Give me atom bomb, I’ll wipe out Holland : Pakistan’s rising Islamist politician

Khadim Hussain Rizvi

Islamabad : A Pakistani hardline Islamist group leader, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who has fielded as many as 152 candidates for the upcoming general elections in the country, has said that if he were given “the atom bomb”, he would “wipe Holland off the face of this earth” if it allowed a competition of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.

“If they give me the atom bomb I would remove Holland from the face of the earth before they can hold a competition of caricatures… I will wipe them off the face of this earth,” said Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan Ya Rasool Allah (TLP) chief Rizvi, showed a Samaa TV video of his interactions with the media.

The TLP chief said this to reporters at a media interaction organised by the Karachi Press Club last week.

He was referring to an equally hardline – sort of the flip side of the TLP coin – Dutch group’s announcement last month. The Freedom Party of Dutch’s anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders said in June it will hold a competition of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad, reported news agency Reuters.

TLP is the fundamentalist Islamist group that brought Pakistan’s capital Islamabad to a standstill last November to oppose changes in strict blasphemy laws. Why? Its raison d étre is the protection of the blasphemy laws.

Last November, more than 2,000 TLP members and supporters staged a three-week-long sit-in at Faizabad, the intersection of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, crippling life in the region.

Their beef? A small change – which the Pakistani government soon called a “clerical error” – to the oath taken by parliamentary candidates. What was altered was that a candidate need just say they “believe” rather than “solemnly swear by” the fact that the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet.

“No can do,” said TLP’s Rizvi. The government rolled back the change in the oath – in fact this was done before the TLP agitation – and Rizvi’s theatrics even led to the resignation of law minister Zahid Hamid, whom the TLP declared a “blasphemer” for changing the wording.

At the Karachi Press Club, Rizvi bombastically and self-reverentially spoke about November’s sit-in at Faizabad. He said he believed the press should have feted him for getting the swearing-in oath change rescinded and for engendering the resignation of the law minister.

“At least we had the minister removed, and our demands they didn’t want to meet, we got that also fulfilled. The media should have praised us,” he said.

Rizvi then went on to suggest that even Pakistan’s army – known to be super powerful and which reportedly often overrules the civilian government on key national issues – quakes in its boots in the face of his power and popularity.

To illustrate his point, Rizvi referred to the November sit-in at Faizabad.

“Only one senior army officer came to see me at the Faizabad sit-in and when I was talking to him, he was shaking before me…like this,” said Rizvi, who in the video can be seen miming quivering hands.

“He was shivering before me and the poor thing came to me bowing and scraping…I won’t name the fellow, he’s a higher-up (in the army),” said Rizvi.

TLP shot to prominence when it opposed the death penalty against, and the eventual 2015 hanging of, Mumtaz Qadri, who was convicted of assassinating the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province Salman Taseer. Qadri was Taseer’s bodyguard.

In January 2011, Qadri killed Taseer, shooting him as many as 28 times. Taseer was a vocal opponent of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Qadri was a firm believer in these laws, one of which carries a death sentence for anyone who insults Islam. As the BBC reported, Qadri claimed it was therefore his “religious duty” to kill the minister.

Who else was a firm believer in these laws? None other than the TLP’s Rizvi.

After Qadri was sentenced to death late in 2011, Rizvi began making speeches condemning this verdict against Qadri. Until then, Rizvi, who worked in the Punjab government – he was later removed from public service – was an unknown personage, but one who had at the time recently registered the TLP as a political party.

“Before (2011) November (when Taseer was murdered), only a few people had paid attention to the wheelchair-bound cleric with a flowing white beard. His newly registered political party, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, had certainly drawn the interest of political analysts and journalists after its unexpectedly strong showing in recent by-elections, but by and large, Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi remained a marginal figure in the public consciousness,” said a December report in Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

After Rizvi was warned from spreading sectarianism and was then removed from public service, he threw himself into organising support of the country’s blasphemy laws to a pliant populace.

“He (Rizvi) became deeply involved in organising public support for Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with blasphemy committed against Prophet Muhammad, and travelled the length and breadth of the country for the cause. Simultaneously he continued to raise his voice for the release of Mumtaz Qadri,” said the Dawn profile of the hardliner.

At last week’s Karachi Press Club incident, he referred to those times as well, to explain why in the upcoming general elections he wasn’t allying with any party.

“We can’t be with the PML(N),” he said referring to the party currently in government. “We can’t sit with the Pakistan People’s Party either… They (both) didn’t offer condolences over Mumtaz Qadri’s death,” explained Rizvi.

Now, the TLP is no longer a marginal or fringe player ahead of the general elections in Pakistan, scheduled for July 25.

Rizvi’s TLP has fielded a whopping 152 candidates. By comparison, parties that have been in Pakistani politics for decades – like the PPP and PMLN – have fielded just between 40-75 candidates more than the TLP, reported Dawn earlier this week.

The TLP alone can’t win the elections even if all its candidates win; there are 342 seats up for grabs in Pakistan’s National Assembly, of which 272 are general seats and 70 are special seats.

However, if the hardline Islamist party wins a substantial number, and if there’s a fractured verdict, the TLP may end up the kingmaker as it were, if it did decide to ally with a party or is persuaded by a party to do so.

That means, Rizvi will have his finger close to the country’s ‘nuclear button’, or as he called it last week, “the atom bomb”.

Source : TOI

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