Fitna at Faizabad

  • A collective failure

Heavens may fall but judges have to maintain justice and rule of law. I fully support this axiom and also emphasise that court orders have to be implemented regardless of how much we disagree with them. Former PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto set an example by refusing to take a deal and preferred to die for his political position like Socrates from the classical era. But it was ironically Bhutto that succumbed to the religious right and made our constitution depart from the ideals of Charter of Medina and become intolerant towards non-Muslims.

Faizabad fitna, I call it fitna because it is illegal as well as against the spirit and message of Islam, had political rather than religious objectives. This dharna emanated from two court orders. The first court order was the conviction and ultimate hanging of police guard Mumtaz Qadri for the murder of the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer. During trial and after his execution Mumtaz Qadri was promoted as a champion of the finality of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and a hero of the Barelvi community. There are reports that a shrine is being built at his grave who everyone agrees, including judges of Sharia court as I inquired about it, was a cold-blooded murderer. Barelvis that are relatively moderate and tolerant have apparently decided to use him as a political icon to seek political power. The Faizabad fitna is an effort to test their political reach across the country.

The second court order that contributed to the current fitna is the ouster of an elected prime minister using a technicality. Despite many reservations, the order was implemented in letter by PML-N but not in spirit as evident from their political maneuvering to pass an election bill that allowed a disqualified person to hold the office of the party head. Opposition politician Sheikh Rasheed that always uses fitna for his political opportunism found amendment in the oath of a candidate to certify that he firmly believes in the finality of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Sheikh Rasheed incited the public from parliament floor to hold mass protests against it. PML-N that relies heavily on Barelvi vote did not let this pass and unleashed son-in-law of ousted prime minister, Capt Safdar, to make a hate speech from the floor of the assembly that sent a signal to parties like TLYRA that there is sympathy for them in the ruling party. To add fuel to fire the chief minister of Punjab demanded from party head Nawaz Sharif to throw out ministers that approved a change in oath indirectly demanding resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid. This final signal was taken up when TYLRA launched a dharna and Punjab government did not create any hurdles in their path which has now brought us to the point that the whole country is engulfed by it.

Dharna at Faizabad continued for almost two weeks without any apparent success by the government to convince them to end it. Islamabad High Court and Supreme Court stepped in and instructed the interior ministry to end the dharna as soon as possible without using excessive force. The interior ministry planned an operation without a viable communication strategy as well as coordinating it with provincial governments to prevent a backlash and expansion of the issue. They should have set up an information center to provide hourly briefing as well as PEMRA issuing a directive that live coverage will not be allowed. Instead, they banned all channels and social media to set the stage for rumor mongering and fear.

Barelvis that are relatively moderate and tolerant have apparently decided to use him as a political icon to seek political power. The Faizabad fitna is an effort to test their political reach across the country

Two major opposition parties instead of coming to the aid to deal with a fitna decided to use it for political opportunism. PPP issued their usual stale statement that they will not allow derailment of democracy but refused to speak up against religious extremism of TYLRA which is built on the blood of governor of Punjab that was from their party. They decided to remain a party that sells the blood of its leaders rather than use these sacrifices to build a better Pakistan. PTI-L (lotas) as is expected demanded the resignation of interior minister thereby technically supporting TYLRA that is also demanding resignations of more ministers. They have been asking for such resignations since 2013 general elections but have only seen their support decline after failing to impose their demands.

The military has been working hard to convince everyone that they will not interfere in the democratic process but failed to convey this message in their tweets and press releases. As a security expert Chief of Army Staff (COAS) should provide his advice to the PM and cabinet but that advice should remain private. Once again the military decided to send a wrong signal by issuing a public statement that basically endorsed fitna of Faizabad and emboldened them. Not only that, many started celebrating when the military was called in aid of civilian government to contain the fitna. I have no doubt that military will restrict itself to its constitutional mandate but wrong messaging will hurt them so they have to be careful.

The leaders of the Faizabad fitna used foul language and misquoted Quranic verses and Hadith but no significant ulemas condemned them. They rather supported this dharna and put their weight behind them. International coverage of the curse words used in the name of the Prophet PBUH further damaged the image of the true religion of peace.

The bottom line is that fitna of Faizabad is a collective failure of politicians, bureaucracy, ulema, and military. The only institution that delivered on its constitutional mandate was the judiciary. Faizabad dharna is a decisive moment in our history. If democracy is derailed it will embolden the religious extreme right that will demand control of the state even if that means resorting to civil war. It can no longer be allowed that fringe politicians and political parties lay siege to the capital. Any successful dharna requires significant financial and management resources to be successful. It is now important that judicial inquiry is held and people held accountable for all dharnas starting from PAT dharna of 2013, PTI-L dharna of 2014, the lockdown of 2016, and Faizabad Dharna of today. Mosques have been used by exploiters of religion for their nefarious political aims and ambitions. I have attended Jumma khutba in many rural mosques and the message many of these mosques are delivering is distorted and far from the message of the religion. It is important that all mosques are regulated by the ministry of religious affairs and background checks of all Imam’s are done and approved by it. These are short-term measures. In the long term, we have to conduct a thorough review of our 1973 constitution which is colonial in its nature and un-Islamic in its spirit.