ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party, led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, has given a call to its supporters for a “long march” from Lahore to the capital city of Islamabad on Wednesday.
The ultra-conservative TLP demands that the Pakistan government cease all diplomatic relationships with the Netherlands as a protest to the planned anti-Islam caricatures contest.
Pakistan’s upper house of the parliament, the Senate, on Monday passed a resolution against the anti-Islam planned cartoon contest, strongly condemning the competition organized by the leader of Dutch Freedom Party and parliamentarian Geert Wilders later this year.
However, the TLP leadership said that mere condemnation is not enough.The party’s long march will be the first challenge for the newly elected Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) government.
Anayatul Haq, central leader of the TLP, told Arab News that “TLP has issued a number of warnings to the newly formed government to cease diplomatic relations with the Netherlands after their announcement of holding a blasphemous caricature contest of our beloved last Prophet. But the government has not paid heed to this sensitive issue except recording its protest to the Dutch chargé d’affaires.”
He shared the statement of the TLP that says: “Leadership of Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan…. announced to begin a long march to shut down Dutch embassy on 29th August.
“The long march will start from the shrine of the great saint Hazrat Usman bin Ali Hajjveri (aka Data Ali Hajjvery) in Lahore and its destination will be the Dutch embassy in Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad.”
Fawad Chaudhry, federal information minister, told Arab News that “it is a sensitive issue and no group should politicize this.”
Chaudhry said the prime minister in his first address to the Senate, on Monday, talked about the issue and said the government would raise it in the United Nations.
“The government also plans to take this issue to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC),” he said.
He expressed hope that TLP protesters would not come to Islamabad after the government had already taken serious steps and summoned the chargé d’affaires of Netherlands to the Foreign Office last week and lodged a strong protest.
“As it is going to start from Lahore, the provincial government will try to deal with this matter there,” said Chaudhry.
“The PTI will have to face new Islamists like TLP as pressure group. The TLP made inroads through the elections and has considerable manpower across Pakistan,” Qamar Cheema, an Islamabad-based strategic and political analyst, told Arab News.
“Seasoned political parties experienced in diplomacy need to get involved and tell the TLP what Pakistan’s strengths and limitations are in pursuing the blasphemy issue,” said Cheema.
Islamabad police are ready to deal with the announced long march and protest.
“We know about this planned march but once they start the rally then we will assess the situation and do the necessary,” Najeeb ur Rehman, senior superintendent of Police Operations Islamabad, told Arab News.
“But we will not allow anyone to disrupt routine life and will strictly respond to any law violations,” the official added.
Cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his party, the TLP, rose to prominence in November 2017 when the group blocked a key interchange in Islamabad for three weeks, protesting against the alleged change in the finality of prophethood clause for parliamentarians by the outgoing government.
The prolonged sit-in protest at the major crossing had caused massive problems for the citizens of Rawalpindi and Islamabad cities, who were to take alternative routes to work, schools, and other places of business.
The TLP ended its protest upon the army’s mediation but only after bloody clashes with the law enforcement agencies and seeing the then federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid resigning upon the protesters’ demands.
Hamid was primarily accused of orchestrating the change in the finality of the prophethood clause. The former government later retracted the controversial amendment, calling it a clerical mistake.