Mainstreaming Tehreek-e-Labbaik

The party is distancing itself from the attack on Ahsan Iqbal and has revised its media strategy

Mainstreaming Tehreek-e-Labbaik
On Friday, May 11, ahead of a weekend packed with public rallies by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehik-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), another party’s posters were displayed on and around Karachi’s Tipu Sultan Road: Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLY).

These posters were also to be found in other parts of the city, even though unlike the aforementioned parties, TLY did not have an impending gathering planned for Karachi.

Even so, the most striking aspect was not the presence of TLY posters, it was the content. Conspicuously absent from the posters was the image of the party ideologue Mumtaz Qadri, with the chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi hogging the banners in their entirety.

Without directly saying so, party insiders have suggested that the party has been adjusting its narrative with the elections approaching.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi has been asked to show restraint and is no longer making statements for the group

“We see ourselves as a leading party that will eventually rule the country,” says a young TLY member from Karachi. “We don’t want any misunderstandings on our positions, especially those on which our party is founded.”

The young TLY member, who asked to remain anonymous since he was not authorised to comment, was referring to Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, the protection of which was announced as the party’s founding principle on August 1, 2015 in Karachi’s Nishtar Park.

However, with an attempt on Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal’s life by a TLY party member in Narowal earlier this month, who confessed to the assassination attempt over the abovementioned founding principle, the party has felt the need to repackage itself.
TLY may receive an invitation from Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal to join the coalition

With the TLY officially condemning the attack on Ahsan Iqbal and distancing itself from the perpetrator, the party has also revised its media strategy with spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi making official party statements and party chief Khadim Rizvi being asked to show restraint.

As part of the official party stance Ashrafi denies that there is any change in the narrative at all.

“Our belief in the implementation of Islam and our stance on Khatm-e-Nabuwwat was, is and will remain the same,” he says. “However, what we do want to clarify is that we are a political party and not a militant group. This has always been the case.”

When asked about the absence of Mumtaz Qadri’s face on party posters, which was omnipresent ahead of the NA-120 and NA-4 by-elections last year, Ashrafi said one must not read too much into it. “Mumtaz Qadri is and will remain our ideological guiding force.”

However, insiders reveal that the party wants to dodge any action by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which has received a formal request by the government to take note of election banners glorifying Mumtaz Qadri – a breach of the Punjab Maintenance of Public Order (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015, and the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.

As TLY attempts to become more mainstream, analysts have observed and former army officials have claimed that it may soon have to consider an invitation from the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), the Islamist coalition hinging on the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamat-i-Islami (JI).

The MMA, which conducted its first public gathering in the Punjab at the Greater Iqbal Park in Lahore on Sunday, is considering taking the TLP on board ahead of the elections. While no formal decision has been taken, MMA insiders reveal that an invitation might be sent soon.

“Yes, we are considering [asking the TLY to join MMA],” says JI spokesman Ameerul Azeem. “We have a lot of ideological similarities and what the Tehrik Labbaik stands for is a noble cause that we wholeheartedly support.”

When asked about the TLY links to the attack on Ahsan Iqbal, Azeem reiterated that the party had condemned the assassination attempt and distanced itself from it.

“Yes, we don’t agree with everything they say or do,” he says. “But when we talk about a coalition of religious parties we focus on what unites us all. Of course, the differences are inevitable, which we all respect.”

With elections just a couple of months away, the MMA vying to establish itself as a nationwide political force, and TLY aiming to embrace its mainstreaming, can we really expect to see Khadim Hussain Rizvi addressing an MMA rally in the near future?

“Well, first we need to receive an invite and then we will see what we plan to do,” maintains Ejaz Ashrafi.