THE Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan appears to have had its day yet again. After many days of a protest march from Lahore to Islamabad punctuated with sporadic violence, it has extracted an agreement from the PTI government that, for some strange reason, remains hidden from view.
In a sombre press conference, the government’s negotiator Mufti Muneebur Rehman and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi announced that an agreement had been signed and the situation would return to normal. Since that announcement, TLP workers camped near Wazirabad have begun to pack up but are yet to disperse. There is much in here that should elicit serious concern.
It is inexplicable why the government would want to keep the agreement secret, unless of course it realises whatever it has agreed upon is at its own expense. But there is more at stake here than just the government’s credibility. The citizens have a right to know what concessions have been given in their name to an organisation that has severely damaged the writ of the state and in the process has become responsible for the death of a number of policemen. Every time the TLP has undertaken such a protest march, it has tortured and killed policemen without being held accountable for these crimes. This time too it appears that it will get away with murder — literally.
It may not be wrong to assume that the TLP has brought the PTI government to its knees, just as it had done with the previous PML-N government. Prime Minister Imran Khan may want to contemplate how his own government has made a mockery of his resolve not to allow a militant group to challenge the writ of the state. His cabinet should also feel chastened after witnessing how the TLP has forced ministers to go through a revolving door during various phases of negotiations. The government’s mishandling of the crisis has once again brought into sharp focus the wide gap between what this government says and what it ends up doing at the end.
The TLP issue cannot be brushed under the carpet anymore. The marchers may pack up and go home but they do so by extracting a steep cost from the government. They also do so at the expense of the strength and credibility of the state. Unless the state realises the gravity of the problem and begins to take steps to tackle it, the TLP will keep growing from strength to strength on the basis of its ability to challenge the state, browbeat it and emerge victorious. At this stage, it is imperative that the government make public the agreement it has inked with the TLP and then justify it. The nation has a right to know what has been bartered away in return for the violent crowd to disperse. The government has a lot to answer for.
Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2021