A blowback was expected from religious parties when Jammat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed was arrested, and sure enough we are witnessing one right now. What is unexpected in all this is the fact that mainstream religious parties, some of whom are in government coalitions, have also joined in the chorus demanding the end of the crackdown on JuD and the review of the National Action Plan (NAP). Even more deplorably, these have reverted to some of the tried and tested methods of stirring violent religious fervour.

Addressing the All Parties Tahufiz-i-Namoos-i-Risalat Conference on Wednesday, Jammat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) Chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Jammat-e-Islami (JI) Amir Senator Sirajul Haq, Jamiat-i-Ahle Hadith (JAH) Chief, Senator Prof Sajid Mir, and Difa-i-Pakistan Council (DPC) Chief Maulana Samiul Haq rejected the NAP in its present form and demanded of the government to revisit it and delink the religion, sects and seminaries from terrorism. This has been a longstanding demand by religious parties that have been feeling the pressure of increased scrutiny under NAP, but this is the first time JI and JUI-F leaders have shared the stage with the DPC – a conglomerate of banned sectarian groups – and demanded that the not only the government revise NAP, but also release the head of another banned group – Hafiz Saeed.

However, such purely political demands rarely get traction among the public unless they are spruced up as religious outrage and violent zealotry, and hence the majority of the conference was spent roundly criticising Ahmedis, people calling for the debate on the blasphemy law, and nameless television channels. The aim to stir up the passions of the hardliners by painting an untrue picture of widespread blasphemy by Ahmedis is a highly dangerous action that may be tantamount to hate speech as it incites violence. We have witnessed violence against minorities time and again – it should be the job of our religions parties to heal the wounds not fan the flames.

But it looks like Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Sirajul Haq have other things in mind. If the four demands of the council – all related to further marginalisation of minorities and the maintenance of the blasphemy law in all its cruelty – are not met in a month, these parties will take to the streets.

This is a shameful attempt at blackmailing the government, and the fact that minorities are needlessly being made a scapegoat in what is essentially a power play makes it even more condemnable. These kind of actions are expected from fringe extremist parties, not from JUI-F and JI.