Don’t give in to mob rule, say Pakistanis

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?”

Naya Pakistan’s Old Frankenstein Monsters

The cravenness with which the Pakistani state has given in to the protests by the TLP is shocking even by Pakistani standards. Not only were these Frankenstein’s monsters allowed to hold the country to ransom for three days but they openly preached mutiny against the army and every institution of state. And after all this, the response of the state has been to reward them with a committee that will host a Khatm e Nabuwwat Conference.
 
In a recent piece in Dawn, veteran journalist Irfan Hussain stated that “The fanaticism infecting the country is not limited to just a handful of zealots.” Hussain argues, “Apart from the losses to the economy and to innocent people caught up in the madness, state institutions have suffered a massive hit to their reputations. The army is no longer unassailable. The judiciary’s power to punish contempt is now seen as highly selective. And Imran Khan has been exposed as a paper tiger, who growls a mean growl but, when push comes to shove, caves in to extremists.”
 
Thus, “While the military still calls the shots, it seems to have run into a brick wall in the form of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the ultra-extremist outfit that recently brought the country to a standstill for three days without let or hindrance from the state. For anybody to openly preach mutiny against the army chief without prompt action from Pakistan’s most powerful and respected institution is unprecedented. It is also a sign of weakness, and signals a shift in the country’s power dynamics.”
 
Further, the judiciary: “After all, it was the Supreme Court’s honourable decision to free the unfortunate Aasia Bibi from an absurd blasphemy accusation which has ruined her life that brought thousands of TLP supporters out on the streets. But when the leaders of the TLP announced that the three judges who had declared her innocent should be murdered, there wasn’t much noise from the Supreme Court. And mind you, this is the same institution that has repeatedly come down very hard on politicians for contempt of court.”
 
And finally, “As for politicians, we have the odd — but predictable — spectacle of Prime Minister Imran Khan promising to confront the rioters with the might of the state, only to beat a swift retreat and sign an ‘agreement’ that was more of an article of surrender by a subservient authority. This should surprise nobody who has followed the trajectory of Khan’s rise to power. He has never made a secret of his sympathy for religious extremists: not for nothing is his nickname Taliban Khan.”
 
Former editor of Dawn, Abbas Nasir asked if Pakistan has what it takes to stop these monsters: “THAT extremism is an existential crisis for Pakistan has been all too clear these past few days as has been the fact that the blowback of years of using and pandering to the obscurantists’ vision of our faith is upon us.”
 
Nasir lays down what many of us know: “Years of indoctrination have meant that intolerance and bigotry have taken root in society. So much so that those clamouring for action, myself included, are not even sure if the apparatus that is deployed for such exercises has the requisite institutional discipline and unity and belief in what is actually right to deliver. Yes, you will say if this is not possible we might as well call it a day and surrender to the hordes. Easier said than done. Are you and I prepared to hand over the future of our children and our children’s children to such insanity? The answer has to be no. If that is the case, we must understand that ground lost over the past decades can only be reclaimed one inch at a time. It will be a long-drawn fight but one that has to be fought with all that we have.”

Appeasement Only Encourages the Extremist Mobs

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 statementIt 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.’”

In Naya Pakistan State surrenders faster than in Purana Pakistan

The jubilation felt by many liberal and progressive Pakistanis and others around the world at the acquittal of Asia Bibi by the Supreme Court of Pakistan was shortlived. The monsters created and nurtured by our Deep state came back to bite us immediately and we had to witness the surrender, once again, of state authority before the Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) of Barelwi cleric, Khadim Hussain Rizvi.
 
According to Raza Rumi, Editor of The Daily Times, the “cost of nurturing religious extremists is way too high” and warning signs are here for those who are watching and listening. 
 
In his latest piece, Cyrial Almeida, asserts that what we are witnessing today is not a state that is colluding with extremists but one that is on the defensive and cannot do anything. “The state is on the defensive and the extremist is in the ascendant. The two are linked — even though the extremist/ terrorist/ militant is of different stripes and sects and often at war with each other. The state as colluder everyone is more or less familiar with, but since 2001-2004 the state’s defensiveness has taken a new turn.”
 
We witnessed this in the recent protests led by the TLP that started immediately after the verdict was announced. “The protests were violent in nature and attacked the Army chief while asking other generals to step in. Worse, the judges were threatened and one of the leading clerics asked the domestic staff working with the judges to kill them!”
 
The second day of protests, road blockades, and violence “ended with an agreement with the TLP assuring the protestors that a review petition would not be opposed and that legal action would be initiated to place Asia Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL). The latter point of agreement was not just bizarre but blatantly illegal. For how can citizens be barred from leaving the country when there is no case against them? In fact, by placating extremist passions, the state of Pakistan has even overlooked the grave threat that the [majoritarian] sectarian mobilisation now poses. In other words, a non-Muslim Pakistani even when acquitted by the highest court must face the mobs.”
 
As Rumi points out, “The TLP is a force to reckon with for it enjoys a much wider support base and the majority of Sunni Muslims in Pakistan adhere to the Barelvi subsect. And blasphemy is an emotive issue that also fits into the larger narrative of global Muslim injury by the West.”
 
This is not the first time that a militant Barelwi organization has brought a government to a standstill. In November 2017, “it prevailed in inserting the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat issue in the election campaign. Because the PMLN government had hanged Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of the former Governor of the Punjab, it found itself on the back-foot.”
 
TLP’s power has grown since the July 2018 elections when, “the TLP managed to reduce the PMLN majority by 10-20 seats; participating in the polls and securing two provincial seats. Moreover, it bagged more than 2.2 million votes to emerge as the third largest electoral force in the Punjab. Even bigger than the mainstream PPP; which was once a popular in the province.”
 
As an Editorial in Dawn stated, “Pakistan, it would seem, was a country with no real leadership while chaos and anarchy spread in the streets once again. The repercussions could quickly manifest themselves in the days ahead.”

Pakistan’s Never-ending Clampdown

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.”