The state cannot let its writ be challenged by fundamentalist goons again
The Pakistani state officially termed this year’s republic day as the day which marked a new era of peace and prosperity in the country. However, behind the dazzling show of military hardware and cosmetic showcasing of internal unity and stability, there lies a real challenge which has the potential to shatter the country’s peaceful future.
A day after Pakistan celebrated its 78th Resolution Day, the leader of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) warned the state to implement all sections of the Islamabad Agreement or prepare to face another countrywide agitation in the coming weeks. Moreover, the warning which was shared on the organization’s Twitter account also said the military which brokered the deal between the government and the group didn’t fulfill its promise of implementing the agreement. Presenting a number of more demands, the leadership of the TLYR demanded that the state – the government and the military alike – should remove ‘Dr. Abdul Salam Chair’ from all universities across Pakistan. Rather, the group demanded that Chairs of Islamic scholars should become part of universities rather than Ahmadi’s and non-Muslims.
The warning from TLYR has come in the wake of an ongoing inquiry about the former’s protest in Islamabad’s vicinity of Faizabad last year which virtually crippled the entire country. An anti-terrorism court in Islamabad recently issued the group’s leader Kahdim Hussain Rizvi’s arrest warrant after the latter’s inability to appear in the court. Clearly, the state was taken by surprise by the ability of an unknown individual to mobilize masses around a controversial message which has long been used by the country’s ideological and political elite alike for electoral and other political gains.
The direct ultimatums of TLYR ‘s leadership to the state and its institutions reflect that groups such as the former have not only successfully radicalized popular public views on issues of Islam but have also gained the ability to challenge the state’s writ whenever they decide to do so. TLYR’s last year’s protest in Islamabad sent an alarming message not only to Pakistanis who desire a peaceful future for them and their children but also to the international world, clearly stating that a state within a state had been created. The state which was being projected by TLYR clearly believed in a Pakistan which is intolerant, apathetic of its minorities where radical groups with public support can shut down the state within a matter of minutes.
The state needs to send a clear message that monopoly over violence and the power to implement policies remains with the elected representatives, not with radical elements of society
It’s clear that true peace and prosperity will not come through the reflection of big parades and by projecting and associating the state’s soft power with military hardware. Rather, true peace in Pakistan will come when the state makes an effort to promote tolerance, implements the constitution in its true form, depoliticizes the working of various state institutions, discourages and undermines radical groups’ narratives and roles in society and unites the masses above, across and apart, from religious affiliations.
Last year’s Islamabad sit-in which brought the country to a standstill not only showed that Islamist groups which appeal to the masses radical views have the ability to divide the state internally but also manifested that the state’s internal institutional divisions were offering such organizations more fire and fodder to carry on their campaigns of instability and radicalization. The problem is not just with TLYR and its message of hate; rather the problem is with how masses have reacted to the message of groups like TLYR which promote an ultra-conservative version of Islam where minority Islamic and non-Islamic opinions don’t have any space.
There are three main challenges which the state as a unitary actor needs to focus on if it’s truly interested in a peaceful Pakistan. First, as things stand now, there shouldn’t be any compromise with radical goons such as the leadership of the TLYR. If the state makes another agreement and gives into the demands of an extremist group in the coming weeks, on one should hope for a Pakistan which is essentially peaceful. Second, the state institutions in Pakistan need to set aside their own scuffles and project the image of a state which stands together to face such challenges. Internal institutional divisions only offer space to such groups. Third, efforts should be made to bring together all sections of the ideological elite to undermine the support base of such groups. Divisions across ideological lines which are promoted and encouraged by the state only end up weakening it. Lastly, the state needs to send a clear message that monopoly over violence and the power to implement policies remains with the elected representatives, not with radical elements of society.
If the state is truly interested in a Pakistan that is peaceful, prosperous and offers freedom to people of all faiths then we need a Pakistan that respects and celebrates contributions of people like Dr Abdus Salam.