Capitulation of the Pakistani state, once again?

The State in Pakistan is unwilling to accept the reality that the latest protests by the Tehreek e Labbai Pakistan (TLP) demonstrate once again that the state has capitulated to the very forces that it helped create and nurture for the last few decades.

According to veteran human rights activist IA Rahman, the reality is that “through their latest dharna, conservative religio-political forces have tightened their siege of the state of Pakistan. And their next attempt to change the character of the state might be somewhat stronger.”

Tracing the rise of these groups Mr Rahman argues that the “recent buckling down of the state to mobs of the radical right is not the first time it has done so in Pakistan’s history. But the repercussions on the country’s social fabric are cumulative.”

Going back to Partition Rahman asserts that “a number of religious groups called upon the government to replace the democratic foundations of the few-months-old state with theocratic pillars, a proposition the Quaid-i-Azam had repeatedly repudiated before independence and, finally, in his August 1947 speech.”

Further, “Throughout the decades since 1949, the state has been yielding to theocratic forces bit by bit, and the latter have used each concession to press for a further erosion of the democratic character of the state. The custodians of power have chosen to compete with them instead of holding on to the pledges made to the people during the struggle for freedom. … Several instruments have been used by the religio-political lobby to force the state to compromise its principles. The first method was to stoke an anti-Ahmadiyya agitation to persuade the Daultana government of Punjab to bring down the Nazimuddin government at the centre. This was the only time force was used to suppress the challenge to the state, though Khawaja Nazimuddin could stay as prime minister for only a few months more. And the anti-Ahmadiyya agitation for the realisation of theocratic goals continues to this day.

Then, “In 1974 the Bhutto government took the extraordinary step of arming the state with the power to decide who is a Muslim and who is not and claimed to have resolved a 90-year-old problem. The problem is still there and has, indeed, grown bigger. The 1974 decision only enabled General Ziaul Haq to destroy the constitution of 1973 and enforce his illiberal version of Islam. Assuming the leadership of the theocratic lobby, Ziaul Haq created a parallel judicial system, sowed the seeds of sectarianism, fostered intolerance, institutionalised discrimination against minority communities, tried to push society, especially women, back into the mediaeval period, and embroiled Pakistan in the Afghan war — with horrible consequences for our state and society both. As a result, the Muslims of the country have been dividing themselves into sects and subsets, each claiming exclusive power to redefine the state and its citizenship.”

Today, “each attack on the state has had serious repercussions on the country’s social fabric. After each round of clash between the state and its challengers, society has been brutalised and has become more divided, more violent and more intolerant. Take the present case. This time, the challengers had literally no section of the public on their side. But even those who deplored arson and destruction of property, including the religious political parties and individual scholars, did not censure the agitators for their indefensible stand. The public will take its cue from this posture of support to the agitators and that will convince the dharna organisers that they have not lost the battle. It is only a matter of time before they, or their more militant siblings, return to mount a fresh charge against the state.”

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.’”

China Had to Teach Imran a Lesson

For Pakistanis, China is this great friend and the Sino-Pakistani friendship is sweeter than honey, stronger than steel and higher than the Karakoram. The Chinese are not sentimental like us and while they may not openly tweet messages, they have a subtle way of conveying their messages. This was clearly visible during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to China when the Chinese, while reaffirming the strategic relationship did not offer any economic assistance package to Pakistan.

The Prime Minister’s trip to China at a time when there were violent protests in the streets of the country was defended on grounds that “Khan was required to go to China to secure quick money, loans, assistance and investments to shore up the Pakistani economy and state finances.” However, it appears that the trip was decided without discussions on both sides.

The Prime Minister “was already in China for several days when on Saturday, a senior Chinese official, Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, made a remarkable statement. Pledging that China has in principle decided to help Pakistan tide over its current economic difficulties, Mr Kong added: “As for the specific measures to be taken, the relevant authorities of the two sides will have detailed discussions.” On Sunday, a joint statement marking the formal end of Prime Minister Khan’s trip to China appeared to confirm what was stated a day before by Vice Foreign Minister Kong. In the joint statement, there is no assistance package announced, just boilerplate diplomatic language reaffirming the deep strategic ties between China and Pakistan.”

According to an Editorial in Dawn “First, if a formal assistance package had not been already agreed to, what was the urgency for Mr Khan to leave Pakistan in the midst of a national crisis? Surely, Mr Khan was not going to negotiate in person with senior Chinese officials — the Chinese officials have themselves pointed to detailed negotiations needing to take place between the relevant authorities of the countries. Second, and more importantly, given that it is an ongoing issue, why have the “detailed discussions” yet to take place? It is possible that China is driving a hard bargain, but that would not be unexpected. However, did the Pakistani side prepare for hard negotiations? Or have the PTI government’s economic managers once again shown their inexperience and expected that a rescue package will be assembled because of Pakistan’s geopolitical importance or perhaps Prime Minister Khan’s political standing?”

Further, the Chinese in their own way conveyed their displeasure over the PTI’s attacks on CPEC in recent months. According to a news story, Chinese officials “gathered all the statements of Imran Khan and his senior cabinet members about the problems with China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and showed them to him in a high profile meeting. The Pakistani PM was then asked to be careful about such statements in future and was also told to rein in his ministers on the subject.”

Further, in the official statements issued “after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Yi especially mentioned that the officials on both sides should be careful about matters of significance, as reported by Chinese media.”

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.”