Letting extremists run amuck

ISLAMABAD: Oct 26 – Leaders and activists of religious groups chant slogans during Caravan e Khatam-e-Nabuwat on Islamabad Highway

Busy tending to the master’s graft cases

There is a growing demographic of angry, extremist, narrow-minded men desperately looking for an outlet to vent frustrations over how their perceived sanctity of religion is being tarnished by the state, liberals and moderate Muslims. Khadim Hussain Rizvi is one of many bigoted uncouth opportunistic instigators who use these individuals to their advantage.

Rizvi does this under the banner of Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, or TLY, that was formed specifically to resist any changes in the blasphemy law, keep alive and praise the “legacy” of Mumtaz Qadri — who was hanged for the murder of Salman Taseer — and a general demand to have Sharia Law in Pakistan.

These days Rizvi and his cohorts have choked the traffic coming into Islamabad by blocking the Faizabad Interchange, the main link between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, forcing commuters to take inconvenient detours causing traffic to go haywire in the twin cities.

Only last year the TLY laid siege to Islamabad’s D-Chowk undeterred for three days and disbanding only after getting assurances from the government that the blasphemy law would not be amended, their arrested members released and some even removed from the fourth schedule. This particular sit-in by these so-called ‘Saviours of Islam’ is in its second week with no signs of abating.

The demand to end this latest challenge to the writ of the state — writ that is seldom exercised in such instances – is to sack and take strict action against Law Minister Zahid Hamid and other individuals who allegedly intentionally omitted the clause of the ‘Finality of Prophethood’ from the Elections Bill 2017.

Apologies have been furnished, inquiries conducted and all erroneous omissions corrected. But that simply does not suffice when it comes to religion (only Islam) in this country. In such circumstances it is the mullah who cries the loudest and longest that wins this ridiculous, dangerous and never-ending competition of who is the bigger and better Muslim.

Rizvi has a particularly vile and repulsive way of expressing himself. He openly spews hate against minorities, disparages and undermines state institutions and security forces including the military and even took a jab at Abdul Sattar Edhi’s philanthropy going as far to compare the attendance at his funeral to Mumtaz Qadri’s.

Protesters of TLY beating up policemen at the Khatam-e-Nabuwat rally during one of many scuffles that have taken place.

Such sit-ins do require a degree of finesse in terms of their handling by the state – it’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The government has correctly decided not to accept TLY’s demands but has also exhausted all attempts to negotiate and reason with the organisers of the rally.

This government had no qualms about using rubber bullets against protesters of the PTI during their most recent sit-in. It has even used live bullets killing over a dozen innocent workers of Tahir-ul-Qadri’s PAT in broad daylight in Model Town Lahore.

In comparison there has been no such use of force against the TLY protestors barring a few scuffles with the capital police. TLY does not have any NOC from the relevant authorities and the IHC has already placed a ban on rallies held anywhere but Parade Ground area.

The leniency extended to religious party rallies has to do with politics more than anything else. PML-N’s shift from being a conservative right-wing party towards a relatively more moderate right-of-center one has cost it voters, voters that parties like the TLY have gladly absorbed. TLY came third in the NA-120 by-election while the PML-N’s lead was narrower as compared to 2013.

Perhaps under the current circumstances in an attempt to not lose more voters from this base the PML-N feels it is best to tread carefully. That the capital is under lockdown for the past ten days for the sake of possible political gains at the expense of the general public’s convenience is unfortunate.

Charged protesters at the rally.

Opposition parties are milking the current situation as well. The PTI, not one to shy away from political point scoring by taking any stance that furthers its agenda, is supporting the TLY’s protest. Prominent yet unelectable member of the PTI, Abrar ul Haq, said that TLY’s demands were completely justified. Sheikh Rasheed, member of the Difa-e-Pakistan council, is of the same opinion.

Meanwhile, half the cabinet is embroiled in debating Nawaz Sharif’s innocence in the Panama Papers case on the media, attending his NAB (National Accountability Bureau) court appearances, working out his legal defence strategy and possible re-entry into politics come 2018, not to mention efforts to convince Sharif not to take a hard line against at least one institution and go easier on the other.

Getting control of the capital and out of the hold of zealots therefore seems to be quite low on the list of priorities of this government. What is more, ministers from the PML-N are including the rally in the list of detrimental moves perpetrated by the powers that be to hurt the ruling party after a systematic and premeditated removal of Nawaz from active politics.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi at the rally.

TLY is unlikely to budge and will wait this out to maximise what it can get out of this inept government that is at loggerheads with institutions and has to deal with an opposition that is breathing down its neck at all times while the people of Islamabad and Rawalpindi continue to suffer.

The biggest winner out of all this is the menace of extremism, more potent than ever, rearing its ugly head when, where and how it sees fit. The war against it will be long and hard-fought, requiring a multifaceted approach including reforming the education system and providing a counter narrative to the sort of venom being spewed daily by the likes of Rizvi.

Allowing a group of extremists to run amuck only validates them further and their intolerance to fester. It is about time the greater interest of the country take precedence over the petty political squabbling of the ruling elite.