Power, perception and a preemptive state | Pakistan Today

Power, perception and a preemptive state

The state seems to have learned its lesson; it’s time for a preemptive posturing

Reportedly, the leaders of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) have been detained by security agencies in Punjab. Moreover, according to available information, the government is carrying out a countrywide crackdown against the group’s workers to thwart any mass protests in an effort to paralyze the country again. The news of the ongoing crackdown against the group comes as the latter was planning to hold another mass protest in Islamabad on November 25th. TLP was planning to hold a rally to mark the day of last year’s TLP protest in Islamabad which turned violent and resulted in the death of a number of people.

For the past few months, the government has been criticized for its inaction against the group that has on various occasions heralded serious remarks against the government and another state institution in an effort to undermine their legitimacy by driving public opinion in its favor. This has been noted in Pakistan and elsewhere: Pakistan may have fought a commendable war against extremists, the war against passive extremism is not over yet. And the government’s preemptive action in terms of detaining the leadership of the TLP and its workers across the country before another protest campaign breaks out points toward a new policy direction. From here on in, the group is going to find it very difficult to have open space or open streets where it can flex its muscles at the expense of the state. On the other hand, one needs to ask this question: Is the detainment of the TLP a temporary move or in the coming weeks or months we will see a more consolidated effort to isolate the group permanently?

Regardless, the arrest of the TLP’s leadership is a commendable move which sends a clear message to everyone that extremism will not be tolerated. The action against the TLP should have started a long time ago. The entire episode of the past couple of years where the government, irrespective of any party affiliation, has been brought to surrender by mobs doesn’t send the right message internationally. While we talk about winning a war against extremism globally in an effort to convince the international community that Pakistan is a country which is all about resilience and rising above challenges, the lockdown of capitals and decrees against the state institutions and its leadership does everything but convincing to build a case in Pakistan’s favor.

Moreover, from here onward, TLP and its allies are going to find it difficult when it comes to looking for slipups by the government which has fed into their right-wing agendas and narratives.

Globally, the way governing systems are structured, one variable in the form of a State retains legitimacy to exercise power and use force when necessary to ensure that order and stability remain in place. Countries with different political and security backgrounds respond differently to emerging domestic and international challenges. But one thing which remains constant is the ability of the state to exercise power. This is what keeps a country afloat. Mobs and violent groups, passive or active, need to know that they are going to face the wrath of the state if they challenge it.

To argue that the Pakistani state was not aware of the TLP’s political challenge wouldn’t be accurate in its entirety. As I said before, politics varies from state to state. Accordingly, individual states take action according to their respective law and order situations which consequently dictate policies. At times, the state has to wait for the right time to launch an action against mobs and elements that stand to gain at its expense. While many have argued that the last agreement of the PTI’s government with the TLP was a failure at the part of the government, the circumstances and prevailing situation demanded that such a course take place: any action against thousands of protesters who had been manipulated into doing politicking over a religious issue may have turned violent if heavy force had been employed.

Apparently a plan of action has been put in place. Now the state is going to be preemptive rather than give space to the group – TLP – to gain momentum on the streets. Moreover, from here onward, TLP and its allies are going to find it difficult when it comes to looking for slipups by the government which has fed into their right-wing agendas and narratives.

One can pray and hope that the course of action which the government in consultation with various state institutions has taken concerning disallowing the TLP to dictate the state, remains in a place as a uniform action. At this juncture, Pakistan cannot afford politics over the issue as this will only feed into elements that want to see a weakened and destabilized Pakistan. This is something which has scared everyone who wants a peaceful future for Pakistan and millions of people living in the country.

It’s time to stand united for a prosperous and tolerant Pakistan!

Umair Jamal

Umair Jamal is a graduate of the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. He is a research fellow with the Centre for Governance and Policy. He regularly writes for various media outlets. He can be contacted on Twitter: @UJAmaLs.