One thing that this country yearns for is the writ of the state. Not that the state does not use force, however, the application of justice or the rule of law or force is usually too late. By the time the government intervenes, the opposing forces had become too strong to expose state’s vulnerability. The latest Dharna (sit-in) on Faizabad interchange Rawalpindi is another replica of state’s vulnerability we had seen many times. Swat is a case in point. The administrative machinery of Swat had given in to the parallel government that Mullah Fazluallah was running there. People were hanged, women were looted, and children were recruited for militancy. Terrorism had peaked, but the government was non-existent. Until of course a staged video of a girl lashed by the Taliban surfaced leading to the formation of public opinion in favour of the military operation. We saw the same lengthening of misery in Karachi. The government allowed target killers, ransom seekers, and extortionists as much space as they sought. The havoc MQM had unleashed, one remembers how Farooq Sattar used to give an ultimatum that if their demands were not met Karachi would be locked down for one year. One recalls how a single call from Mustafa Kamal or any of the MQM stalwarts for wheel jam strike would bring Karachi to a standstill. One also remembers how bullet-ridden bodies were found tied in sacks? The Lyari operation became useless because the bandits had better ammunition than the Sindh government. A local newspaper ran a detailed survey, and the then IG Sindh was quoted saying that the police failed because it could not match the weaponry possessed by the Lyari gang. Amidst all these the nation knew that Karachi was being ransacked, looted and destroyed with the cooperation of the Sindh government. A part of the state had been in a collision. The Lyari gang had the PPP elements. And when the Supreme Court of Pakistan got down to the matter on the petition filed by Tahir ul Qadri it unravelled that police in Sindh was not only politicised it was too fearful of the violent forces behind the political parties. The police it also transpired was hand in glove with the criminals in protecting their crimes, brothel houses, gambling dins and killing machines, nay the people assigned to kill on targets. Not until the city of Karachi had become a litter of dead bodies, like it has become today the city of actual litter, the government woke-up and the Ranger-led Police operation began. The Rangers are in Karachi for the last almost 30 years. Why this force was kept there when it hardly made any difference to the peace of the city is still not clear. However, since a mandate to clear Karachi of the criminals has been given to the force in 2014, with a full backing of the police, results began showing up. Today Karachi is a peaceful city, albeit the political drama that would perhaps never cease to happen given the nature of power contenders.
Coming back to the sit-in in Rawalpindi by the Labaik Ya Rasoolullah Party. This religious outfit was created in reaction of Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging. Qadri murdered Governor Punjab Salman Taseer because of his views on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. We may call the perpetrator of the sit-in exploiter and opportunists, but it is the government that needs to be blamed eventually for bringing the situation to this pass. The clamour is about the Election (Amendment) Act 2017 that besides providing a new lease to the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political life made a few changes in the declaration Form-A, which every potential legislature files with the election commission of Pakistan to prove their religious identity. According to naysayers, the new declaration form would have provided the Ahmadis a passage to declare themselves Muslim. The new Act had also done away with Sections 7B and 7C of the Conduct of General Elections Order, 2002, which relate to the status of Ahmadis.
Minorities in Pakistan are already marginalised because of the wrong narrative this country has been fed with over almost 40 years. Way back children were told that Christians were untouchables and that an Ahmadi should be avoided. This narrative was carefully cultivated under the supervision of the government. Schools and colleges were the promoters of the same because of the syllabus that supported it. Zia regime was the real culprit that inserted through 8th Amendment ambiguous religious laws in the Constitution of Pakistan that not only made religious lobbies powerful but also subordinated the role of the state in religious matters. And when religion was used as a tool of coercion to mute dissenting voices raised against the military rule, thing turned to worst. Later the value of the right-wing parties to reach out to vast swathes of voters became a rule rather than the exception. With it, secularism within parities became just a misnomer. The 90s era was the worst in this case. Now when the PML-N is trying to shed the right wing skin it adorned during Nawaz Sharif’s second stint as the prime minister, the backlash is severe.
The problem is with the processes. Instead of first changing the narrative through healthy debates and dialogue, a discreet way is adopted to mainstream religious minorities. It reflects moral dishonesty of the political parties especially the PML-N. They want to wear both the religious and the secular hat. The Religious hat, to get the right-wing vote, and the secular hat to keep the international community at their side. This calculus should be put to an end. It is utterly disappointing that any dissenting voice is quashed if not by the government then by the army. The case of the bloggers who had moved abroad is fresh in our memories.
It is now essential that Pakistan is opened up to religious dialogue. Let people question the religious and political narrative. It is the only way that Pakistan would become a tolerant country otherwise it would remain hostage to people like Allama Rizvi Hussain resorting to expletives to convey his love for our beloved prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The government needs to use wit otherwise blaming the establishment for each and every policy failure will keep the state’s writ in a subordinated position.