The easy way out
Instead of catching the bull by the horns the PTI led government has buckled under the collective might of religious zealots and extremists. The political opposition the go-to whipping boy of the ruling party is now being conveniently blamed for last week’s mayhem perpetrated all over the country by the TLP (Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan), as a reaction to acquittal of Aasia Bibi – the Christian woman accused of blasphemy by the Supreme Court.
In the wake of the whole country paralyzed by TLP goons the prime minister in his televised address to the nation on the evening of October 31, took a tough line against the destructionists vowing to pursue a zero tolerance policy against them. Owing to the blanket ban on the media to report on hate speech of the TLP it was the Khan himself who disclosed how the zealots had threatened the judges who had acquitted Aasia Bibi and had not even spared the Army chief.
But soon the PTI changing its tack capitulated. In fact its spokesmen on the media started asserting that exactly one year ago the crime of the PML-N government was much bigger when they attempted to change the oath of office stipulated in the constitution. Perhaps that is why the PTI at that time in the opposition supported the Faizabad dharna being led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi.
But in reality, there are vital differences in the previous protest and the most recent one. Allegedly the Faizabad protesters had the tacit support of the ubiquitous establishment. That is why perhaps thousand rupees per head were distributed by a mid level army officer amongst the protestors at the end of the dharna. The army however claimed that thanks to its intervention the siege of Islamabad was finally lifted.
But there is no gainsaying that the followers of Rizvi have successfully raised the ante only in a short span of a year. They had the temerity to incite mutiny against the army leadership and call for murder of the judges who on firm legal grounds had acquitted Aasia Bibi.
The natural corollary to such a dire situation should have been some kind of a crackdown by the state against the zealots. But unfortunately both the state and the deep state took the easy way out of a sticky situation by buckling under.
The most interesting reaction was that of the DG ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations) that the military had nothing to do with a matter strictly legal. In sharp contrast much lesser transgressions by the media in the past have been taken much more seriously by the powers that be. In this case however the whole matter, more serious in import, was simply swept under the carpet merely for the sake of expediency.
Rightly so, great pride is taken by our security apparatus for squashing the head of the hydra headed monster of terrorism. It is indeed a singular success that has eluded most other nations in similar circumstances.
Nonetheless now unfortunately the menace of extremism has raised its head. Thereby Rizvi and his cohorts have upped the stakes.
Apart from the military, the federal as well as provincial governments, and the opposition parties have to be taken on board in order to move forward.
The zealots have successfully demonstrated that they can shut down Pakistan, perpetrate violence on the hapless citizenry and destroy public and private property with impunity. To whip up public sentiment to the level of hysteria by invoking a jaundiced interpretation of religion seems a relatively easy task now, especially in the wake of interior minister Shehryar Afridi’s apologia for the TLP in the Senate.
The minster of state has brazenly claimed that the TLP has distanced itself from last week’s mayhem. Afridi now albeit spuriously claims that it was all the handiwork of PML-N workers. The fact that both the PPP and PML-N leaderships had offered the government their cooperation to deal peacefully with the matter was conveniently ignored.
This is a proverbial U-turn, which has become a hallmark of the PTI government. The Khan had quite candidly asked the pertinent question in his address to the nation: “which government can function when prople say kill the judges, do away with the army?”
It is obvious the PTI leadership is in a bind about how to deal with the issue of religious extremism. One would have thought that a red line is being drawn by the state to deal with violent extremism and hate speech.
However closer to reality the ruling party’s moorings are quite akin to that of the religious right. A sitting minister in order to pay tribute to Mumtaz Qadri the convicted murderer of Salman Taseer visited his grave, is a case in point. The PTI chief himself has had no qualms in the past about flirting with extremists.
Religious extremism is no longer an issue germane exclusively to the Barelvi or Deobandi. It is a malaise eating away into the very entrails of the state.
The elements that do not even pay lip service to Iqbal or Jinnah’s Pakistan want to usurp the larger agenda. The constitution, the parliament, judiciary, or a pluralistic society is anathema to them.
As was amply demonstrated last week on the streets of Pakistan, they do not hesitate in using unabated violence in order to achieve their nefarious goals. During the disorder and commotion the law enforcing agencies were either not present or unwilling to act.
Obviously there is a thin line between terrorism and extremism. Both feed on each other. Hence to claim that we have rooted out terrorism but are willing to tolerate extremism in order to save our own skins is a travesty.
It will be unfair to blame the civil and military leadership for the present state of affairs. Since the time of the late dictator general Zia ul Haq extremists and Jihadsits have enjoyed the patronage of the state. But now that the chickens have come home to roost, the buck stops at the doorstep of the present leadership.
The so called NAP (National Action Plan) to combat extremism launched with much fanfare almost four years ago in the aftermath of the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar is not worth the paper it was written on. Its 20-point agenda only partly implemented lies virtually dormant.
Unless immediate steps are not taken to stem the rot, there is clear and present danger that the zealots will effectively devour the democratic program. Apart from the military, the federal as well as provincial governments, and the opposition parties have to be taken on board in order to move forward.
To deal with the present existential crisis the ruling party needs to change its current approach. Verbally abusing the opposition and calling them ‘chors’ (thieves) will simply not do.
In the meanwhile Aasia Bibi should be allowed to travel abroad. Why is she a virtual hostage of the state despite having been acquitted by the apex court?