Khadim Hussain Rizvi - the party chief of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) - returned to doing what he does best with an expletive heavy speech to a charged crowd in Lahore, which unsurprisingly also chocked the traffic around the Mall, grounding all activity to a halt. Standing in the rain and speaking defiance, Khadim Rizvi’s message was clear; Pakistan has not seen the last of him, he and his brand of violent, protest-based politics will return.
While such pronouncements would have sent the previous administration into crisis mode – seeing as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had to bear the brunt of TLP’s wrath and pay a heavy political cost for its troubles – it is difficult to gauge what the present government should make of it.
TLP has been deferential to the judiciary and the military throughout its brief political life, and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) for its part, added to the chorus of outrage surrounding the Khatam-e-Nabuwat issue in the Parliament. Both the PTI and the TLP have taken great care not to comment on the other’s politics and have been circumspect enough not to antagonistically cross paths in the elections.
However, all that is apparently about to change. Khadim Rizvi on Monday vowed to fight “for mandate of his party, which was stolen in the polls.” The party will contest by-elections vociferously and protest in various cities around the country. While the issue at hand – electoral fraud – is certainly not as inflammatory as disrespecting the Prophet, the TLP chief seems to believe his party will respond with the same energy and intent.
This presents an early challenge to the PTI, and an even earlier challenge to the caretaker government. How the party deals with the cleric and his hordes of followers will be a crucial test.