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Khadim Rizvi: Emergence of a New Far Right in Pakistani Politics

The freedom and impunity which Rizvi enjoys, has become a cause of concern for law-abiding citizens in Pakistan.

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It was the beginning of the emergence of a new radical far right in Pakistani politics when in November 2017, a group of people under the leadership of firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi held the country's capital hostage for over three weeks.

Not only did the State bow down to the most radical of demands put forward by the protesters, they were also given a safe exit with assurances that all cases against them would be dropped.

Rizvi had taken to the streets against an amendment made to the Elections Act 2017.

Many critics condemned the Government of Pakistan for letting its writ being compromised against a few hundred protesters. Those in the government argued that they prevented a crisis which could have escalated to other parts of the country as well.
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Contesting Elections on Radical Grounds

Rizvi's group, which work under the banner of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), claims to champion the cause of protecting the dignity of Islam and religious figures associated with it.

It soon turned out to be a matter of time that Rizvi started to push for other things. His group spearheaded desecration of an Ahmadi place of worship in Sialkot and launched a nation-wide campaign to contest election on radical grounds.

Rizvi, a wheel-chair bound cleric, has a different way to reach out to his supporters – most of whom belong to the barelvi school of thought. He openly abuses his opponents, uses racial slurs, and refers to the country’s minority communities in derogatory terms.

His supporters have adopted an aggressive approach to deal with whoever they find raising voice for the rights of the persecuted and minority communities. Their latest victim was the Karachi-based lawyer and independent candidate Jibran Nasir.

As Jibran visited his constituency areas to seek votes, he was met with fiery TLP supporters who were adamant that he declared Ahmadis infidels and curse them. Ahmadis are already declared as non-Muslims following a constitutional amendment passed in September 1974.

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Fielding 150 Candidates All over the Country

Jibran stood his ground and refused to toe the line he was being dictated to. But at the cost of putting his and his supporters’ lives in danger as abuses and stones were hurled at them and they were roughed up with batons while the police, other law enforcement agencies, and the Election Commission of Pakistan acted as spectators.

The freedom and impunity with which Rizvi and his supporters work has become a cause of concern for law-abiding citizens. The pressing question remains: Will this new far right, which has fielded over 150 candidates across the country, be able to dominate the electoral field in the polls of 25 July?

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Ali Arqam, a political analyst based in Karachi, does not think so. He says it will be a major surprise if the group manages to secure over five seats. “TLP is nothing more than a pressure group,” he says.

Pakistani voting trends in previous polls also show that the countrymen may render their support for religious groups out on the streets but rarely vote for them. Never in the country's history has a religious group ever secured a majority.

(Umer Bin Ajmal is a multimedia journalist who has worked for several national media organisations. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in journalism from the Centre of Excellence in Journalism at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi. He tweets@umerbinajmal. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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