Attribution: Sushant Sareen, “Tehrik-E-Labbaik Pakistan: The New Face of Barelvi Activism,” ORF Occasional Paper No. 332, September 2021, Observer Research Foundation.
In recent years, Barelvi[a] clerics associated with the Islamist political party, Tehrik-E-Labbaik Pakistan, have been demonstrating their enormous street power and causing consternation within and outside the country. Yet such political activism by a section of Pakistan’s Barelvi community is neither sudden nor surprising; rather, it is an outcome of the security policies of the Pakistani ‘deep state’ and military-dominated establishment over nearly the past four decades. It is also the result of the dialectics of sectarian fault-lines that exist in Islam.
Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Islam was always a marker of identity for the state. It acquired a whole new dimension after the military coup of 1977 led by Gen Zia-ul Haq, whose Islamisation drive normalised and mainstreamed hard-line Islamism in Pakistan. The process was fuelled by the Afghan jihad against the Soviets, which was sponsored by not just Pakistan, but also the United States (US) and its Western allies, the Arab states, and China. The support for the jihadists tilted the balance in favour of the Jamaat Islami and the puritanical Deobandi sect[b] which provided the manpower and ideological support for the jihad. The Islamisation drive, coupled with the growth of jihadism, resulted in rivalry amongst the different sects, each wanting their interpretation of Islam to dominate in Pakistan. For many years the Barelvis seemed to be on the losing side of this competition. But the advent of the Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party in 2015 brought the Barelvis to the centre-stage of religious politics in Pakistan.
The Barelvis constitute a substantial proportion of the Muslims of Pakistan. According to one estimate, they comprise about 50 percent of the country’s total population.[c], Geographically, the Barelvis dominate in Punjab and Sindh, while the Deobandis are dominant among the Pashtuns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Despite their numbers, the Barelvis have historically had less influence compared to the Deobandi and Ahle Hadith groups which acquired strength from both state patronage and their militant activities. Until a few years ago, the street power and electoral base of the Barelvis did not merit serious attention; its political support was fragmented and its leadership fractious.
Beginning around middle of the last decade, however, a section of the Barelvi community has become more belligerent. A new political force – Tehrik-e-Labbaik-Ya-Rasul-Allah (TLYRA) and its political wing – Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) – has appropriated Barelvi interests and emerged as a forceful new player in Pakistan. The Barelvi clerics associated with TLP, in particular, seem to have gained electoral support as TLP emerged as the largest religio-political party in the 2018 general elections.
Yet the Barelvis who see the TLP as their vehicle for articulating, asserting and achieving their aspirations have some way to go before they can become a major power player, or even power broker, in Pakistan. To begin with, the TLP rose to strength mostly because the military establishment has allowed it. As soon as the same military establishment decides to clamp down on the TLP leaders and cadres, they would appear to be nothing more than paper tigers.
This paper is an attempt to analyse the recent Barelvi upsurge as represented by the TLP. It views the developments in a continuum and outlines the recent history of the Barelvi movement, explains the origins of the new face of Barelvi politics, and analyses the prospects for this phenomenon.
The Barelvis’ Irrelevance in Newborn Pakistan
The Barelvi clergy were in the vanguard of the Muslim League’s campaign in the 1930s for a separate Muslim state, which culminated in the partition of 1947. Despite the Barelvi creed having internalised many local influences in its version of Islam, the founder of the Barelvi school, Ahmed Raza Khan, was viscerally anti-Hindu. He believed that the interests of Hindus and Muslims were “intrinsically opposed”, and once said, “presented with a choice of giving water to a thirsty infidel or to a dog, a believer should make the offering to the dog.” In his view the British were a lesser evil as they were Christians, while the Hindus were Pagans; while the British had never interfered in Muslims’ religious affairs, the Hindus had disallowed cow slaughter during Eid. In a fatwa issued in 1920, he opposed any political compact with Hindus.
As soon as the new state of Pakistan came into existence, however, the Barelvis started getting side-lined. On 14 August 1947, the first Pakistan flag was hoisted by a Deobandi cleric. In 1948, the funeral prayers for Muslim League leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah (a Shia by birth, who had been appropriated by the Sunnis) were led by the same Deobandi cleric. The draft of the Objectives Resolution was also prepared by the Deobandis. According to journalist and leading public intellectual of Pakistan, Khaled Ahmed, “the Barelvi majority was set aside because its inherent ‘soft’ culture did not lend itself to law-making.”
In his book, ‘Sectarian War: Pakistan’s Sunni-Shia Violence and its links to the Middle East’, Ahmed writes: “Pakistan was predominantly Low Church where Islam was practised through the shrines of mystical saints who provided religious guidance through folklore.” This was a culture (particularly in Punjab and Sindh) that sought symbiosis with other religions. However, Pakistan was also split right down the middle by the Indus River because in the trans-Indus areas, the norm was what he calls ‘High Church’—a highly formalised, structured, even stricter interpretation of religion based on Shariah as taught in the madrasas.[d] Although majority of the people in the newly created state of Pakistan continued to adhere to the Low Church version of religion, the requirements of the state to make laws that conformed to Islamic Shariah tilted the balance in favour of the High Church since the “mystically inclined Barelvi shrine [was] ill-equipped to guide the Islamic state.”
To be sure, the Barelvis and Deobandis had historically been divided over theology and doctrine. The competition for influence in the new state only added to the already strained relationship. In 1953, when the Anti-Ahmedi riots broke out in Punjab, some Barelvi clerics demanded that the Deobandis be declared a separate minority. Over the years, the patronage of the state to non-Barelvi Sunni sects upset the sectarian balance in Pakistan, and by the first decade of the 21st century, Deobandi clerics started claiming that their following was as large, if not larger, than that of the Barelvis. The Deobandis also scored gains by getting recruited as Imams in government-run mosques. As the Deobandis grew in influence, the Barelvis “entered the business of exploiting religion for profit by building mosques and madrassas with money contributed by Pakistani expatriate community.” Even these were threatened by Deobandi militants who forcibly captured and occupied Barelvi mosques and madrasas, as police looked the other way.
Barelvis Disunited: Inherent Contradictions and Factionalism
One of the biggest hurdles to the Barelvis closing ranks was the nature and structure itself of the Barelvi sect. The entire Barelvi politics stood on two pillars: the shrines and Pirs who formed the elite, and the ulema and politicians who were not necessarily attached to one or the other shrine. According to scholar and author Anatol Lieven, the Barelvis failed to form powerful political parties like the Deobandis or Jamaat Islami because “every attempt at creating such parties over the decades has foundered on the deep rivalries and jealousies between (and indeed within) the great Pir families, and also on the fact that, unlike the modern Islamic radicals, the shrines and the Barelvis have no uniting political ideology at all beyond loyalty to their own traditions.”
The Deobandis, meanwhile, continued to grow in strength from the 1940s throughout the 1980s, more so with the rise of jihadist militias that were mostly aligned to the Deobandi school and backed by the military establishment for pursuing foreign and security policy agendas in Afghanistan, India, and other parts of the world. The rise of the Deobandi, and that of the Ahle Hadith,[e] heightened the paranoia among the Barelvis. Key Barelvi leader, Shah Ahmed Noorani, warned a gathering in Lahore that “‘there were one lakh Kalashnikovs in the Muridke headquarters of Lashkar-e-Taiba which will not be used in Kashmir but against the Barelvis in Pakistan.”
It was not just the religious sectarian rivals that were dominating over the Barelvis. In the political realm, the 1980s saw the Barelvi political party, Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP), getting marginalised, partly as a result of factionalism and also because of the rise of the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM). The JUP had neither the guns, money, nor state support. In the 1990s, the emergence in Afghanistan of the Taliban and its Islamic Emirate created in the Deobandi image, presented a huge challenge for the Barelvis. Compounding it was the involvement of Deobandi and Ahle Hadith terror groups in the ‘jihad’ in Kashmir.
The JUP was simply ill-equipped to step up to the challenges being faced by the Barelvis, even less so since it had split into two factions—one led by Shah Ahmed Noorani and the other by Abdul Sattar Khan Niazi. The ineffectiveness of the JUP catalysed the emergence of splinter groups, which were more aggressive and militant than their parent organisation. Within the larger Barelvi fold, there were four groups:
- The proselytising Daawat-e-Islami (DeI) was formed in 1984 as a Barelvi missionary counterpart of the Deobandi Talblighi Jamaat; its followers and members were identified by their green turbans. The DeI was “meant to be a wake-up call for the ‘silent majority’ of Barelvis in the face of growing visibility and militancy of the rival sects…”
- The militant Sunni Tehreek (ST) ST came into existence in 1990/91, a breakaway faction of the DeI and believed confronting the rivals and enemies of Ahle Sunnat by force of arms. But it retained fraternal links with the mother organisation DeI and membership of the two often overlapped. Ostensibly, the ST emerged to protect Barelvi shrines and mosques that were being occupied by the other sects. One other theory was that the ST was surreptitiously supported by the ‘deep state’ to become a counter-force to the rising power of the Deobandi and Ahle Hadith militias. There was also talk of it being an attempt to cut the MQM down to size in Karachi. A contrary theory, meanwhile, said that the ST was formed by MQM to cut into the Jamaat Islami and JUP votes in Karachi.
- The Jamaat Ahle Sunnat (JAS), a non-political organisation which sought to bring all Barelvis on to a single platform and which later spawned other splinter groups.
- The Tehreek Tahaffuz Namoos-e-Risalat (TTNR) which became the focal organisation for organising street protests and mobilising people to target the Ahmediyas,[f] protesting against blasphemy, and agitating in favour of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (“finality of the Prophet”).
By the time the 1990s arrived, the Barelvi groups realised that they had missed out on the Afghan jihad and could not afford to make the same mistake on the jihad in Kashmir. Unlike Afghanistan where the population was primarily of Deobandi persuasion, Kashmiri society was predominantly Barelvi and deeply influenced by Sufi saints. It was around this time that a few Barelvi jihadi groups came into existence, such as the Sunni Jihad Council and Tehreek-e-Jihad, although they were small players in Kashmir. A 2008 study that profiled terrorist casualties in Kashmir, revealed that out of the sample of 141 jihadists, only 2 percent were from Barelvi jihadist groups. The Barelvi ‘mujahideen’ made little impact in the jihadist sphere even in Kashmir, and many of the Barelvi jihadists returned to join the ST.
The Barelvi Backlash: Tentative and Tenuous
As the 1990s ended, the Shariah Bill of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif provoked a stirring among the Barelvis.[g] They also took strident positions against the Saudis, accusing them of blasphemy for demolishing holy shrines, and denounced the Pakistan Army for using private militias to wage jihad in Kashmir rather than declaring jihad against India. Around the same time, another Barelvi organisation, the Almi Tanzeem Ahle Sunnat, came into existence to combat the growing Saudi influence in Pakistan. It was set up by Pir Afzal Qadri, who later became the patron-in-chief of the Tekreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan. Pir Qadri denounced the Ahle Hadith and Deobandi-led jihad in Kashmir, and demanded a disbandment of the jihadist terror militias. Efforts were made to make inroads into the Army which was also invited to impose Nizam-e-Mustafa (the Barelvi conception of Islamic rule).
The new century began with efforts for a Sunni “awakening and unity” acquiring urgency. The Jamaat Ahle Sunnat (JAS) organised a conference to bring various Barelvi parties and groups under one umbrella. The delegates were critical of the policy of arming a few sects to wage jihad and took a strong stand against the recruitment of Deobandi clerics in the armed forces. They demanded that donations from Barelvis not be used to promote other sects, and expressed the need to create a ‘Sunni army’ to resist the onslaught of the Deobandis and Ahle Hadith militias. Some of the small Barelvi jihadi groups were also present to recruit young warriors into their ranks.
In the next ten years the Barelvis would experience rapidly changing fortunes. Their plans to take to militancy to assert their primacy suffered a setback after the assassination of the ST chief Saleem Qadri in Karachi in 2001. The next year, the ST was placed on a terror watch list by the Musharraf regime. With the MQM making a comeback in 2002, there was a spate of retaliatory killings between the ST and MQM. During the same period, the ST was also engaged in turf battles with other sectarian militias, and in 2006, it suffered a catastrophic blow: a suicide bomber blew himself up at a congregation to mark Eid-ul-Milad-un-Nabi in Karachi’s Nishtar Park, killing everyone in the ST’s top leadership.
The decapitation of the ST hindered efforts to forge a grand Barelvi alliance which the ST had insisted on leading. The huge turnout during the funerals of the killed ST leaders convinced their successors that they were the most popular and therefore entitled to lead a Barelvi alliance. However, the ST overestimated its popularity, and it lost massively in the 2002 election.
Following the 9/11 attacks in the US, the ‘War on Terror’ presented the Barelvis an opportunity to steal a march over their sectarian rivals who had then become the targets of the global powers. The Barelvi leaders failed to rise to the occasion, however. Their doctrinal and theological differences with the Wahabis and Deobandis notwithstanding, their worldview was quite similar to the more puritanical and literalist sects. Thus, even as the ST’s rhetoric diverged from that of the Deobandi leaders’, the ST chief expressed solidarity with Afghanistan and declared jihad against the US and its military operations against the Taliban regime. Indeed, the Barelvi ulema had made common cause with other Islamic parties under the umbrella of the ‘Pakistan Afghanistan Defence Council’ against the US and in support of the Taliban.
Sufism as an Antidote to Radical Islamism
Meanwhile, having suddenly woken up to the Islamist and jihadist reality, the West and indeed the Pakistanis started looking for antidotes to the radical ideologies that had made deep inroads in Islamic societies. The answer they hit upon was to promote Sufi Islam which was touted as the moderate face of the faith. Indeed, in Pakistan, the Barelvi version of Islam was seen as interchangeable with Sufi Islam because the Pir-Mureed culture, shrine worshipping, and musical traditions that were integral to Barelvi Islam were also linked to the practises and precepts of Sufi silsilas. With Sufism, Pakistan wanted to project a moderate face to the world.
The Musharraf regime sought to create awareness of Sufism among the people of Pakistan, and in 2006 set up a ‘National Council for Promotion of Sufism’., After Musharraf was ousted in 2008, the successor government of Asif Ali Zardari continued the strategy and set up a ‘Sufi Advisory Council’.
The Barelvis were willing partners of the Pakistan government in the efforts to counter the jihadist narrative. After all, among the most egregious acts of the Pakistani Taliban groups was targeting shrines—a pillar of the Barelvi beliefs system. Starting from 2005 when the Bari Imam shrine in Islamabad was bombed, virtually every important shrine across Pakistan—Rehman Baba in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Data Darbar in Lahore, Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, and Baba Farid in Pakpattan—became the target of suicide attacks.
In March 2010, the Barelvi cleric Tahirul Qadri issued a 600-page fatwa against suicide bombers and terrorist attacks. Six months later, 50 clerics of SIC issued a similar fatwa declaring suicide bombers and their handlers to be “deserving of hell” and called for a jihad against the terrorists as an obligation of all Muslims. The SIC then conducted a ‘Long March’ from Islamabad to Lahore in November of the same year, vowing to save Pakistan from Talibanisation and demanding a purge of terrorist supporters from all government bodies. The chair of SIC also used the occasion to rail against the US: he denounced the drone attacks and said terrorism was thriving in Pakistan because foreign governments were distributing largesse to the country’s leaders.
By the time the first decade of 21st century ended, the Barelvis were back to being fractious. While they continued to mobilise their community against what they considered to be blasphemous activities in different parts of the world,[h] politically and organisationally, the Barelvi movement was in disarray and had missed out on the opportunities of the past decade. By the beginning of 2011, serious divisions had emerged over the future strategy of the outfit. While some of the leaders wanted to transform the SIC into a political party, others were opposed. By the end of 2012, it was clear that the SIC which had converted itself into a political party, was breaking up.
Around the same time, however, a chain of events catalysed what would historically be the most radical explosion of Barelvi sentiment in Pakistan. In the words of the TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi: “The seed was planted by Mumtaz [Qadri] seven years ago when he defended the sanctity of the finality of Prophethood (PBUH). Then it became a small plant and we are on our way to becoming a tree.”
‘Labbaik ya Rasul Allah’: From Battlecry to a Movement[i]
On 7 November 2010, a sessions court in Nankana Sahib in the Punjab province of Pakistan, sentenced to death a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, on charges of committing blasphemy against the Prophet. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer met the woman in jail where he received her petition for mercy. He criticised the blasphemy law and said it only promoted extremism and quarrels between Islam and other religions. A few days later he said that while he does not endorse blasphemy, the blasphemy law in Pakistan had been misused. Clerics across the Islam spectrum condemned Taseer and demanded his dismissal. The Almi Jamaat Ahle Sunnat issued a fatwa declaring him an apostate, and other sectarian organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba jumped into the fray.
The persecution of minority communities, especially under blasphemy laws, was not new in Pakistan. However, Aasia became a test case, and Taseer’s stand fuelled the tension that had been building from the beginning of 2010 among the Islamists amidst talk that the government was planning to revise the blasphemy law. An organisation of clerics charged Taseer with committing blasphemy by visiting Aasia. It was against this backdrop that Salman Taseer was assassinated on 4 January 2011, by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, a Barelvi Sunni Muslim follower of Dawat-e-Islami.
On the day Taseer was killed, the Tehrik Tahaffuz -e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat held a rally celebrating his death, calling him “a Zionist agent”. The next day, the religious parties declared their support for the assassin and blamed Taseer for getting killed. They also warned the government against repealing the blasphemy law. Lawyers of a district court in Islamabad showered flower petals on the assassin when he was produced in court.
The Mumtaz Qadri phenomenon is important not just because he killed a constitutional functionary but also because it was indicative of the potential of ‘lone wolves’ radicalised by extremist rhetoric and indoctrinated by Islamist preachers and politicians. In Qadri’s case, his mentor, according to first investigations, was a Barelvi cleric who taught him that Taseer was wajib-ul-Qatal (worthy of death) for speaking against the blasphemy law. Later it was found that Qadri was motivated by stories of how the first Caliph had treated a mercy petition from a woman punished for blasphemy and juxtaposed that with Taseer’s sympathetic attitude towards Aasia Bibi, calling him a “Yazidi governor”.[j],
The Islamists rallied for Qadri and demanded his release, building him up as a new Islamic hero. The case against him in court proceeded, regardless, and on 1 October 2011, an Anti-Terrorist Court (ATC) sentenced Mumtaz Qadri to death. Protests broke out across the country, and a bounty was placed on the head of the judge who sentenced Qadri, forcing him to leave the country. The ST, meanwhile, offered PKR 20 Crore as blood money to the family of Salman Taseer in exchange for Mumtaz Qadri’s release. On 29 February 2016, Mumtaz Qadri was hanged, and violent protests broke out.
Scholar Ayesha Siddiqa, in an article published a day after Qadri’s burial, wondered if “hanging Mumtaz Qadri had closed or opened another long chapter in Pakistan’s history.”
Barelvi Belligerence: Consolidation and Reckoning
Towards the end of March 2016, the new face of Barelvi belligerence emerged at the chehlum—the end of the 40-day mourning—for Mumtaz Qadri. Thousands of Qadri’s supporters marched into the capital city Islamabad and went on a rampage. The army was called in to secure the sensitive areas of the capital and disperse the protestors.
For three days, the protestors held a vigil at D-chowk. The protest had been organised by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik-ya-Rasool-Allah (TLYRA) which was showing itself to the public for the first time since three obscure Barelvi groups formed an umbrella organisation in 2013 for securing the release of Mumtaz Qadri.
The massive show of strength in Islamabad by the TLYRA shook the established religious parties, all of whom denounced the sit-in. The TLYRA announced 10 demands: imposing the Shariah; declaring Mumtaz Qadri a martyr and converting his jail cell into a national monument; banning anti-Islam NGOs; an assurance that the blasphemy law would not be changed; the unconditional release of all religious leaders and clerics, including those arrested or convicted on charges of terrorism and murder; removal of all Ahmediyyas and non-Muslims from government positions; and executing Aasia Bibi. After three days, the government and the TLYRA leaders agreed on a seven-point deal. While the government did not concede to anything substantial, the TLYRA managed to exhibit its clout.
Meanwhile, even as Mumtaz Qadri was being deified, the TLYRA leader Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi had started touring across Pakistan to consolidate the restiveness triggered by the Mumtaz Qadri episode. When he joined the Mumtaz Qadri bandwagon, Rizvi had been just one among a number of clerics addressing rallies and congregations pronouncing the Barelvi agenda. By the time Qadri was executed, he had acquired centre-stage with his fiery oratory that utilised Islamic stories and symbols effectively to touch a chord with his audience.
Rizvi managed to wrest the reins of Barelvi politics from the leaders of Sufi shrines – the traditional elite whose politics was fungible according to their personal interests – and proletarianise it. Such was the tectonic shift in the power equations that when some of the traditional Barelvi leaders tried to forge a new countrywide movement to press for Nizam-e-Mustafa (Islamic rule of the Shariah), they were compelled to try and convince Rizvi and his TLYRA to join them. In reality, the group, Nizam-e-Mustafa Muttahida Mahaz, was the elite’s way of cutting TLYRA down to size, even if this meant splitting the Barelvi vote bank. This was not new in Barelvi politics, however, as it was always “a disintegrated religious camp, divided along personality and cult lines.” The Rizvi phenomenon simply swept aside these political manoeuvres of the traditional elite by emerging as the single largest political party by virtue of votes in the 2018 General Elections. The ‘Low Church’ it seemed had finally won over the ‘High Church’.
On the eve of the 2018 elections, most political analysts agreed that the TLP – the political party of TLYRA – was only going to play spoiler, especially for the then ruling party – PMLN. On its own, the TLP was expected to make little impact, despite its performance in some of the by-elections in the second half of 2017. The scepticism over TLP’s performance was partly because, after the massive success of the TLYRA’s Faizabad sit-in protest in November 2017, factional fights had broken out within the organisation with one of the founding members, Dr Ashraf Jalali being disowned by Khadim Hussain Rizvi in a public spat on TV. The differences were irreconcilable and the movement split. Yet, the breaking away of the Jalali faction had no impact on the TLP’s electoral performance.
Despite being a new party with little to show for an organisational structure, the TLP’s electoral strategy was not based solely on its sectarian appeal. Khadim Hussain Rizvi had already started using social media to mobilise people for his protests and demonstrations, give them instructions, and spread his religious discourse. By most accounts it was a modern campaign, not just in tools but also in strategies. According to journalist Syed Talat Hussain, “this campaign has been heavily funded and ran parallel to – if not ahead of – every other contestant in the given areas… …the spending spree by the TLP in this election raises interesting points.”
The TLP made good use of the mosque network to garner support, especially in Karachi. They used the fasting month of Ramzan to organise religious lectures around prayer timings to build up ideological support and ‘reverse indoctrinate’ voters, especially the labour class, to vote for them.
In all, the TLP fielded 182 candidates for the National Assembly and 388 for the Provincial Assemblies. Although the party managed to win only two Provincial Assembly seats in Sindh, it performed surprisingly well in many national and provincial assembly constituencies. In terms of a political programme, however, the TLP hardly brings anything new to the table. Its party manifesto suggests a Barelvi Islamist-jihadist model which can be seen as both anachronistic and appealing.
Paper Tigers or Potent Prelates
On 31 October 2018, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman who had been sentenced to death on the charge of having blasphemed Prophet Muhammad. The acquittal was condemned by all the religious parties in Pakistan. Widespread protests broke out across the country, with workers of the religious parties coming out on the streets, marching, burning tyres, blocking traffic, and holding sit-ins. Other mainstream political parties and even provincial assemblies protested the judgment and sought a review. Established religious parties which have suffered a setback during the previous general elections also tried to burnish their Islamist credentials by jumping on to the bandwagon and making speeches denouncing the judgment. The most strident reaction came from the TLP.
In anticipation of the verdict, the TLP cadre had already started to collect all over the country. As soon as news spread of Aasia’s acquittal, the TLP workers stopped trains, blocked highways, torched vehicles, and looted shops. For nearly four days, government and law enforcement agencies did not function at all, concerned of acting without clear directions from their superiors.
The public turned to social media for news. Former Member of National Assembly and journalist, Ayaz Amir, described how the law enforcement agencies were reduced to being spectators as small groups of people disrupted public life. According to his account, authorities could not even remove the barricades that the protestors had erected on the roads.
It was the first time that such incitement to violence—even open exhortation to rebellion—were being made by top Barelvi clerics. Pir Afzal Qadri, patron-in-chief of the TLP, declared that the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Aasia were ‘wajib-ul-qatal (deserving of murder)’. He demanded the dismissal of not just the judges but also the army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, senior generals, and Prime Minister Imran Khan and his entire government; he asked the soldiers and police to support the clerics and overthrow the government “to protect Islam.”
Pir Qadri had earlier publicly called for the murder of Salman Taseer and warned government officials that if they are seen to be supporting blasphemers then they too, should expect to be killed. Over the years, similar such threats were hurled by Afzal Qadri and others, who were not punished or penalised in any way.
Prime Minister Imran Khan made a strong speech after these threats were made against the military, judiciary and government. He warned against taking “the state to a point where it has no option but to take action.” His speech, however, failed to impress the mullahs. The ISPR chief merely called these remarks “unfortunate” and requested that the constitutional limits imposed on criticism of the army be respected, while the Chief Justice tried to justify the ruling of the court.
The clerics and their cohorts were emboldened by the fact that even as Imran Khan was threatening action by the state, government ministers had already opened a back-channel and were negotiating a peace deal with the religious leaders. The talks ended with the government signing a document with the Barelvi clerics which said that Aasia Bibi was to be prevented from leaving the country pending the review petition against the Supreme Court judgement. The government reserved the right to prosecute anyone arrested on charges of murder during the disturbances, but agreed to release all other detained TLP cadres. For its part, the TLP apologised to anyone whose “sentiments were unnecessarily hurt” during the protests.
The agreement ended the immediate crisis but planted the seeds for the next stage. Bristling under scathing criticism from both within and outside Pakistan, the government was aware that its credibility was on the line. Within days of the deal law enforcement agencies thus started arresting TLP workers accused of engaging in arson and violence. However, the Minister of State for Interior seemed to absolve the TLP of any wrongdoing and pinned the blame for the violence on activists of other parties. He went on to say that instead of using force, the government would “embrace and engage” the TLP in a dialogue.
The Barelvi Surge: Corralled by Realpolitik
Stakeholders other than the elected government appeared ready to cut the TLP down to size. A Supreme Court bench which had taken suo moto notice against the three-week-long TLP protest in 2017 which had virtually laid a siege on Islamabad by blocking access to the capital city, re-commenced hearings on the case. During the course of the hearings, scathing strictures and remarks were passed against the intelligence agencies (including ISI), the law enforcement bodies, and the Election Commission of Pakistan. Soon the entire top leadership of TLP, including its Emir, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and its patron-in-chief Pir Afzal Qadri, were arrested. At the time it was disclosed that this was done to pre-empt their plans to hold a demonstration in Islamabad to protest against the government reneging on the peace agreement. Subsequently, it was said that they would be charged with treason and terrorism.
This was the first time since the emergence of the TLYRA and TLP that the government had taken any strong action against the section of Barelvi Sunni Muslims who had been radicalised. Until the arrest of the TLYRA/TLP leaders, the government seemed to have been lenient with the Barelvi mullahs. In late 2017 when the TLYRA had laid siege on the main access road to Islamabad, the government’s hands were tied, both by the judiciary and the military. The former passed an order to disperse the demonstrators without using force, while the military undermined the authority of the government by issuing statements that seemed to support the demonstrators. A year later, the then Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi revealed in a TV interview that the government was forced to capitulate during the Faizabad protest in 2017 because the army refused to assist the government and the police were petrified of acting against the demonstrators.
The Judiciary Stands Tall
Absar Alam, who was heading the media regulatory authority PEMRA at the time of the Faizabad protest in 2017, revealed in a tweet how the then head of counter-intelligence in ISI and later ISI chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed had tried to pressure him to not take action against a TV channel – 92 News – which was backing the TLP and inciting violence. The Army was not only orchestrating the perception management of the protest, but later it also became a signatory to what was called the “surrender” agreement of the government with the TLP. Worse, senior military officials were seen paying off the demonstrators to disperse after the deal was done.
The charges levelled by Absar Alam had also been made by the Supreme Court bench which took suo moto notice of the 2017 Faizabad sit-in. In its judgment issued in 2019, the court observed: “TLP’s leadership created hatred amongst the people, they abused, threatened and advocated violence; and this was broadcasted by some private television channels. ISI’s report identified “Channel 92” as a television channel supporting TLP and stated that its owners had supplied food to the protestors occupying the Faizabad Interchange.”
The Supreme Court’s Faizabad judgment also noted: “The leaders of the dharna intimidated, hurled threats, abused, provoked and promoted hatred. The media provided unabated coverage to TLP … The free publicity made TLP, a little known political party, into a phenomenon. Basking in the limelight, TLP’s leadership became ever more intransigent, abusive and aggressive.”
Not surprisingly, the backing of the ‘deep state’ and the military establishment emboldened the TLP/TLYRA to keep pushing the envelope, more so after their performance in the 2018 National Assembly elections when the TLP emerged as the single largest religious political party with over 2.2 million votes. The civilian dispensation appeared helpless because it feared that any precipitate action against these people could unleash another wave of terrorism.
It was when the top leaders and scores of cadres were arrested and detained, that the TLP was weakened. Within a day of the arrests, the desertions started from the ranks of TLP, with both allied parties and leaders disassociating themselves from Khadim Rizvi and the others. A week later, it seemed that TLP had virtually disappeared from the political scene.
Yet, while the TLP might not have the firepower of the jihadist groups, it is the manifestation of Barelvi radicalism that has been in the making for years. Like in the case of other millenarian Islamic movements, the setback suffered by the TLP/TLYRA was temporary and transient. Both because of what and who TLP represented, and also because the Pakistani establishment eased the pressure on the party within only a couple of months of taking strong action against it.
Within a few weeks of the crackdown on TLP, the Pakistani authorities started releasing hundreds of cadres who had been detained under preventive detention laws. (Top leaders like Rizvi and Qadri, however, remained in prison.) After the Supreme Court rejected the review petition filed against the judgment acquitting Aasia Bibi, there were no large-scale disturbances. A few leaders and cadres of TLP did try to protest, but the law enforcement agencies clamped down on them. The state was convinced that its action had hobbled the TLP, and this was perhaps the reason why it felt that it could go soft on the arrested leaders, albeit with some caveats. It was a mistake, however, because the TLP soon resumed its political activities and became active on social media.
By April 2019, just around six months after Rizvi and Qadri were arrested, they were ready to offer abject apologies to secure bail. Qadri announced his retirement from politics in a video message released from jail. The Lahore High Court, however, insisted on a detailed apology letter from him which it wanted to be read out in open court. It dismissed the objection of Qadri’s lawyers to not highlight the apology by saying that Qadri “should have thought of all this while wielding the microphone.” A week later, both Rizvi and Qadri were released on bail: Rizvi on ‘merit’ as he had a physical disability, and Qadri on health grounds.
For nearly a year and a half after Rizvi’s release, the TLP went under the radar, save for occasional videos and messages issued by the party. In September 2020, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished cartoons of Prophet Mohammad which had been first published in 2015—it provoked anger and led to a terror attack on the magazine’s offices that killed 12 people.
Within days of the publication of the cartoons, TLYRA cadres started a march towards Islamabad demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador. While the march was stopped, the issue soon snowballed. Incensed over the cartoons, a Pakistani man living in France, Zaheer Hassan Mehmood, carried out a knife attack outside the magazine’s office. While Hasan had no knows association or connection with any militant or extremist organisation in Pakistan, he came from an area in which TLP had influence. His mother revealed that he had told her in advance that he was going to carry out the attack; his father lauded his son’s act, saying, “The person who kills those who disrespect the prophet goes to heaven, and his whole family goes to heaven.”
This was the sentiment that the TLP represented. The emotions in Pakistan were further inflamed after the French President Emmanuel Macron said that while he understood the anger over the cartoons in the Islamic world, there was no justification for reacting violently. He also said that he would protect the freedom of speech that allowed such cartoons to be published. Soon, politicians in Pakistan belonging to liberal political parties were calling for a boycott of France in reaction to the stand taken by President Macron. The TLP latched on to the issue and went on a virtual warpath.
In November 2020, the TLP tested the waters by organising a rally in Karachi against the cartoons; it was a success. Khadim Rizvi railed against other Islamic countries and called their silence on the issue “criminal”, and demanded that the government declare jihad against France and expel the French ambassador. He then announced a march to the same Faizabad interchange where the protest three years earlier had played an instrumental role in catapulting him to becoming the largest religious political party in Pakistan. The local administration tried to dissuade Rizvi from proceeding with the march but he was adamant. Clashes broke out after the police tried to stop the march.
With the TLP having once again occupied the Faizabad Interchange, the Imran Khan government did not try to resist like the PMLN government had in 2017. Within two days, the then Interior Minister Ijaz Shah, Religious Affairs minister Noorul Haq Qadri, and the local administration signed a document with the TLP, agreeing to “take a decision from the Parliament regarding expulsion of the French ambassador within three months, not appoint its ambassador to France, and release all the arrested workers of the TLP. The government will not register any case against the TLP leaders or workers even after it calls off the sit-in.”
Two days later, Khadim Hussain Rizvi suddenly died. Government leaders—from the Army Chief to the foreign minister to other holders of high offices—publicly condoled his death, with some lauding his “services to Islam”. Rizvi’s funeral in Lahore was arguably the biggest ever congregation of any kind in the history of Pakistan, and disabused analysts of any notion that the TLP had become a spent force.
Khadim Rizvi was succeeded by his son, Saad Hussain Rizvi, and not without dissent from Pir Afzal Qadri, who had promised to retire from politics but raised questions about Saad’s competence and mental health; his concerns were brushed aside. Although Saad did not have the same oratorical skills as his father, he would soon prove more radical. He is also known to be a good organiser—something he proved within months of taking over the mantle at TLP.
While the TLP contended with the death of Khadim Rizvi, the Human Rights minister Shireen Mazari almost ruined Pakistan’s diplomatic relations with France by tweeting, “Macron is doing to Muslims what the Nazis did to the Jews — Muslim children will get ID numbers (other children won’t) just as Jews were forced to wear the yellow star on their clothing for identification.”[k],
Other politicians and members of the government, and even the judiciary were also fuelling the antagonism. In response to a petition, the Islamabad High Court directed the federal cabinet to take a policy decision on breaking diplomatic relations with France and boycotting French products. A Special Representative appointed by Prime Minister Imran Khan on inter-religion harmony, Tahir Ashrafi, declared that Pakistan supported the call to move the International Court of Justice against blasphemy in France. For his part, Imran Khan used the opportunity to highlight the issue of blasphemy in his interactions and interviews with foreign media and leaders.
In January 2021, at the end of the 40-day mourning for Khadim Rizvi, his successor Saad Rizvi reminded the government that as per the agreement signed in November, it had until mid-February to take the issue of expelling the French ambassador to Parliament. In February, Saad once again threatened the government with a countrywide protest not just to press for the demands against France but also to protest against the hounding of TLP workers. The TLP then agreed to extend the deadline by another three months, i.e. up to April 20. PM Imran Khan assured the TLP that he will take the issue before parliament and that he had done more than any other leader to raise this issue in international forums. The government further encouraged the TLP by removing the names of 109 TLP members, including Saad Rizvi, from the Fourth Schedule—a list restricting the movement of people suspected of engaging in terrorism and sectarianism.
After the agreement to extend the date by which the government would take the matter before parliament, the government tried to woo the TLP leadership. The ruling PTI felt that it needed a religious party on its side to improve its political prospects and had narrowed down on TLP. In an interview, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid admitted as much. TLP leaders have also revealed that the PTI offered it not just funding and a Senate seat, but also a future political alliance if it stepped back on its demand of expelling the French ambassador. The TLP refused.
In April, the government held a meeting in which it was decided to take the TLP demands to parliament. But within days of this being reported in the media, Saad Rizvi was suddenly arrested. This time, despite the police crackdown, the TLP did not fold, and instead used its street power to bring large parts of Pakistan to a standstill, taking the government by surprise. Despite the government imposing a ban on TLP, and in spite of the arrest of hundreds of TLP workers, the protests showed no sign of ending, and both TLP workers and law enforcement personnel were killed in violent clashes.
Even though TLP was banned, negotiations opened with TLP leadership, including with Saad Rizvi who was in jail. After multiple rounds of talks, the government once again signed a deal under which it agreed to present a resolution before parliament on expulsion of the French ambassador. The government also agreed to withdraw cases against the TLP workers. In return, the TLP agreed to end its protests.
It is still not clear if the ban will be lifted over the TLP or even if it is legally tenable. The ban imposed on TLP falls under the Ant-Terrorism Act. But proscription under this act does not apply to political parties, which is what TLP technically is. Since TLP is a political party, a ban on it has to be endorsed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. That stage is still some distance away and it is possible that the TLP might not be banned. The Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa has already indicated that the military establishment favours the “mainstreaming” of forces like the TLP.
Even if a ban is imposed, however, it is unlikely to be effective against what has clearly become a mass movement in Pakistan. There are also concerns that if the government pushes too hard against the TLP, the party cadre could take up arms against the state. Already, the banned terrorist group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has offered its support to the TLP. While the chances of any tie-up between the TLP and TTP are negligible because of their deep ideological, theological, sectarian and doctrinal differences, the possibility of TLP cadre forming a terrorist wing cannot be ruled out.
The crackdown on the TLP leadership in late 2018 had raised doubts about the longevity of TLP as well as of Barelvi reassertion. However, the TLP has proved that it can endure. Even after the ban was imposed in April, the TLP put up a creditable performance in the by-elections that were held on some seats in Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The latest clash has cemented and consolidated the leadership of Saad Rizvi. His arrest and its aftermath has established him as the true successor of his father. With the leadership question settled in favour of Saad Rizvi, the organisational fault-lines that the Pakistani state could have used to cut the TLP down to size have been lost. Even so, how Saad builds the party will determine the future of TLP as a political force, and perhaps even as a party with street power. What could work in Saad’s favour is that the phenomenon unleashed by Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his associates is organic, and not simply manufactured. If Saad fails, someone else could emerge to lead the TLP.
There are many fundamental questions that the Barelvi politicians will need to address before they become a potent political force. Among the challenges they will face is the pushback by the traditional elite who control the shrines, which in some ways form the nucleus of the entire Barelvi philosophy, ideology and politics. These traditional families have maintained their hold and relevance. There are also the other mainstream religious parties that perceive the TLP not just as a political challenge but also a religious threat, and will likely also be more aggressive.
Finally, there is the Pakistani establishment and ‘deep state’ which appears to have understood, for the time being at least, the dangers that will confront the state and society if forces like TLP are not reined in. As lawyer and columnist, and now a judge in the Islamabad High Court, Babar Sattar, eloquently observed: “Nurturing and appeasing ideologically motivated extremist groups in the hope of controlling and using them as tactical weapons has been our biggest blunder. The leaders of these groups may be controllable, but the same cannot be said for their followers. Thus when the state is required to change policy, as happened post-9/11, these ideological weapons turn on the state.”
To be sure, the TLP has succeeded in galvanising enormous support by taking leadership of extremely emotional and sensitive religious issues. By combining street power with political support on religious issues, it has managed to even ensure than mainstream parties, including Imran Khan’s, look to it for support.
The future of the Barelvi activism will depend on the ability of the various organisations, leaders and parties to forge a united front and operate on a common platform. Given the Barelvi exclusionism and exceptionalism that is inherent in sectarian politics, they would need to close ranks and emerge as one coherent movement if they would want to succeed.
About the Author
Sushant Sareen is Senior Fellow at ORF.
[b] Deobandis are puritanical Sunni Muslims who shun innovations in Islam and therefore are against any incorporation of local traditions and customs. They also belong to the Hanafi school.
[c] There are only estimates of the sect-wise population in Pakistan. No official census data is available.
[d] ‘Madrasa’ is the Arab word for any institution of learning.
[e] It is widely regarded as the puritanical, South Asian version of Wahabi Islam.
[f] A heterodox sect that has been expelled from the pale of Islam because it believes that its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a Prophet. While the Ahmadiyyas consider themselves to be Muslim, other Muslim sects consider them as apostates because they do not believe in the Finality of Prophethood, which is an article of faith for most Muslims.
[g] In 1998 the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif introduced the 15th Constitutional Amendment which was popularly called the Shariah Bill. The proposed law provided for making Quran and the Sunnah the supreme law of Pakistan. In order to enforce Shariah (which was not defined or codified, and even the Quran and Sunnah was to be interpreted by each sect in its own way) and to promote amr bil ma’roof wa nahi anil munkar (to prescribe what is right and to forbid what is wrong), to eradicate corruption at all levels and to provide substantial socio-economic justice, in accordance with the principles of Islam, as laid down in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah. the Federal government would take necessary steps. This was seen as Nawaz Sharif trying to become “Emir ul Momineen” and grab all powers of the state.
[h] There were a number of incidents in the Western world that were provocative for the Muslims. A pastor in Florida announced he would burn the Quran, there were cartoons of the Prophet published in Denmark, politicians in the Netherlands and other European countries made provocative speeches, and there was a blasphemous movie, “Innocence of Muslims”, that was released on the Internet in the US.
[i] ‘Labbaik’ is an Arabic word which means “I am here” or “I stand with thee”. The phrase “Labbaik ya Rasul Allah” means “I stand with the Prophet of Allah”. It denotes complete commitment to the honour and message of the Prophet, and is often used by Haj pilgrims.
[k] The tweet, which was later deleted, was in reaction to a fake news that circulated on social media about special identity numbers being issued to Muslim children in France.
 John K. Cooley, Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism (Pluto Press, 1999).
 Khaled Ahmed, “Reassertion of Barelvis in Pakistan,” The Friday Times, September 08, 2000.
 Ashok Behuria, “Sects Within Sect: The Case of Deobandi–Barelvi Encounter in Pakistan,” Strategic Analysis 32, no. 1 (January 2008): 65.
 Ayesha Jalal, Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia (Harvard University Press, 2008), pp. 146.
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 Khaled Ahmed, Sectarian War: Pakistan’s Sunni-Shia violence and its Links to the Middle East (Oxford University Press: 2011), pp. xxviii-xxix.
 Ayesha Jalal, Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia, pp. 261.
 Ayesha Jalal, Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia, pp. 276.
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 Anatol Lieven, Pakistan: A Hard Country (Penguin Random House, 2012), pp. 142.
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 Khaled Ahmed, “Return to Jihad?”
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 Arif Jamal, “People of the Turban and Twig,” The News International: POT Pakistan Series XXIX, no. 166, item IX (June 03, 2001).
 Mazhar Abbas, “Deobandi–Barelvi Conflict.”
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 Sushant Sareen, “The Jihad Factory: Pakistan’s Islamic Revolution in the Making,” Har-Anand, 2004, pp. 117–19.
 C. Christine Fair, “Who are Pakistan’s militants and their families,” Terrorism and Political Violence 20, no. 1 (2008): 49–65.
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 ’57 killed in Karachi suicide bombing,” Daily Times: POT Pakistan Series XXXIV no. 85, item I (April 13, 2006).
 Hasan Mansoor, “JUP-N hopes for Barelvi alliance dashed as ST claims leadership,” Daily Times: POT Pakistan Series XXXIV no. 87, item III (April 15, 2006).
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 “ST chief declares jihad against the US,” The News International: POT Pakistan Series XXIX, no. 261, item XIV (October 29, 2001).
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 Jerome Taylor, “Islamic scholar says suicide bombers will “go to hell’,” The Independent, March 01, 2010.
 “Long march ends SIC vows to struggle against Talibanisation,” The News International, November 29, 2010.
 Karamat Bhatty, “Of religion and politics: Infighting over SIC’s involvement in politics,” Pakistan Today, April 14, 2011.
 Ahmed Yusuf, “What is behind the sudden rise of TLP?” Dawn, August 05, 2018.
 “Article 295-C is a man-made law and has been misused, says Salman Taseer,” Pakistan Today, November 28, 2010.
 “Blasphemy laws to be revised soon,” Dawn, February 08, 2010.
 “Clerics want govt to leave Aasia matter to the courts,” Pakistan Today, December 06, 2010.
 Shakeel Anjum, “Punjab governor killed by official guard in Islamabad,” The News International, January 05, 2011.
 “Rally celebrates Taseer’s killing,” The News International, January 05, 2011.
 “Religious parties pledge support to assassin,” The Nation, January 06, 2011.
 “Taseer’s assassin idolised by lawyers, clerics,” Dawn, January 06, 2011.
 Amir Mir, “Agencies explore Qadri’s links,” The News International, January 07, 2011.
 “Punjab Police fail to arrest Qadri’s mentor,” The News International, January 11, 2011.
 Munawer Azeem, “Police look for clerics who influenced Taseer’s killer,” Dawn, January 23, 2011.
 Nisar Mehdi and Israr Ahmed, “Nationwide rallies demand Qadri’s release,” The Nation, January 10, 2011.
 Israr Ahmed, “Qadri death sentence sparks angry protests,” The Nation, October 02, 2011.
 “Taseer case verdict,” Daily Times, October 03, 2011.
 Zulqernain Tahir, “Qadri case judge sent abroad,” Dawn, October 25, 2011.
 “ST wants Qadri released against blood money,” The Nation, October 03, 2011.
 Shakeel Anjum, “Mumtaz Qadri executed in Adiala jail,” The News International, March 01, 2016.
 Ayesha Siddiqa, “Of heroes and villains,” Express Tribune, March 02, 2016.
 Ikram Junaidi and Kashif Abbasi, “Violent mobs catch law enforcers off guard,” Dawn, March 28, 2016.
 Shakeel Anjum, “Troops called out as protesters enter Red Zone, clash with police,” The News International, March 28, 2016.
 Ayaz Amir, “‘Soft’ Islam flexes its muscles…sort of,” The News International, April 01, 2016.
 “Individual or group cannot declare jihad, say Ulema,” Express Tribune, March 30, 2016.
 Imtiaz Gul, “Black Sunday – Any lessons?,” Express Tribune, March 30, 2016; also see Iftikhar Alam, “Islamabad sit-in exposes religious parties’ rift,” The Nation, March 31, 2016.
 Waseem Abbasi, “Dharna people fail to get any major concession,” The News International, March 31, 2016.
 Adil Pasha, “Mumtaz Qadri’s shrine: In memory of Salmaan Taseer’s assassin,” Dawn, December 27, 2016.
 Shahzad Raza, “The man with a plan,” The Friday Times, December 01, 2017.
 Ahmed Yusuf, “What is behind the sudden rise of TLP?”
 “Countrywide movement for enforcement of Nizam-e-Mustafa launched,” The News International, December 22, 2017.
 Mohammad Amir Rana, “Rise of Barelvi activism,” December 03, 2017.
 Umer Farooq, “Spoiler or serious player,” The News on Sunday, April 29, 2018.
 KK Shahid, ““There is no chance of any unity between us’,” The Friday Times, December 08, 2017.
 Umer Farooq, “Spoiler or serious player,” 171.
 Ahmed Noor, “ Social media minefields,” The News on Sunday, December 17, 2017.
 Syed Talat Hussain, “New arrival,” The News International, August 06, 2018.
 Ahmed Yusuf, “What is behind the sudden rise of TLP?”
 TLP manifesto, http://tlyp.org/en/index.php/manifesto/.
 Mst. Aasia Bibi vs The State etc., CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.39-L OF 2015, https://www.supremecourt.gov.pk/downloads_judgements/Crl.A._39_L_2015.pdf.
 Iftikhar Alam, “Religious parties reject Supreme Court verdict,” The Nation, November 01, 2018, https://nation.com.pk/01-Nov-2018/religious-parties-reject-supreme-court-verdict.
 “Balochistan Assembly urges SC to review Aasia Bibi case judgement,” Dawn, November 02, 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1443012/balochistan-assembly-urges-sc-to-review-asia-bibi-case-judgement.
 Shahabullah Yousafzai, “Fazl warns of more agitation until verdict revoked,” Express Tribune, November 03, 2018, https://tribune.com.pk/story/1839574/1-fazl-warns-agitation-verdict-revoked/; see also Qadeer Tanoli, “TLP, AAT out to queer right-wing’s pitch,” Express Tribune, July 24, 2018, https://epaper.tribune.com.pk/DisplayDetails.aspx?ENI_ID=11201807240332&EN_ID=11201807240131&EMID=11201807240057.
 “Country-wide protests erupt against SC ruling on Aasia Bibi,” Dawn, November 01, 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1442774/country-wide-protests-erupt-against-sc-ruling-on-aasia-bibi.
 Asif Chaudhry, “Police selectively respond to acts of violence,” Dawn, November 02, 2018, https://epaper.dawn.com/DetailImage.php?StoryImage=02_11_2018_002_006.
 Ayaz Amir, “Naye Pakistan walon ka khuda hi hafiz,” Roznama Dunya, November 07, 2018, https://dunya.com.pk/index.php/author/ayaz-ameer/2018-11-07/25083/98907670#.XDHQPlwzY2x.
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 Muhammad Saleh Zaafir, “State will enforce its writ: Imran,” The News International, November 01, 2018, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/388042-state-will-enforce-its-writ-imran.
 Baqir Sajjad Syed, “Army wants peace, but warns of action if limits crossed,” Dawn, November 03, 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1443250/army-wants-peace-but-warns-of-action-if-limits-crossed.
 Sohail Khan, “CJP says Judges ready to lay life for Holy Prophet (PBUH): “We judge for every Pakistani,” The News International, November 02, 2018, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/388482-cjp-says-judges-ready-to-lay-life-for-holy-prophet-pbuh-we-judge-for-every-pakistani.
 “Protesters warned before operation,” The News International, November 02, 2018, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/388486-protesters-warned-before-operation.
 “Five point pact ends dharna,” The News International, November 03, 2018, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/388885-five-point-pact-ends-dharna.
 Mansoor Malik and Imran Gabol, “Over 1,100 held for rioting during protest against Aasia’s acquittal,” Dawn, November 05, 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1443698/over-1100-held-for-rioting-during-protest-against-aasias-acquittal.
 Iftikhar A. Khan, “Opposition activists behind violence during TLP protest: Afridi,” Dawn, November 09, 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1444489/opposition-activists-behind-violence-during-tlp-protest-afridi.
 Syed Sabeehul Hussnain, “SC hints at setting parameters of protests,” The Nation, November 21, 2018, https://nation.com.pk/21-Nov-2018/sc-hints-at-setting-parameters-of-protests.
 Arshad Dogar, “Khadim Rizvi, many TLP activists arrested,” The News International, November 24, 2018, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/397422-khadim-rizvi-many-tlp-activists-arrested; see also “TLP chief in “protective custody’ as activists held in several cities,” Dawn, November 25, 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1447543/tlp-chief-in-protective-custody-as-activists-held-in-several-cities.
 “TLP leaders charged with treason, terrorism: Fawad,” The News International, December 02, 2018, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/400707-tlp-leaders-charged-with-treason-terrorism-fawad.
 Tariq Butt, “TLP protest was aimed at curtailing PML-N vote bank,” The News International, November 30, 2017, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/250870-tlp-protest-was-aimed-at-curtailing-pml-n-vote-bank.
 Baqir Sajjad Syed, “Army chief asks Abbasi to deal with Islamabad sit-in ‘peacefully’,” Dawn, November 26, 2017, https://www.dawn.com/news/1372931/army-chief-asks-abbasi-to-deal-with-islamabad-sit-in-peacefully.
 @AbsarAlamHaider twitter handle, April 18, 2021, https://twitter.com/AbsarAlamHaider/status/1383831491864498179.
 Khalid Iqbal and Mohd. Anis, “Accord under army ends sit-in,” The News International, November 28, 2017, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/249941-accord-under-army-ends-sit-in; see also “DG Rangers gives Rs 1,000 to each dharna participant,” The News International, November 28, 2017, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/249961-dg-rangers-gives-rs1-000-to-each-dharna-participant.
 Suo Moto Case no. 7/2017, Supreme Court of Pakistan, pp. 26, https://www.supremecourt.gov.pk/downloads_judgements/S.M.C._7_2017_06022019.pdf.
 Suo Moto Case no. 7/2017.
 Sardar Sikander, “Veteran PML-N leaders staying govt hand,” Express Tribune, November 20, 2017, https://tribune.com.pk/story/1563021/1-veteran-pml-n-leaders-staying-govt-hand/; see also “Fawad wants disruptive politicians sent to space,” The News International, November 06, 2018, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/390083-fawad-wants-disruptive-politicians-sent-to-space.
 Ikram Junaidi and Mohamamd Asghar, “Pre-emptive steps scuttle religious group`s plan for Faizabad protest,” Dawn November 26, 2018, https://epaper.dawn.com/DetailImage.php?StoryImage=26_11_2018_004_004.
 “PST, allies distance themselves from TLP protest call,” Dawn, November 25, 2018, https://epaper.dawn.com/DetailImage.php?StoryImage=25_11_2018_117_004; also see “Leader quits TLP,” Dawn December 02, 2018, https://epaper.dawn.com/DetailImage.php?StoryImage=02_12_2018_117_007.
 Iftikhar Alam, “TLP vanishes from country’s political scene,” The Nation, December 02, 2018, https://nation.com.pk/02-Dec-2018/tlp-vanishes-from-country-s-political-scene.
 Sher Ali Khalti, “Punjab releases majority of TLYR activists,” The News International, January 25, 2019, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/423162-punjab-releases-majority-of-tlyr-activists.
 Sohail Khan, “SC rejects review petition against Aasia Bibi acquittal,” The News International, January 30, 2019, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/425305-sc-rejects-review-petition-against-aasia-bibi-acquittal.
 “TLP acting chief among dozens taken into custody,” Daily Times, February 02, 2109, https://dailytimes.com.pk/350475/tlp-acting-chief-among-dozens-taken-into-custody/.
 Iftikhar Alam, “TLP recapturing political scene,” The Nation, February 05, 2019, https://nation.com.pk/05-Feb-2019/tlp-recapturing-political-scene.
 Kalbe Ali, “TLP leader says farewell to active politics,” Dawn, May 02, 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1479683/tlp-leader-says-farewell-to-active-politics.
 “LHC seeks ‘detailed’ apology from TLP’s Pir Afzal Qadri,” Daily Times, May 08, 2019, https://dailytimes.com.pk/390414/lhc-seeks-detailed-apology-from-tlps-pir-afzal-qadri/.
 Amir Riaz, “LHC grants bail to Khadim Rizvi, Afzal Qadri,” The News International, May 15, 2019, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/471401-lhc-grants-bail-to-khadim-rizvi-afzal-qadri.
 “France’s Charlie Hebdo republishes Mohammed cartoons at start of terror trial,” France 24, September 01, 2020, https://www.france24.com/en/20200901-france-s-charlie-hebdo-to-republish-mohammed-cartoons-at-start-of-terror-trial.
 Israr Ahmed, “TLYRA protest rally stopped at Faizabad interchange,” The Nation, September 05, 2020, https://nation.com.pk/05-Sep-2020/tlyra-protest-rally-stopped-at-faizabad-interchange.
 “Pakistani held over Paris knife attack,” Express Tribune, September 25, 2020, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2265648/pakistani-held-over-paris-knife-attack.
 “Before attack, a Pakistani teen sought better life in France,” Daily Times, October 09, 2020, https://dailytimes.com.pk/675679/before-attack-a-pakistani-teen-sought-better-life-in-france/.
 “Paris attacker’s family reflects on attack,” Express Tribune, October 01, 2020, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2266475/paris-attackers-family-reflects-on-attack.
 “Macron ‘can understand’ Muslims’ Muhammad cartoons shock,” BBC News, October 31, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54764000.
 “PPP KP leader calls for boycotting French products,” The News International, November 02, 2020.
 “TLP lashes out at France over blasphemous cartoons,” Express Tribune, November 08, 2020, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2271461/tlp-lashes-out-at-france-over-blasphemous-cartoons.
 Munawer Azeem, “Talks underway with TLP to call off protest rally,” Dawn, November 13, 2020, https://www.dawn.com/news/1590086/talks-underway-with-tlp-to-call-off-protest-rally.
 Mohammad Asghar and Munawer Azeem, “TLP claims govt accepted all its demands,” Dawn, November 17, 2020, https://www.dawn.com/news/1590747/tlp-claims-govt-accepted-all-its-demands.
 Asim Hussain, “TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi dies,” The News International, November 20, 2020, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/746324-tlp-chief-khadim-rizvi-dies.
 Fraz Ahmed Khan, “Khadim Rizvi signs off with a flourish,” Dawn, November 22, 2020, https://www.dawn.com/news/1591666/khadim-rizvi-signs-off-with-a-flourish; see also “Tens of thousands attend Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s funeral prayers,” The News International, November 22, 2020, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/747414-tens-of-thousands-attend-khadim-hussain-rizvi-s-funeral-prayers.
 Kalbe Ali, “TLP’s ambition to enter mainstream nears realisation,” Dawn, January 05, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1599758/tlps-ambition-to-enter-mainstream-nears-realisation.
 “New TLP chief vows to take forward Khadim Rizvi’s mission,” The Nation, November 23, 2020, https://nation.com.pk/23-Nov-2020/new-tlp-chief-vows-to-take-forward-khadim-rizvi-s-mission.
 “Controversy over Khadim Rizvi’s successor,” Dawn, November 26, 2020, https://www.dawn.com/news/1592407/controversy-over-khadim-rizvis-successor.
 Amir Wasim, “Diplomatic spat with France averted as minister deletes tweet,” Dawn, November 23, 2020, https://www.dawn.com/news/1591892/diplomatic-spat-with-france-averted-as-minister-deletes-tweet.
 Rizwan Shehzad, “Cabinet set to take ‘policy decision’ on ties with France,” Express Tribune, November 30, 2020, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2274071/cabinet-set-to-take-policy-decision-on-ties-with-france.
 “Blasphemy: Pakistan endorses Al-Azhar’s decision to move ICJ,” The News International, December 07, 2020, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/754924-blasphemy-pakistan-endorses-al-azhar-s-decision-to-move-icj.
 “TLP warns of protest if French envoy not expelled,” Dawn, January 04, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1599497/tlp-warns-of-protest-if-french-envoy-not-expelled.
 Asim Hussain, “Agreement not honoured: TLP considering resuming protest,” The News International, February 02, 2021, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/783738-agreement-not-honoured-tlp-considering-resuming-protest.
 Ahmad Fraz Khan, “TLP demands to be placed before parliament: PM,” Dawn, February 12, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1606919/tlp-demands-to-be-placed-before-parliament-pm.
 Sher Ali Khalti, “TLP chief, 108 members to be removed from Fourth Schedule,” The News International February 13, 2021, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/789290-tlp-chief-108-members-to-be-removed-from-fourth-schedule.
 Nadeem Malik Live, Samaa TV, April 15, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6V2gofGyXgE&t=450s.
 “Govt mulls over implementing deal with TLP,” Express Tribune, April 08, 2021, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2293716/govt-mulls-over-implementing-deal-with-tlp.
 “Two killed as violence erupts after TLP chief’s arrest,” Dawn, April 13, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1617910/two-killed-as-violence-erupts-after-tlp-chiefs-arrest.
 Mubasher Bokhari, “Days of violence,” The News on Sunday, April 18, 2021, https://www.thenews.com.pk/tns/detail/821148-days-of-violence.
 Zahid Gishkori, “No room for armed gangs: Govt bans TLP,” The News International, April 16, 2021, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/821036-no-room-for-armed-gangs-govt-bans-tlp.
 Muhammad Anis, “Govt claims success in talks with TLP: Resolution presented, sit-in ends, ban intact,” The News, April 21, 2021, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/823707-govt-claims-success-in-talks-with-tlp-resolution-presented-sit-in-ends-ban-intact.
 List of Proscribed Organisations, NACTA, https://nacta.gov.pk/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Proscribed-OrganizationsEng-2.pdf.
 “TTP puts its weight behind TLP, calls for joint struggle against government,” Pakistan Today, April 14, 2021, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2021/04/14/ttp-puts-its-weight-behind-tlp-calls-for-joint-struggle-against-govt/.
 Babar Sattar, “We the Bigots,” The News International, December 03, 2017.