Pakistanis must stand up and not give in to individuals like Pir Afzal Qadri or Khadim Hussain Rizvi and groups like Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). This is the message that leading Pakistani activists and intellectuals are trying to put out.
In his latest column Pervez Hoodbhoy states: “Pakistan must firmly reject the rule of religiously charged mobs. Instead it should aspire towards becoming part of civilised, cosmopolitan world society. Surrender is not an option.”
Hoodbhoy refers to the “inflammatory video filmed just after the Aasia Bibi verdict” that “received well over five million views. Therein you can watch the TLP leadership calling for the murder of the three Supreme Court judges who dismissed blasphemy charges against Aasia; hear that officers of the Pakistan Army should revolt against COAS Gen Qamar Bajwa; see the country’s prime minister being called a “yehudi bacha” (‘Jewish child’); and listen to the call for overthrowing the PTI government.”
As Hoodbhoy rightly points out: “Had a call for murder and mutiny been made by any other members of Pakistani society, unimaginable punishment would have been meted out. Similarly for other countries: in the United States instigators of bloody insurrection would be locked up for years; in Iran or Saudi Arabia they would be hanged or beheaded; and in China they would mysteriously disappear. And in India? Similar, I suppose. A similar open call for murder and mutiny by other Pakistanis would meet extreme punishment. But we in Pakistan are apparently nicer, kinder people. Our normally voluble, judiciary suddenly lost its voice. Unlike with errant politicians, the Supreme Court did not dock TLP leaders for contempt of court. The ever-vigilant ISPR also somehow missed hearing the call for mutiny against the army’s top leadership. Instead, it pleaded for “an amicable and peaceful resolution” of the Aasia Bibi matter because it “does not want the army dragged into the matter”. And the prime minister? Against the ‘enemies of the state’ his fighting words and body style initially drew wide approbation. Some liberals bravely termed this Imran’s finest hour. But the hour lasted an hour and no more; what started with a roar ended with a whimper. The TLP’s flaccid half-apology was accepted, ignoring the lives lost and property damaged by the rioters.”
Further, “The state’s reluctance to confront clerical power makes its earlier promises ring hollow. Take, for instance, madressah reform. Forgotten is the anti-terrorism National Action Plan that called for financial audits of madressahs, uncovering funding sources, curriculum expansion and revision, and monitoring of activities. That’s a dead duck. Try auditing TLP-associated madressahs.”
The question that Pakistan’s security establishment “must now ask itself hard questions: has its mainstreaming of religious extremism gone too far? Can extremists actually be moderated by bringing them into the political fold? On the political chessboard, was it a good move to try balance ‘hard’ Deobandi power with ‘soft’ Barelvi power?”
Seventy-two hours of street violence perpetrated by the Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan and its allies has demonstrated that in Naya Pakistan the state is not only willing to condone large scale violence by mobs but it appears as though the Deep State even encourages such violence.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released a statement “It is a travesty that injustice should have followed so closely on the heels of justice – in this case, a verdict issued by the highest court in the land. Aasia Bibi has been thrust from acquittal to uncertainty, fear for her life and fear for the lives of her family. What was hailed as a landmark judgement and a human rights victory unraveled into a situation in which there was no distinction between the peaceful right to dissent and the thuggery of mobs who claimed a ‘moral right’ to wreak public havoc, to attack citizens and law enforcement personnel, to wantonly destroy property and to incite hatred against religious minorities.”
Further, “‘HRCP is seriously concerned at how quickly the government capitulated to the demands of extremist-led mobs, despite its earlier vow to preserve the writ of the state. The TLP called openly for murder and mutiny, made a mockery of the rule of law and fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution, and appears to have assumed all the while that its methods were legitimate means of dissent. This cuts to the heart of the democratic process – a process in which the TLP and other religious-political parties took part and are therefore obligated to respect. HRCP strongly urges the government to take an unequivocal and consistent stand against groups and individuals that have no qualms about employing violent, extra constitutional means to have their way.’”
The international media and global human rights organizations have a negative view of Pakistan primarily because of our abysmal human rights, censorship and clampdown on the press and on freedom of expression. As if things could not get any worse Pakistan’s recent crackdown on international aid agencies has led to a pushback from many Western countries. 18 international agencies “most of them working on human rights issues, were ordered to leave Pakistan over recent months after being refused registration.”
According to the wire service Reuters, diplomats of many Western countries including the European Union and the United States in a recent letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan “expressed “serious concerns” about this crackdown on aid groups. This letter was a follow up to a similar letter sent in September to the Interior Ministry.
The letter to the Prime Minister stated that “the groups did not get a proper explanation for why the government had ordered them out and there was a “lack of transparency” in the registration process.” The diplomats stated: “We are writing to express serious concerns with respect to recent developments. Restriction on civil society risks affecting Pakistan’s international reputation as a genuine partner on human developments and undermining confidence of the international donor and business community.”
Further, the letter said that the impact of expelling the groups would be “significant”, and would imperil some of development goals championed by Khan. “Restricting INGO operations will affect millions of poor Pakistanis. In 2017 alone, the INGO sector reached 34 million people with humanitarian relief and development assistance. This will mean thousands of Pakistanis employed by INGOs and local partners may lose their jobs.”
Pakistan, however, “has long viewed foreign-funded aid groups with suspicion and many members of the powerful military believe that Western countries often use such groups as a cover for spying.”