Pakistan’s Zealotry on Display: A March of Extremism


On September 24, 2023, the Police desecrated 74 graves of Ahmadis in Daska City, Sialkot District, Punjab, under pressure from Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). The authorities ensured no Ahmadi was near the graveyard, destroying their tombstones. A Christian family in Kasur, Punjab, alleged that they were attacked by TLP members after they objected to their writing Quranic verses in their house.

On August 16, 2023, a violent mob attacked churches and homes of Christian residents in Faisalabad District, Punjab, after two Christian brothers were accused of blasphemy. Multiple churches were set on fire, and homes and businesses were ransacked for hours. On August 7, 2023, the minarets of the Ahmadi mosque in Chak 168 Murad were demolished, with TLP activists suspected in the incident. On July 14 and 15, 2023, the police razed the minarets of an Ahmadi mosque in Kala Gujaran, Jhelum District, Punjab.

TLP’s political agenda includes stopping interference from “the enemy,” meeting basic needs through taxes, abolishing the mixed education system, and founding a ministry to promote Islam. TLP has been involved in violent and politically charged mass mobilizations across the country.

The Pakistan Bachao March (Save Pakistan March) began on May 22, 2023, with the capital, Islamabad, as its final destination. The TLP gained political capital after the federal government agreed to declare the TLP not a terrorist organization on June 17. The TLP called off its protest after reaching an agreement with the government on issues such as speedy trials of blasphemy accused and swift decisions on appeals filed by those awarded punishments by the courts.

The government and TLP have signed a 12-point agreement, lifting the ban on TLP’s coverage on electronic and social media and withdrawing all political cases against TLP workers and leaders. Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi, son and successor of TLP founder Khadim Hussain Rizvi, was arrested on April 12, 2021, but his name was removed from the Fourth Schedule after a notification from the Punjab Home Department on November 10, 2021.

Massive protests orchestrated by TLP followers led to the government’s agreement with the TLP on October 31, resulting in at least seven police officers and four demonstrators killed and many injured on both sides. The assassination of Salman Taseer in 2011 and the arrest of his assassin Mumtaz Qadri, a follower of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, founder of TLP, led to the organization’s political participation in Pakistan’s mainstream. Taseer was accused of defending Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, and his public demands to dilute Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and remove the mandatory death penalty for blasphemy.

TLP, founded in 2015, was born out of a protest campaign to seek Qadri’s release. Rizvi launched a massive campaign demanding Qadri’s release and provided legal assistance to him. The capital punishment of Qadri allowed both parties to plunge into the political arena of Pakistan, aiming to establish the supreme political authority of Sunni Islam.

In 2017, TLP held a protest in Faizabad, Pakistan, demanding the resignation of then-Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid overcharges over the Khatm-i-Nabuwat oath in the Election Act of 2017. Protesters, led by Rizvi and scholars, saw the change as a softening of the state’s stance against Ahmadi sect members, who cannot identify as Muslims in Pakistan.

In May 2018, the assassination attempt on the life of then-Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal Chaudhary in Narowal, Punjab, was also linked to the TLP, as the attacker was affiliated with the organisation. Police official Aitzaz Bashir stated that their initial investigation showed that Hussain is associated with TLP Pakistan.

The Pakistan Liberation Party (TLP) secured two seats in the 2018 election, thanks to its religious affiliation with the Karachi-based people. TLP members belong to the Barelvi sect of Sunni Islam, which is considered more syncretic than Deobandis or Salafi sects. The Barelvis, who constitute about 50% of Pakistan’s population, have a stronghold in rural areas of Punjab province. The politics surrounding Salman Taseer’s assassination by a Barelvi gave them a personal sense of victimhood and resulted in the formation of TLP as a radical movement resisting religious and legislative reform.

The TLP has repeatedly taken to the streets, destroyed public property, and engaged in violence during clashes with security forces. In October 2018, TLP held violent protests after the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned the death penalty for Asia Bibi in a blasphemy case. Demonstrators blocked major roads, burned cars and buses, called for her execution, and branded then-Prime Minister Imran Khan as a “son of Jews.”

In April 2021, TLP members clashed with the police to force the government to expel the French Ambassador over a Charlie Hebdo caricature. On April 18, TLP supporters abducted 11 police officers in Lahore, who were released after two days of violence. Negotiations with the government began.

The Pakistan Liberation Party (TLP) has been vocal about domestic political and religious issues, particularly in Europe. On July 7, 2023, millions rallied in Pakistan to condemn the desecration of the Quran in Sweden, as the nation observed ‘Youm-e-Taqaddus-e-Quran’ (Quran Sanctity Day). TLP chief Saad Rizvi threatened to declare war if the Quran was not burned. In 2021, the group led violent protests in Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, and Multan over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

They demanded the expulsion of the French Ambassador, a boycott of French products, and cutting trade ties with Europe. The rise of TLP and its frequent flexing of political muscle in the form of street agitation and violent activities are evidence of further cracks in Pakistan’s social fabric. The hate towards the religious ‘other’ is driving this political organisation towards gaining notoriety.

PakistanPakistan's Zealotry on Display: A March of ExtremismTehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP)TLP