The government has been dealing with the Faizabad protestors with a lot of resilience. With the city on lock down and pressure mounting daily; the demands of the protesters seem to be ever increasing. The intricacy of the situation is not unknown to the political actors involved, as these religious parties have taken up one of the most controversial issues there is and have started making undue trouble. The fact that a mere clerical error has flared up such an issue shows how such opportunities are seized to create chaos. So far the government has been practising restraint and trying to resolve the issue amicably – a confrontation is in nobody’s interest right now.
However, the actions of the protestors are a direct threat to the writ of the state and show how the government, despite its authority, remains helpless in front of hard-core religious groups. Under the National Action Plan (NAP), hate speech is not accepted and any outfit or individual found guilty of spreading extremist views must be held accountable. Yet the Faizabad protest is doing it with impunity.
The fact that the government was ready to suspend Law Minister Zahid Hamid to appease the protestors shows that at this point the government wants to resolve the matter in any manner possible. While it shows government willingness to negotiate, it is also a sign of weakness. The government must not set such a precedent of pliant weakness, otherwise such protest seeking to strong-arm the government will be a dime a dozen.
The government’s lack of decisiveness is also lending legitimacy to the protest day by day. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal on Monday announced another extension of the deadline to end the protest, which is now November 23. Ahsan Iqbal also stated that they will use any means to abide by the order of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) – which should entail no concessions to the hooligans camping at Faizabad.
PM Khaqan Abbasi, former PM Nawaz Sharif and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal have made speeches asserting their commitment to protect minorities. Now is the time to show that their “commitment” goes beyond words. How it behaves in the coming days will display whether PML-N is able to protect its own, and whether it can ensure that no minister under its umbrella is suspended. Surely a suspension will be considered an admission of guilt, by those baying for violence.