India Today - - UPFRONT - TILAK DEVASHER Tilak Devasher is the au­thor of and a for­mer Spe­cial Sec­re­tary, Cab­i­net Sec­re­tariat, GoI

The se­ries of events in Pak­istan over the past two months that cul­mi­nated in the siege of its cap­i­tal Islamabad by ad­her­ents of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Ra­sool Al­lah (TLYRA)—and the fol­low­ing ab­ject sur­ren­der of the state—are an omi­nous warn­ing of the rise of the re­li­gious right in the coun­try. The TLYRA is a Barelvi group formed fol­low­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of Mum­taz Qadri, the po­lice guard who killed Pun­jab Gover­nor Sal­man Taseer in 2011 and was hanged for the crime in Fe­bru­ary 2016.

In Septem­ber-Oc­to­ber 2017, the po­lit­i­cal wing of the TLYRA called the Tehrik-i-Labaik Pak­istan (TLP) and the JUD/ LeT-linked Milli Mus­lim League (MML) burst on Pak­istan’s po­lit­i­cal scene by do­ing sur­pris­ingly well in the La­hore and Pe­shawar by-elec­tions. In La­hore, the TLP polled more votes than the PPP and the Ja­maat-i-Is­lami. Hot on the heels of its elec­toral foray, the TLYRA also man­aged to cor­ner the govern­ment over its at­tempts to tin­ker with clauses af­fect­ing the Khatm-iNabuwat (fi­nal­ity of prophet­hood) dec­la­ra­tion, a highly sen­si­tive is­sue in Pak­istan, in the Elec­tion Act 2017.

The govern­ment fi­nally ca­pit­u­lated to TLYRA’s de­mand that its law min­is­ter Zahid Hamid be sacked for the ‘trans­gres­sion’. Fol­low­ing up on the suc­cess of a sit-in that forced the govern­ment to cave in, TLYRA chief Al­lama Khadim Hus­sain Rizvi has an­nounced that they will contest the next elec­tion and win a thump­ing vic­tory. As the NA120 by-elec­tion in La­hore showed, the TLP would eat into the rightwing vote bank of the PML(N).

The three-week-long sit-in has pro­found im­pli­ca­tions for Pak­istan. It has brought to the fore the po­lit­i­cal awak­en­ing—and ac­tivism—of the Barelvis, so far thought of as a peace­ful group. It could lead to the con­sol­i­da­tion of a large, if dis­persed, Barelvi vote bank. Pak­istan is al­ready con­tend­ing with mil­i­tant Deobandi, Ahle-Hadis and var­i­ous sec­tar­ian groups. With mil­i­tant Barelvis com­ing to the party, Pak­istan could be headed down an even more dis­as­trous path. The speed with which such a large num­ber of peo­ple were mo­bilised and came onto the streets in dif­fer­ent parts of Pak­istan shows how wide­spread and deep-rooted this rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion is. Add to this at­tempts to re­vive the Mut­tahida Ma­jlis-e-Amal (MMA) and the re­lease of Hafiz Saeed and the cock­tail of re­li­gious par­ties and groups calls to mind night­mare sce­nar­ios.

The prece­dent has been set: elected min­is­ters can be forced to re­sign by re­li­gious groups on an is­sue of their choos­ing. To­day the govern­ment had been wrong-footed due to its own stu­pid­ity. To­mor­row, who knows what the cause could be.

For In­dia, these de­vel­op­ments have grave im­pli­ca­tions. For one, there is talk in Pak­istan that the emer­gence of the TLP and the MML is ac­tu­ally an ef­fort of the army to main­stream mil­i­tant and ji­hadi groups. This will give them a po­lit­i­cal role and wean them away from vi­o­lence. And if these ef­forts are suc­cess­ful, there could in the near fu­ture be ‘main­streamed’ ji­hadis in Par­lia­ment. Given their com­mon Kash­mir and anti-In­dia pro­file, they will be­come a pres­sure group that will en­sure that no po­lit­i­cal govern­ment tries to makes any friendly moves to­wards In­dia.

More­over, given the ab­ject sur­ren­der of the govern­ment to the TLP on a re­li­gious is­sue, what if any of these groups were to fo­ment an is­sue or in­ci­dent with In­dia on re­li­gious lines? Will any Pak govern­ment be able to re­sist the pres­sure to act ag­gres­sively? Hence, these de­vel­op­ments are omi­nous for In­dia and need to be watched closely.

For China, too, the de­vel­op­ments are cause for con­cern. It is on track to in­vest close to $60 bil­lion in the Chi­naPak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC). Its record in deal­ing with the Mus­lim Uighurs in Xin­jiang is re­pres­sive, to say the least. Many cases have been re­ported of ill treat­ment of Mus­lims on re­li­gious grounds, which has elicited ad­verse com­ments from sev­eral re­li­gious groups in Pak­istan. Ad­di­tion­ally, the grow­ing suc­cess of the re­li­gious groups in Pak­istan will only be a source of en­cour­age­ment for Uighur Is­lamists. The em­bold­en­ing of these groups in Pak­istan will, thus, not be good news for the Chi­nese.

With the US, in­ter­est­ingly, Pak­istan may find some trac­tion. As in the time of Gen. Mushar­raf, Pak­istan will use the rise of the re­li­gious right to frighten the US: wave the threat that they may grab Pak­istan’s nu­clear weapons un­less ad­di­tional funds are sanc­tioned to fur­ther strengthen the army. While Pres­i­dents Bush and Obama had fallen for it, it re­mains to be seen if a tougher Pres­i­dent Trump will do like­wise.

Pak­istan: Court­ing the Abyss

In­dia should be wor­ried, there is talk in Pak­istan that the army is try­ing to main­stream ji­hadi groups

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