How Naya Pak­istan is ca­pit­u­lat­ing be­fore its cler­ics

The Northlines - - OPINION - SUSHANT SAREEN

Even as many Pak­ista­nis were go­ing into rap­tures laud­ing the very tough line taken by the prime min­is­ter of Naya (new) Pak­istan against the cler­ics who had vir­tu­ally de­clared re­bel­lion against the Is­lamic State of Pak­istan, min­is­ters of the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment were en­gaged in ne­go­ti­at­ing an in­stru­ment of sur­ren­der with the ma­raud­ing mul­lahs.

The ab­ject ca­pit­u­la­tion be­fore the cler­ics by the gov­ern­ment of Naya Pak­istan not only re­vealed the dis­ar­ray within the gov­ern­ment with dif­fer­ent min­is­ters tak­ing dif­fer­ent po­si­tions - some blow­ing hot, oth­ers giv­ing a disin­gen­u­ous spin to project their wimp­ing out as a vic­tory - but also the com­plete col­lapse of ad­min­is­tra­tion in the face of the ram­pag­ing mul­lahs.

Clearly, in terms of the dystopian dys­func­tion­al­ity of the state, Naya Pak­istan is quite like the Pu­rana Pak­istan.

This wasn't the first time that the gov­ern­ment of Pak­istan has thrown in the towel in front of the Tehrik-eLab­baik Pak­istan ( TLP), and it prob­a­bly won't be the last time. Around the same time last year, the TLP, af­ter a three-week long dharna forced the gov­ern­ment of Pu­rana Pak­istan led by Nawaz Sharif's Pak­istan Mus­lim League to agree to a hu­mil­i­at­ing sur­ren­der.

But back then, the gov­ern­ment's hands were tied. In a re­cent in­ter­view, the then Prime Min­is­ter, Shahid Khaqan Ab­basi, re­vealed that the PMLN gov­ern­ment had no op­tion but to agree to the terms dic­tated by the TLP. The army had re­fused to act, the para­mil­i­tary Rangers which is an aux­il­iary of the army didn't sup­port the gov­ern­ment, the po­lice was so de­mor­alised that it re­fused to move against the pro­tes­tors and the ju­di­ciary had passed an or­der to clear the dharna but with­out us­ing force.

Back then, the TLP ag­i­ta­tion was seen as part of the sin­is­ter plan of the "deep state" to box in the PMLN and give the ladla (favourite) Im­ran Khan a leg up. But this time, it is the ladla who is in charge, and yet the en­tire state ma­chin­ery was cow­er­ing in fear be­fore the TLP which was prac­ti­cally hold­ing the en­tire coun­try hostage.

The con­temptible fear­ful­ness on dis­play by the much vaunted "in­sti­tu­tions" - ju­di­ciary, army and even the civil­ian gov­ern­ment - be­fore the cler­ics stood in stark con­trast to their en­thu­si­as­tic bul­ly­ing, bull­doz­ing and blud­geon­ing any and every voice of dis­sent in the me­dia, civil so­ci­ety or even pol­i­tics.

The TLP lead­ers have openly called for the mur­der of the Supreme Court judges who ac­quit­ted the Chris­tian woman ac­cused of blas­phemy. They ex­horted the cooks and driv­ers of these judges to mur­der them and earn a place in heaven. They have la­belled a sit­ting army chief as a non-mus­lim - Ah­madiyya - and called upon the rank and file of the army to re­volt against the top brass. The Prime Min­is­ter and his en­tire gov­ern­ment has been called a nonMus­lim gov­ern­ment which needs to be over­thrown. And what is the re­sponse? Deaf­en­ing si­lence.

The judges who are quick to book politi­cians, jour­nal­ists and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists on charges of con­tempt, de­stroy ca­reers and in­car­cer­ate peo­ple for con­tempt, are of­fer­ing mealy-mouthed jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for their judg­ment. No no­tice of con­tempt has been is­sued to the cler­ics who have openly abused the judges even in the past. It is al­most as if they are ter­ri­fied by the very idea of haul­ing up the mul­lahs.

Com­pare this pusil­la­nim­ity to the very same judges haul­ing up for­mer Prime Min­is­ters, cab­i­net min­is­ters and other se­nior politi­cians for merely pass­ing a re­mark against pal­pa­bly bad in law judg­ments or for giv­ing an in­ter­view in which they crit­i­cise the "deep state's" in­volve­ment with in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ists. Con­sider also the fact that these same judges re­cently sacked a high court judge for ex­pos­ing the in­ter­fer­ence of ISI in ju­di­cial mat­ters, in in­tim­i­dat­ing and in­flu­ence judges to give favourable judg­ments, but have re­fused to take no­tice against the hate-mon­ger­ing and openly sedi­tious re­marks of the Mul­lahs.

But for­get the judges. The Pak­istan mil­i­tary which is quick to take of­fence to an in­nocu­ous news­pa­per ar­ti­cle and is ready to desta­bilise a sit­ting gov­ern­ment, which gets peo­ple to file trea­son cases against politi­cians who state facts that the army has only lost ter­ri­tory but politi­cians have gained ter­ri­tory, is to­tally silent, nay paral­ysed, in the face of open sedi­tion by the cler­ics. The Pak­istan mil­i­tary spokesman had once de­clared: si­lence is also an ex­pres­sion. In the cur­rent case, the si­lence is noth­ing if not an ex­pres­sion of fear, dread and per­haps com­plic­ity. Why else would the Army which doesn't bat an eye­lid be­fore us­ing over­whelm­ing force against anti-state el­e­ments, kid­naps and tor­tures ac­tivists who ex­pose its shenani­gans, con­ducts scorched earth op­er­a­tions against its own com­pa­tri­ots, and keeps re­con­quer­ing its own coun­try every other day, be so sen­si­tive and cau­tious in act­ing against these mul­lahs?

The gov­ern­ment mean­while is do­ing what it has be­come fa­mous for - tak­ing one U- turn af­ter an­other, speak­ing in dif­fer­ent voices, and pre­tend­ing that it has suc­cess­fully han­dled the sit­u­a­tion when by all ac­counts the gov­ern­ment was nowhere to be seen when the mobs were run­ning amok. Af­ter Im­ran Khan's blus­ter­ous speech warn­ing the TLP to not clash with the state, the gov­ern­ment first ne­go­ti­ated a deal with the cler­ics. But the blis­ter­ing crit­i­cism that fol­lowed forced the gov­ern­ment of Naya Pak­istan to make an­other U-turn. In the last cou­ple of days, it has made a big show of reg­is­ter­ing cases and ap­pre­hend­ing peo­ple in­volved in mob vi­o­lence. But this is an eye­wash of an ac­tion be­cause not a sin­gle case has been filed, much less ac­tion taken, against the top lead­er­ship of TLP. The cal­cu­la­tion clearly is that within a few days other events will push this is­sue in the back­ground. But this is all so Pu­rana Pak­istan. The with­er­ing away of the state in the face of the gaunt­let thrown by the cler­ics is some­thing that is only to be ex­pected given the way the forces of fa­nati­cism have been cul­ti­vated so as­sid­u­ously by vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one in Pak­istan. But there is also po­etic jus­tice in the way Im­ran Khan has been hoist on his own petard. In a clas­sic case of what goes around, comes around, Im­ran Khan is con­fronted with tac­tics that he used to bring his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents un­der siege. The abuses be­ing hurled, the shut­downs be­ing forced, the vi­o­lence be­ing un­leashed, the pas­sions be­ing in­cited by the TLP are all things that Im­ran and his Pak­istan Tehrik-eIn­saaf ( PTI) had done while in op­po­si­tion. As a per­cep­tive com­men­ta­tor in Pak­istan ob­served: TLP is the PTI of the poor. In fact, the PTI un­abashedly ex­ploited the en­tire blas­phemy is­sue against Nawaz Sharif in the run-up to the gen­eral elec­tions. PTI can­di­dates (some of whom are min­is­ters in the gov­ern­ment) openly called for the Chris­tian woman's ex­e­cu­tion.

But apart from mak­ing com­mon cause with the TLP, the PTI, and in­deed the army and ju­di­ciary, are also ter­ri­fied by the prospect of us­ing force against the cler­ics. The specter of Lal Masjid cri­sis hangs over any de­ci­sion to crack­down on the Mul­lahs. There is a touch­ing be­lief that ap­peas­ing the fa­nat­ics will defuse the cri­sis. But what it is do­ing is ac­tu­ally em­pow­er­ing the fa­nat­ics. The TLP, which is just a cou­ple of years old, has had a Phoenix-like rise and emerged as the largest re­li­gious party in Pak­istan. In Pun­jab, it is the third largest party, and na­tion­ally the fourth largest party. But more than its grow­ing sup­port base, it is the fa­nati­cism of its fol­low­ers that is scary. TLP doesn't have an armed wing, nor does it im­part ter­ror­ist train­ing to its fol­low­ers. And yet, its abil­ity to in­flict vi­o­lence and launch 'lone wolf at­tacks' - the ex­hor­ta­tion to cooks and driv­ers of judges is very sim­i­lar to the ISIS call­ing upon its fol­low­ers to use what­ever they can as a weapon and at­tack and kill wher­ever they can - has al­ready been proved when the for­mer in­te­rior min­is­ter Ah­san Iqbal was shot and in­jured.

The TLP has clearly emerged as a ma­jor force in Pak­istan pol­i­tics. Every sur­ren­der be­fore it has only added to its strength and made it more un­re­strained in push­ing the en­ve­lope and test­ing the bound­aries of re­straint of the state. This is not a sus­tain­able sit­u­a­tion for any length of time. Sooner or later some­thing will give.

Ei­ther the state will sim­ply roll over and play dead, or it will have to hit back hard and crush the TLP. In ei­ther case, it will unleash a new wave of vi­o­lence. There is also a pos­si­bil­ity that the Pak­istan army will use its old play­book to raise an­other Khadim Rizvi to counter the TLP Khadim Rizvi. But this too will have its reper­cus­sions be­cause in­vari­ably, the new Khadim Rizvi will be even more vi­cious and vi­tu­per­a­tive than the Khadim Rizvi he seeks to dis­place.

Wel­come to Naya Pak­istan, just like the Pu­rana Pak­istan.

( Disclaimer: The views ex­pressed here are per­sonal opin­ions of the writ­ers. The in­for­ma­tion, facts or opin­ions ap­pear­ing in the ar­ti­cles do not re­flect the views of The North­lines and it does not as­sume any re­spon­si­bil­ity or li­a­bil­ity for the same).

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