Large crowd gathers for Pakistani firebrand cleric’s funeral

LAHORE: Tens of 1000’s of maskless mourners gathered in Lahore on Saturday for the funeral of hardline Pakistani cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who for years terrorised the nation’s non secular minorities, incited riots and advocated the destruction of European nations.
Huge crowds of males had been seen thronging the centre of the japanese metropolis forward of Rizvi’s funeral, chanting in unison and for probably the most half flouting mask-wearing guidelines even with the nation on the cusp of a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak.
No reason for loss of life has been introduced for the 54-year-old Rizvi, who died Thursday after struggling a excessive fever and difficulties respiration, and no Covid-19 take a look at or post-mortem had been performed on the long-time wheelchair consumer.
Whereas Pakistan has dodged the worst of the coronavirus pandemic to date, case numbers have been rising sharply in current weeks.
In life, Rizvi acted as a lightning rod for Pakistan’s non secular proper, and was adept at stirring sectarian resentments and mobilising 1000’s of fanatical supporters at a second’s discover.
His loss of life got here simply days after he led a paralysing anti-France rally in Islamabad, threatening to repeat a 2017 blockade that crippled the capital, and he has known as for the nuclear destruction of some European international locations.
Regardless of this, Pakistan’s army hailed him as a “nice scholar” and Prime Minister Imran Khan rushed to supply his heartfelt condolences — each probably cautious of the ability of his motion.
Rizvi had weaponised the ultra-sensitive subject of blasphemy within the Muslim-majority nation and radicalised massive swathes of Punjab, opening a brand new chapter in Pakistan’s violent confrontation with extremism.
In only a few years, the cleric, identified for his profanity-laced speeches and theatrical gestures, gained mass assist and rose to develop into one of many nation’s most feared figures.
“In some methods, he was much more harmful than the Taliban, together with his supporters not restricted to distant tribal areas, however current in massive numbers within the nation’s heartlands,” mentioned Omar Waraich from Amnesty Worldwide.
“(Rizvi) found out that in Pakistan, true energy could be commanded within the streets, the place you do not want the very best variety of votes — simply the very best variety of armed supporters.”
His Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan get together (TLP) held a three-day anti-France rally that ended after he claimed to have pressured the federal government to conform to kick out the French ambassador.
The protests got here weeks after France’s President Emmanuel Macron defended the nation’s freedom of speech legal guidelines, within the wake of the killing of a trainer who had proven caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to his class.
The Pakistani authorities and French embassy have refused to touch upon the matter.
Blasphemy is a delicate subject in Pakistan, the place anybody deemed to have insulted Islam can face the loss of life penalty and the whiff of even unproven allegations can result in mob lynchings and vigilante murders.
Since 2017, Rizvi and the TLP have succeeded in dictating phrases to successive governments who concern sparking any backlash from non secular teams.
The cleric pressured the resignation of a federal minister and the firing of a number one financial adviser at the same time as Pakistan’s financial system cratered.
And in 2018, the TLP introduced the nation to a standstill with riots following the acquittal of Christian lady Asia Bibi, who had been falsely accused of disrespecting the Prophet Mohammed.
The get together has additionally known as for the assassination of Pakistan’s Supreme Courtroom judges, pleaded for a mutiny within the armed forces and vowed to wipe out European nations comparable to France and the Netherlands with Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
The group has additionally been linked with killings and an assassination try on Pakistan’s inside minister in 2018, whereas rallying tens of millions of supporters on the poll field that gave them seats in a provincial authorities.
Whether or not the TLP can maintain its momentum with out the charismatic Rizvi is unclear.
“The TLP already has an in depth assist base. His lifeline was his narrative and his narrative was nonetheless intact,” safety analyst Amir Rana informed AFP.
“The TLP will stay on Pakistan’s safety and political panorama for an extended time and management will not be a giant issue.”
Nevertheless, columnist Zahid Hussain chalked up the TLP’s victories over time to authorities weak spot relatively than its precise power as a political pressure.
“I do not suppose anyone may present the kind of a management he had,” he mentioned.
“It was extra of a private following than an ideological motion.”
The TLP first coalesced as a motion demanding the discharge of Mumtaz Qadri — a bodyguard who gunned down Punjab governor Salman Taseer in Islamabad in 2011.
Qadri later cited Taseer’s calls for to reform blasphemy legal guidelines as his motive and was hanged in 2016 — sparking huge protests and an outpouring of emotion throughout his public funeral in Lahore that set the stage for future TLP demonstrations.

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