TLP remains Army leverage against Imran Khan

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The TLP’s 2021 protests in Punjab took place when the controversy over the appointment of the new Inter-Services Intelligence Chief had brought out in the open, the differences between Imran Khan and Chief Of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa….reports Asian Lite News

The agreement with the proscribed extremist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) demonstrates that the Pakistan Army is using the group to keep in check the civilian government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Now that it has the upper hand in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August 2021, it appears that the Pakistani Army is once again activating its proxies — the religious extremist groups — to advance its domestic political ambitions, as per an article by Sameer Patil, former Fellow, International Security Studies Programme, Gateway House.

The TLP’s 2021 protests in Punjab took place when the controversy over the appointment of the new Inter-Services Intelligence Chief had brought out in the open, the differences between Imran Khan and Chief Of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Hence, the military may have used the TLP protests and the subsequent agreement to signal the civilian rulers that there would be political consequences of their actions, if not immediately, then in the future, the article said.

“With the agreement with the TLP, Imran Khan may have staved off the pressure for now, but the challenges for him are far from over. Growing pressure from the opposition and alliance parties, speculation about former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s return, a collapsing economy — these will further weaken PTI’s position in the run-up to the 2023 general elections. The military’s displeasure will only increase PTI’s vulnerabilities allowing the military to give further prominence to its proxies,” it added.

This is worrisome, with serious implications for India and counterterrorism efforts as a whole, for the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has emboldened the Pakistani Army to activate its proxies like the TLP, to advance its domestic political ambitions and openly support extremist organisations.

This brazen support to the TLP does not come as a surprise as the Army has used extremist groups like the TLP to send a ‘message’ to the civilian rulers, who work at cross-purposes with the military, the article said.

The TLP, as a Barelvi group, has a unidirectional focus on the issues of ‘Khatm-e-Nabuwwat’ (finality of the prophethood) and ‘Tauheen-e-Risalat’ (blaspheming the Prophet). This focus has made it an influential religious-political group.

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The Pakistan military perceives the TLP as a ‘containable outfit’ that can do its dirty work rather than making them hostile against the state.

Aligning with the Army also helps the TLP to widen its base. The group understands the ruling PTI’s growing vulnerabilities at all levels — political, economic and foreign policy and capitalises on them accordingly.

Since the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, radical groups in Pakistan have become emboldened and question the democratic system in the country. Calling for the implementation of Sharia law, the TLP’s activities are in line with this trend, it added.

The military’s patronage and an emotive religious issue of blasphemy have made the TLP an influential actor in Pakistan’s politics. The civilian government’s abject surrender to the TLP has set a dangerous precedent as future civilian governments, too, will be vulnerable to the coercive actions of extremist groups.

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