ISLAMABAD, KARACHI: Scores of officials and workers of the ultra-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab have dissociated themselves from the party and its leadership after the registration of sedition and terrorism cases against its chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his deputy Pir Afzal Qadri.
The government announced on Saturday it had booked both leaders for inciting violence against the army and judiciary in fiery speeches last month.
“I, along with a large number of workers, have quit the party,” Imtiaz Alam, a former TLP leader in the Tharparkar district of Sindh, told Arab News on Monday.
“There is no reason left to stand with the party and our leaders after they called for mutiny in the armed forces,” he said. “We were struggling for a just cause and cannot even think of saying something against our state institutions.”
Alam claimed that hundreds of TLP workers in Sindh had silently quit the party after Qadri called for mutiny in the army and urged the domestic help of Supreme Court judges to kill them for acquitting a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, in a blasphemy case.
“We were supporting the party when it was talking about protection of blasphemy laws in the country, but now they have gotten off track,” he added.
The fiery, wheelchair-bound cleric Rizvi and his deputy Qadri were supported by hundreds of their followers, who blocked the roads connecting Pakistan’s major cities after the Supreme Court announced the decision to acquit Bibi on Oct. 31.
Both the leaders have been in “protective custody” since Nov. 24.
Azmat Malik, an active supporter of the TLP in Chakwal district of Punjab, said that he had also decided to quit the party after the outburst of Rizvi and Qadri against state institutions.
“Protesting against the Supreme Court verdict was our right and we exercised this option, but calling for mutiny and abusing officials of state institutions was never on our agenda,” he told Arab News.
Malik urged the government to award exemplary punishments to all those who resorted to violence and rampage during the TLP protests. “It was the responsibility of our leadership to ask workers to stay peaceful during the protests, but unfortunately they incited them for violence through their fiery speeches,” he added.
Maulvi Shoaib, an imam in Faisalabad and former TLP member, said that there was a lot of peer pressure to quit the party after “our leaders crossed the red line during the protests.”
“I and my friends decided to leave the party, though we will continue our struggle to protect blasphemy laws in Pakistan,” he said.
However, some party members still claim to be with their top leadership.
“We have constituted a legal team to take care of all the cases against our leaders. These are fake cases and won’t stand in a court of law,” Sarwat Fatima, a TLP lawmaker in the Sindh Assembly, told Arab News.
She declined to talk about the party workers and leaders who have announced they are leaving the TLP.
“I stand by my leadership at this difficult hour and don’t want to comment about others,” she said.
The TLP, whose main focus is to safeguard Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, stemmed out of a movement supporting a bodyguard who assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer for being sympathetic to Bibi in 2011.
Tahir Malik, an academic and analyst, said that TLP leaders exploited blasphemy laws for political gain in this year’s general elections and “they succeeded too, as they got over 2 million votes.”
“People have now started realizing the real motive behind the movement that was just politics and votes,” Malik told Arab News. “There is no future of TLP in politics. No sane person will support it now.”