Shifting alliances.

Byline: Arifa Noor

THE story of the beginning of the TLP is closely linked to post-9/11 politics in Pakistan, as many analysts have written about. But as this story is traced, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Pakistan's electoral landscape is tied up with events in Afghanistan. If the Soviet invasion led to the state's close relationship with Deobandi groups, and their eventual impact on internal politics, the rise of the TLP is due to the deterioration in this very relationship.

The state's efforts to promote Barelvi Islam in the aftermath of 9/11 has been written about extensively; for instance, Amir Rana has detailed it on these pages, more than once. These efforts included the creation of the National Council for the Promotion of Sufism and the Sufi Advisory Council.

But perhaps what was more important were the happenings behind the scenes as the country confronted militancy and cracked down on the various groups, mostly Deobandi, using violence. This led to fractures and more in the trusted, long-lasting relationship between the state and Deobandi groups, which had always been viewed with resentment by Barelvi groups. This provided room for Barelvi ulema to reach out to the state in a bid to fill the space. The fatwa against jihad by Tahirul Qadri and then the Sunni Ittehad Council are examples of this.

The assassination of Salmaan Taseer and the subsequent trial and hanging of Mumtaz Qadri simply provided the catalyst to the movement, giving it the populist traction it needed. Khadim Rizvi, with his rhetorical skills, was able to provide the leadership. Support was found in the emotional appeal of religion and love of the Prophet (PBUH). It has been reported that in Karachi the organisation has also attracted the former activists of MQM and Sunni Tehreek.

There is a chance the TLP may continue to play a role far bigger than reality.

But even here, it is the 9/11 'breakup' which proved critical. As Abdul Basit, a Singapore-based researcher, says, in the aftermath of 9/11, three alliances broke - the one between the military and Deobandi groups; the one between the PML-N and Barelvi supporters (the latter was partly due to attacks on Sufi shrines and partly due to the party's friction with the military) and the one between Shia supporters and the PPP, which led to the MWM.

As a slight detour, consider the long march to Islamabad, which is a staple in our politics. After 1988, the PPP and PML-N were willing to undertake this...

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