The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) protest on Thursday and the ensuing capitulation by the government to the demands of the far-right rogue party sets another disappointing precedent, indicating that the establishment will inevitably kowtow to the misuse of disruptive street power and threat of violence by radical groups.

Where street protests have become an everyday norm of late in our cityscapes, this particular demonstration, blocking off main arteries of the cities and lock jamming traffic for hours, held a palpable threat of disintegrating into violence reminiscent of the Faizabad sit-in, a threat that had the entire city, and the establishment on guard.

Where the political machinations behind the opportune timing of the protest and its reconciliation are still up for deep debate (in the backdrop of a flailing PML-N besieged on all sides, and a brokered attempt to incite chaos in the capital) the TLP itself represents a more nuanced form of dissent than our run-of-the-mill ultra-conservative group clamoring for Shariah and mainstreaming conservative ideologies. TLPs tactics go beyond pressuring the government or gaining political limelight. The scope of their stoic prowess seems to be a revival of Barelvi politics that had lost favor over the years. Pitting itself against Deobandi groups in the religio-political arena, the activities of TLP seek to infuse its tangible presence in politics, arbitrated by the right power player. After the dramatic falling out between the PML-N and its sustaining Barelvi support, the loyalties of the widespread group are up for grabs.

It is no coincidence that following the Faizabad dharna prominent and established political parties sought to align themselves with the emerging party recognising a reinsertion of Barelvi-based groups in politics.

It is highly unfortunate that where the Zia-era forced out the followers of Sufism and progressive Islam from politics it replaced them with ultra-conservative religious bodies, wholly susceptible to extremism. Where Barelvi politics are touted as a counter narrative to extremism and tool for de-radicalisation, giving into the demands of this rising religio-political force only encourages its foray into the political field and a subversion of their influence.

 Where the power matrix has historically used religio-political affiliations to strengthen their own claims, allowing such volatile entities to hold the peace and safety of citizens’ hostage is callous to say the least. As such, the government should tread carefully in entertaining and carrying out the demands of such recalcitrant forces at the expense of the liberties and welfare of the society.