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Infighting in Pakistan’s Right-Wing TLP Following Death of Leader

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Infighting in Pakistan’s Right-Wing TLP Following Death of Leader

Pir Afzal Qadri, a prominent figure in the Tehreek-e-Labbaik, has challenged Khadim Rizvi’s son anointment as party leader.

Infighting in Pakistan’s Right-Wing TLP Following Death of Leader

In this Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 file photo, Khadim Hussein Rizvi, center on wheelchair, head of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, a religious political party, leads an anti France rally in Karachi, Pakistan. Rizvi, a radical religious cleric, who led tens of thousands in anti-France around the country, died Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.

Credit: AP Photo/Fareed Khan, File

Last week, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) appointed Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s son, Saad Hussain Rizvi, as the new chief of the party. The TLP’s central committee announced the funeral procession of Khadim Rizvi.

The decision has widely been seen as a move to head off any potential leadership battles. However, within days of Saad’s appointment, a serious leadership claim has ensued from a leader who assisted Khadim Rizvi in establishing the party in its early days.

On Wednesday, Pir Afzal Qadri, one of the founding leaders of the TLP, declared Saad Rizvi’s appointment illegitimate on several grounds. In his address to his followers, Qadri not only took claim for all major initiatives of the TLP but also credited himself for introducing Khadim Rizvi to the world. Moreover, while calling himself the only legitimate leader of the party, he announced that Saad Rizvi was “mentally unstable” and doesn’t have the Islamic credentials needed to lead the movement. Qadri further said that “he was the mastermind” of the party and questioned Khadim Rizvi’s contributions to the party.

Explaining why Khadim Rizvi’s son cannot become the chief of the party he stated that it was “mutually agreed upon between him and the late party chief that nepotism would not be allowed within the party, and the leadership not passed down to relatives of the party’s founders.” Qadri has declared his decision to call a meeting of the TLP to announce a new leader of the movement

On the other hand, the TLP’s current spokesperson, Zubair Ahmad, in a statement rejected Qadri’s leadership claims by saying that Qadri had resigned from the party in 2019 and was not associated with it in any way. Khadim Rizvi’s son is now the “legitimate leader” of the TLP and any attempts to undermine his authority and “create controversy could only be regretted,” Ahmad added.

Regardless of the TLP’s rejection of Qadr’s claim to the leadership, the challenge to the top post comes from a person that remained a core part of the party since its establishment. It is unlikely that the TLP’s current leadership’s mere rejection of the claims is going to resolve the issue.

As I have mentioned in my previous article for in these pages, Khadim Rizvi was able to consolidate his position by sidelining several other top leaders, including Qadri. However, Khadim Rizvi’s death offers Qadri’s followers a chance to take back a religious movement that has become a powerful political force in Pakistan.

It is important to note here that Qadri’s religious seminaries have actively offered support to TLP’s street power over the last few years. However, his wishes to become the leader of the party were snatched by the swift rise of Khadim Rizvi. Rizvi’s popularity among the party’s followers, due to his powerful oratory, became the biggest challenge for other competitors, including Qadri.

Qadri’s claim simply rejects Saad Rizvi as the new leader. This essentially means that there is no communication between Qadri’s group and the new leadership of the party. In this context, two things are likely to happen in the coming weeks as far as the TLP’s politics is concerned. From the perspective of the newly announced leader of the party, TLP needs to be on the streets sooner than anyone may have anticipated. If Saad Rizvi is to consolidate his claim to the top post, a powerful street agitation is the only way to do it. Thus, we may see the TLP announcing a march or protest in the coming weeks to bolster the new leadership’s hold on power. Perhaps, the recent agreement related to the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan that Khadim Rizvi signed with the government may be used as a reason to launch the next agitation in the capital.

On the other hand, Qadri is going to push to weaken Saad’s hold on the party by making alliances with others in the party who may feel the same way about the new leader. It is also possible that Qadri may get some support from people that were influential inbringing the TLP to political limelight during its early days. A divided and weakened TLP is something that the government wouldn’t mind, given how it has been challenged by that party. However, in a fight to take control of the party, a group claiming to be the true TLP may emerge soon. Pakistan should prepare for a more bitter and radicalized version of the TLP in the coming weeks and months.