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Man attempting to kill Pakistan minister Ahsan Iqbal linked to far-right Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan
An assassination attempt was made on May 6, 2018 on Pakistan's Federal Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal when he was addressing a corner meeting in his constituency in Narowal in Punjab province of Pakistan. Ahsan Iqbal was attacked by a suspect believed to be affiliated with the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), which is an Islamist political party in Pakistan.

Ahsan Iqbal is a senior leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and a close confidant of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He had been Deputy Chairman of Pakistan's Planning Commission and held some senior positions in Nawaz Sharif's erstwhile cabinets, including Minister of Education and Minister of Development, respectively. In July 2017, when Nawaz Sharif was removed from his post as Prime Minister by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on corruption charges, Ahsan Iqbal's name had also featured in the list of probable candidates for prime ministership.

Attempt on Ahsan Iqbal's life has shaken the political fraternity of Pakistan. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistani parliamentarians from across the political parties have unanimously condemned the assassination attempt on Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal. They have warned that the incident could have serious implications on the upcoming general elections in the country.

National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq has written letters to all chief secretaries and inspector generals of police (IGPs) of all provinces to ensure that all members of parliament are extended protection in the run-up to the elections. In the meanwhile, Punjab's Inspector General of Police has ordered district police chiefs and province's chiefs of intelligence committees to review the security of all government VIPs.

However, after the attempted murder of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and confession of the assassin of being a TLP affiliate, the TLP has distanced itself from the incident and indulged in promoting itself on social media as a peaceful political front and declared that the party "strictly condemns the attack" saying that the incident is a failure of the security agencies.

TLP Chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi asserted that if the government could not provide security to a federal minister then how could the general public consider themselves to be safe. Rizvi claimed that his party was peaceful and wanted to enforce Sharia law in the country through political struggle and elections. He further claimed that his party did not promote any kind of violence.

TLP had come into national prominence in November 2017, when it virtually sieged Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan and a held a violent and infamous sit-in for 20 days, which had also resulted in the killing of six persons . The infamous sit-in was organized by the TLP against the government's attempt to change some election rules alleging to be challenging the finality of Prophet Mohammad. The sit-in protest was also joined by two other Islamist political parties of Pakistan namely the Tehreek-e-Khatme Nabuwwat (TKN) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (STP). The sit-in was declared as illegal by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) which ordered the government to evict the protesters using "any means necessary".

However, when the civilian government failed to end the lingering sit-in of the TLP in Islamabad and evict the protesters, the Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was rebuked by the Islamabad High Court which said that it was contempt of court.

Finally, the government launched police and para military operation to disperse the protesters in which at least six people were killed and scores others were injured. Before launching the operation, the civilian government had sought army's help to disperse the protesters but the army refused to intervene. Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa had reportedly told Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi that he opposed the army's use of force against its own people since the population's trust in the institution of the army "can't be compromised for little gains". Finally, the government conceded to all the demands of the TLP including the release of all its arrested protesters and resignation of the then Law Minister Zahid Hamid.

Despite Pakistan army's denial of any involvement and support to the TLP's 20-day long protest, which had virtually paralysed the capital city, several indicators were available to signal Pakistan army's support to TLP in this violent sit-in. The TLP Chief had unequivocally declared that the protest ended only after Pakistan army chief General Bajwa and Major General Faiz Hamid, Baloch, Director General (Counter-Intelligence) ISI, acted as guarantors for the agreement between TLP and the civilian government.

TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi had also thanked Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and his team of representatives for their "special efforts" that led to the agreement with the government, ending the protest by the TLP.

Moreover, Punjab Rangers Director General Major General Azhar Naveed was deputed by the army to oversee the release of protesters. Major General Naveed was even video-graphed by the national media distributing Rs 1,000 each to the released protester as fare for their travel to home, indicating Pakistan army's direct support to the TLP and its protesters.

Significantly, TLP was formed in Karachi on 1 August 2015, as an Islamist political party in Pakistan by a group of 72 like-minded people, led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi. TLP, is a Sunni majority political group, whose majority of the members belong to Barelvi school of thought, and its main demand is establishment of Sharia law in Pakistan through a gradual legal and political process. TLP is known for its street power and capabilities to hold massive protests in the country against any change in the blasphemy law of Pakistan.

TLP, came into prominence in mid-2016 when it successfully held nationwide protests against hanging (February 29, 2016) of one Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, who had murdered Salmaan Taseer, the then Governor of Pakistan's Punjab province for allegedly defending a Christian women, who was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death.

Born in Attock in Punjab (Pakistan), TLP Chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi is known for his rhetoric as his speeches are full of hatred and bigotry. Since 2006, he has been confined to a wheelchair after his car met with an accident near Gujranwala, while he was travelling from Rawalpindi to Lahore. Before plunging into national politics and getting his political party Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) registered, Rizvi used to work in the 'Auqaf and Religious Affairs Department' of the Punjab government, Pakistan. Following his repeated habit of spreading venom his services were terminated. Thereafter, he became deeply involved in organizing public support for Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with blasphemy committed against Prophet Muhammad. He travelled the length and breadth of the country for this cause and could successfully muster support of the masses. Simultaneously, he continued raising his voice for the release of Mumtaz Qadri by holding nationwide protest meetings, some of which also turned violent. Such political overtures made Rizvi more famous amongst hardliners.

Attempt on the life of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal by a TLP supporter is indicative of the fact that terrorism might have decreased in Pakistan, but threat from religious fervor very much exists in the country, which could prove to be more dangerous that terrorism in days to come, particularly in view of forthcoming general elections in Pakistan, due in July 2018.

Pakistan army's siding with TLP reflects in the latter's unwillingness to take action against zealots for the dual purpose, firstly to keep mullahs on its side as a part of political strategy to counter secular parties and secondly to weaken the PML-N in the forthcoming general elections.

Since General Zia's days, the Pakistan army has actively indulged in supporting Islamist groups with the aim of diminishing the performance and representation of the secular parties like Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N).

Moreover, Pakistan's secular parties have also accepted Islamist parties' militias' ability to demonstrate their brute power on the streets of the country to counter mainstream political parties. More recently, Pakistan army and ISI have also started the process of bringing terror groups like Hafiz Saeed's Milli Muslim League (MML) into mainstream politics, which might further damage the political scene in Pakistan and undermine the need for secular parties.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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