagram and Mohmand.

As these parties and their thousands of supporters call out the government for rising inflation and unemployment, the matter of the yet to be signed summary of the spy chief’s appointment looms large. Meanwhile, in Washington, talks with the IMF appear to have failed, giving rise to further uncertainty. As if the government did not have enough fires to fight, Lahore and Islamabad are on tenterhooks as a result of a mass protest by the TLP — at present the most potent threat of them all.

The TLP’s ability to paralyse cities and bring life to a grinding halt is well known. It is also well known that the group has been indulged, emboldened and then struck down by various powers. While this makes for a multifaceted problem, the government’s mishandling of the TLP has been a constant source of concern. The party chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in April for disrupting public order and though he was initially detained for three months, he was again detained in July under the Anti-Terrorist Act.

Read: Why could PTI not manage TLP challenge?

The Lahore High Court had set aside his detention and a federal review board is scheduled to take up the government’s reference against him. It is clear that the government is prolonging his case, as there is no consistency in the reasons behind his detention. If the charges against Rizvi are legitimate, then the matter should be dealt with accordingly. If there is a terror charge, the government must demonstrate that to the court. By keeping his case hanging, authorities are only making the party chief and the TLP more popular in the eyes of supporters.

The state only has itself to blame for its convoluted and opaque dealings with the TLP. Though the TLP has time and again demonstrated that it can be disruptive and damaging, and has a clear extremist ideology, it has not yet been found by the authorities to squarely fall into the category of a terrorist organisation like the TTP. For this reason, a ban is unjustified, especially as the TLP is still registered with the Election Commission as a political party — which in itself is an official discrepancy. Banning a political party because it can create a public nuisance sets a dangerous precedent which can be repeated to justify future bans. The government must work on a strategy that respects the right to protest while maintaining public order.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2021

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