Extremism is now more widespread than ever
The sit-in in Islamabad lead by various right-wing religious groups has entered into the third week. Until yesterday there were no signs that the government was serious about removing the protesters by using its constitutional mandate in using the state’s power to deal with the situation. While the protest is about an issue that resonates – for all the right or wrong reasons – with the masses, the lockdown of the country’s capital for more than two weeks shows that religious fanaticism with popular public appeal remains one of the core militant threats that Pakistan will have to deal with comprehensively.
Clearly, such elements appear to have developed monopoly of a state within a state and it’s not the loss of just the ruling party which has been berated and criticized for acting softly – PML-N – but of Pakistan as a whole.
The National Action Plan (NAP) against extremism that was passed about three years ago, stressed on the need for tackling all sorts of militarism including hate speech and glorification of ideas that directly or indirectly promotes radical narratives. Unfortunately, NAP’s actual materialization has proved futile with right-wing Islamist groups openly challenging the state’s writ. On the whole, NAP seemed a serious start to roll-back deep radicalization of Pakistan’s society.
The execution of Mumtaz Qadri was the state’s decision and an open message to all religious groups that the latter will not give away any more space to the former’s brand of radical Islam. However, the worrying fact is that state has not only lost space which it gained after the formulation of the NAP, but appears to be giving in further to right-wing hardliners demands by allowing them more street presence.
Pakistan’s entire institutional base is responsible for what is happening in Islamabad. From the Judiciary, the military to the political elite as a whole is only tapering any remaining semblance of the state’s domestic writ by indulging into bigger games of politicking over such issues.
The government had remained under acute pressure to act against the protesters staging a sit-in in the capital. The fact remains that the ruling party has been weakened to an extent that while it has constitutional mandate to order a forceful removal of the protesters, the leadership of the ruling party is aware that any violence that may result due to such process will come back to haunt them politically.
The lockdown of the country’s capital for more than two weeks shows that religious fanaticism with popular public appeal remains one of the core militant threats that Pakistan will have to deal with comprehensively
The recent controversies related to corruption scandals and alleged sidelining of the ruling party is one of the core reasons that the government remained reluctant to take any harsh step against the protesters. Hence, in the larger scheme of things, this is only going to embolden the right-wing element in the country that they not only remain in control of the mainstream narrative but have also regained their street power which was isolated to an extent about two years ago.
On the other hand, the judiciary’s recent political overreach has been counterproductive to a greater extent. While the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan has asked the government to ensure the removal of protesters from the capital, the courts itself have set a number of precedents that have not only proved disastrous for the judiciary as an institution but are likely to have long-term implications for the country.
On the one hand, the country’s courts ordered the government to remove protesters whose message resonates with a large population of the country, with force. On the other hand, the country’s court set-free the chief of the Jamaat ul Dawa (JUD) who was placed under house arrest by the government a few months ago.
Moreover, the military on the issue of JuD’s chief’s house arrest said that the decision was made in the country’s national interest. The group was also declared a proscribed organization by the state. However, freeing the head of a proscribed organization while asking the government to remove protesters which carry an emotional message that is not only prone to violence but can further isolate an already isolated government with none of the major state institutions showing solidarity, doesn’t set the right precedent.
The military on its part has remained quiet about the issue. A recent message which was released by the ISPR said that while the military was obliged to act upon the government orders, it preferred a peaceful solution to the conflict. Constitutionally, the military cannot express its preferences publicly as to what sort of solution it desires. Indirectly, it sent a message to an already berated government that the military as an institution will not support the governments heavy-handed approach.
Sit-in’s like the one in Islamabad only normalises violent attitudes and further subjugates minorities in the country. It’s ironic that the issue is being presented as a threat to Islam when more than 98 percent population of the country believes in the narrative of Islamabad’s dharna organizers.
Politics over such issues is only going to undermine Pakistan’s efforts to achieve peace in the country. Clearly, it’s Pakistan’s loss; not of a political party or an institution.