Marking the end of a three-week long dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad by the activists of Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY), a ‘provisional peace treaty’ has been concluded between the Federal Government and TLY Chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi whereby the former has readily given in to the latter’s demands. So the Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid has been removed from his position. Under this agreement, the Federal Government is bound to make Raja Zafarul Haq Committee Report public within 30 days to ‘identify and punish’ other ‘culprits’ that are responsible for introducing ‘blasphemous’ amendment in the country’s electoral laws. This report is still hanging over the heads of many government ministers like a sword of Damocles. Therefore, the embattled PML-N government is yet not out of the woods.
Fueled by the TLY’s Islamabad dharna, the recent countrywide anti-government protests and agitation have badly exposed the dark sides of our state, society and politics. They have just shown that the fanaticism, extremism, intolerance and irrationalism have deeply penetrated our body politic. A large segment of our society has become radicalized to an extent that now a small stimulus can instantly turn it violent and disruptive. A few non state actors can easily bring the entire country to a standstill. Similarly, we have also observed the plight and helplessness of our key state institutions that simply looked incapable and unwilling to proactively confront the religious extremism and bigotry. We also saw that our politicos can’t rise above their political expediencies and selfish interests even in the times of grave national emergency. At the same time, we also came to know that there hardly exists any workable conflict resolution mechanism to diffuse an acute political or religious tension or confrontation in the country.
I am among those who mistakenly believed that Pakistan would seriously endavour to curb extremism after losing more than fifty thousand Pakistanis to bloody terrorism in the country. And that now we would sincerely implement the National Action Plan after the tragic 2014 APS Peshawar massacre. However, regretfully, the recent dharna saga has just smashed our optimism and hope about nipping the extremism in the bud. At present, there appears to be no such thing as the NAP in Pakistan. In the name of religion, a few thousand protestors can just paralyze the capital city for weeks. They can openly challenge the writ of the state and government. They can just flout the NAP by freely making the hate speech and instigating the religious sentiments of the people across the country.
TLY Chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi gained popularity in the wake of hanging of Mumtaz Qadri- a self-confessed murderer who was sentenced to death by a criminal court for assassinating then Governor Punjab Salman Teaser. He was also placed in the Fourth Schedule of The Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, requiring the law enforcers to closely monitor his activities and mobility in the country. One wonders how a Fourth Scheduler easily managed to reach Islamabad, along with his thousands of followers, to lockdown the capital city. During their sit-in in Islamabad, TLY leaders frequently used the abusive and insulting language against the government ministers, media persons and superior court judges. Moreover, TLY clerics also announced that their party would also contest the forthcoming general elections as a political party to advance its ‘agenda’ in the country. In fact, TLY leaders have thoughtfully chosen the month of Rabi al-awwal for launching an anti-government campaign as their followers, who belong to the largest sectarian group in the country, are more inclined and emotionally-charged during this period to unquestioningly follow their ‘Peers’ (spiritual leaders).
Regrettably, there was no one in the country who could dare to confront, counter, or even question the uncalled for hate speeches made by dharha participants. Everybody looked apologetic and defensive. We saw the politicos and journalists just endavouring to prove that they were ‘true Muslims’ who believed in ‘the Oneness of Allah and the Finality of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’. So most of the time, they were seen reciting Kalama Tayyiba and bashing the Federal Government rather than talking about the modus operandi adopted by the TLY clerics to press their demands.
Indeed, a national leader can play a pivotal role in ending any sort of tension, turmoil or dead-lock in the country. Unfortunately, while the entire country was paralyzed by the violent protests and riots, there was no national leader to diffuse this tension. As soon as Islamabad dharna started, both our de facto prime minister (Nawaz Sharif) and de jure prime minister (Shahid Khaqan Abbasi) went missing. They didn’t even bother to pay a lip service to this volatile situation in the country. On the other hand, the COAS just advised ‘both sides’ to resolve this conflict ‘peacefully’. So the most powerful institution in the country remained ‘neutral’ throughout the conflict. Though the apex court took a suo motu notice of TLY’s dharna, but it didn’t make any effective order to end this dharna. An independent and assertive judiciary, which feels no hesitation in showing prime ministers the door, looked reluctant to pass any order against the religious zealots. CM Punjab outrightly refused to use force against the violent protestors in the province. The religiopolitcal parties and sectarian leaders also considered it appropriate to stay silenced. Similarly, the opposition political parties exploited this situation for political point-scoring against the PML-N government.
In the entire dharna saga, Justice Shaukat Siddiqui, a judge of the Islamabad High Court was the only daring person who proactively tried to retrieve the capital city from the dharna occupiers. He first directed the Islamabad administration and LEA’s to clear the city’s arterial road from protestors ‘through peaceful means or by the use of force’. Later, he criticized the Interior Minister for giving in to the unlawful demands made by the TLY leaders. He also questioned the role of the Army in ending dharna by becoming a mediator. Therefore, now the TLY leaders have also started bashing Justice Shaukat Siddiqui, making him vulnerable against the religious fanaticism.
There were also surfaced a number of conspiracy theories during the dharna period, explaining the possible role of ‘hidden hands’ behind this event. One of these conspiracy theories essentially establishes a link between the planners of Islamabad dharna and some important ministers in the Punjab government. This conspiracy theory certainly holds water. In fact, the dharha participants were allowed to reach Islamabad in consequence of an agreement conduded between the Punjab Government and TLY leaders. It is also a fact that CM Punjab Shehbaz Sharif is the first significant person who made a demand to make Raja Zafarul Haq Committee Report public to punish those who delebrately tried to temper with the electoral laws. Currently, there is a rift within the ruling Sharif family. Similarly, CM Punjab’s antagonism towards the incumbent PML-N dispensation in Islamabad is also no more a secret. We also wondered why TLY clerics outrightly rejected the repeated apologies made by the Federal Law Minister while sparing the Punjab law Minister Rana Sanaullah despite the fact his recent remarks about the Ahmadiyya community were largely taken as more ‘blasphemous’. Moreover, Punjab government’s recent refusal to take strict measures against the protestors in the province also raised many eyebrows. Therefore, the role of PML-N’s Punjab chapter has been quite shady throughout the dharna episode.
Pakistan is an Islamic Republic where there is no potential threat to the Islamic values and culture. The government itself has assumed the responsibility to effectively enforce the blasphemy laws in the country. Therefore, individuals can’t be allowed to take the entire nation hostage in the name of preserving the honour of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Indeed, playing politics in the name of religion is extremely deplorable. The government is also bound to protect the constitutional rights of all religious minorities in the country. Terrorism, extremism and sectarianism have already torn Pakistan apart. Therefore, we can no longer afford to let religious fanaticism wreck havoc on peace and prosperity in Pakistan.