Amidst growing public criticism over elected representatives failing to ensure relief for their constituents in flood-hit regions of Pakistan, the rightwing Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) has emerged as a potent counter to official apathy, with the party claiming to have facilitated scores of Pakistanis who the government could not reach in the immediate aftermath of this year’s devastation.
In an exclusive interview with Pakistan Standard, TLP chief Saad Hussain Rizvi slammed what he described as the government’s unpreparedness to tackle the natural calamity engulfing a third of the country. Stressing that timely intervention could have prevented numerous deaths and loss of infrastructure, he blamed lack of immediate response, absence of mechanisms to reach and rescue flood victims, and a reluctance to assess the damages caused by torrential rains as the key reasons for the disaster that has impacted over 33 million Pakistanis.
“Had the government acted promptly, this colossal damage could have been controlled,” he claimed. “But the government was busy in buying MPAs and MNAs to strengthen itself and prolong its rule,” he alleged, noting his party was among the first to reach flood-hit areas in Balochistan that the federal and provincial governments—despite all the resources at their disposal—were still struggling to provide relief.
“I traveled thousands of kilometers and lived for days with flood affectees to feel the agony, helplessness and hopelessness that have clouded their better sense,” he said, summarizing the scale of rescue and relief operation carried out by his party workers. According to Rizvi, TLP workers in Balochistan had alerted the party’s central command of the scale of destruction triggered by the floods and forwarded a list of essentials needed for the immediate rescue and relief of thousands of people rendered homeless due to this year’s torrential rains.
“TLP workers reached those far-flung areas of Balochistan with boatloads of basic essentials, food and tents, and immediately started rescue work,” he said, adding the party’s aid for flood victims of the province was ongoing.
The TLP chief said he personally visited the flood-hit areas of south Punjab—Taunsa, Fazilpur, Rajanpur, Kot Mithan—last month and heard an untold number of stories of the horror and dismay suffered by the area’s residents due to the floods. “Since then, 15-20 truckloads of food supplies, essential items for women, clothes and mosquito nets have been sent to those areas, and a ‘city’ of 100 tents has been set up in Taunsa to accommodate displaced people,” he said, admitting much more time and resources were required to help the flood victims resume their normal lives.
“Rojhan, an area about 6 hours drive from Taunsa, was another un-attended worst-hit area bordering Sindh, which was completely submerged,” he lamented. “TLP workers provided the affected people with 15 days of rations along with tents and clothes,” he said.
On the TLP’s relief work in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa—where the Swat district has suffered the worst of floods, landslides and hill torrents—Rizvi said his party had set up relief camps and medical camps, including veterinarians, to facilitate the people. In total, he said, over 22,000 TLP workers were participating in relief activities in Balochistan and Sindh, while thousands more were engaged in similar operations in Punjab, as their network in the province is far larger.
“We have traveled more than 3,000km in the last 3 days to witness the horror of the flood devastation,” he said of his recent tour of flood-hit areas. “Thousands of people who have fled their homes are still struggling to find care while displacement camps are overcrowded in flood-hit areas,” he said, stressing the TLP was utilizing donations from individuals across Pakistan—money, essential commodities, clothes, water—for its relief work.
He also praised the work being done by the Al-Khidmat Foundation—affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami—stressing it was conducting rescue and relief operations effectively. Rather than training their workers to help struggling constituents, he alleged, other parties were more interested in agitation and unrest to advance their political agendas.
Criticizing the government’s relief work, the TLP chief echoed unsubstantiated allegations by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan of authorities spending “billions” on “horse-trading” while asking other countries to help fund the rescue and rehabilitation of flood victims. Coming out strongly against foreign aid, Rizvi claimed the government was seeking the support of countries that had reported incidents of blasphemy that had hurt the sentiments of Muslims globally.
“Most government ministers, MPAs and MNAs only visited the affected areas for photo sessions,” he claimed. “Temporary relief camps are set up for this purpose before their arrival and no ration or aid is given to affectees, angering them further,” he alleged without offering any proof. “One political leader is holding public gatherings,” he said, referring to PTI’s Khan, “while the prime minister is busy taking aerial views without having a real feel of the ground situation,” he claimed, despite authorities vowing P.M. Shehbaz Sharif had personally visited flood-hit areas across Pakistan to adequately gauge the extent of the disaster. “Millions of people remain without shelter, food and basic amenities as the government and opposition indulge in political mudslinging,” he regretted.
The TLP chief, whose party has consistently emerged as a major political contender in recent elections despite not securing any victories, claims he is optimistic about reversing the trend in the next general elections. “If RTS [Result Transmission System] doesn’t fail, the TLP will emerge as a major power player or broker in the next general elections,” he claimed, adding he had no desire to enter into any political alliance if their ideology, credibility and basic principles were not in alignment.
“[Several] political parties are approaching us but the TLP would never make any alliance with these parties which have no interest in the well-being of the people, who want power to usurp the basic rights of people and whose ultimate motto is to plunder public wealth and stash that money away in foreign accounts,” he claimed, adding he did not agree with critics who accused the TLP of sidelining women and reducing their role in politics.
Stressing the party’s ideology called for segregated gatherings for male and female supporters, he claimed TLP’s women activists often held conventions and gatherings apart from the men. This outreach, he claimed, would be visible in the party’s awarding of tickets for the next general elections, which he maintained would include women on general seats as well as reserved seats.
TLP women’s wing leader Sarwat Fatima, who was elected to the Sindh Assembly on a reserved seat in 2018, told Pakistan Standard the women’s wing was active at both provincial and federal levels. “The TLP has awarded tickets to women in the upcoming local bodies elections in Sindh as well,” she said.
Regarding the much-discussed role of Pakistan’s security establishment’s role in politics, Rizvi said all institutions should perform within their constitutional ambit. He said he did not agree with any further extension to the tenure of the incumbent Army chief, adding Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa shouldn’t even have received his first extension in 2019. “If you want them [establishment] to rule the country then hand it over to them and suspend law and Constitution altogether,” he said.
“If it’s in the interest of the country then the Army chief can be given extension,” he said. “However, if any government or political party grants extension with a hope that it will benefit them in the future then it’s wrong and amounts to treason, as enshrined in the Constitution,” he added.