Supporters of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, a religious political party, protest the Pakistani Supreme Court’s acquittal of a Christian woman facing execution for blasphemy. PHOTO: AFP

In Naya Pakistan, we give great speeches… but that’s about it

Can we in good conscience justify PTI's handling of this crisis? If yes, please outline how one exits Naya Pakistan

Blogs Desk November 06, 2018
It will not be an overstatement to suggest that the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict acquitting Aasia Bibi on the charges of blasphemy against her was a historic moment for Pakistan, one that will not be forgotten anytime soon, but perhaps for all the wrong reasons.

The entire country was brought to a lock down once again, as anti-state actors (they cannot simply be called protestors) questioned and protested a verdict reached by a bench of judges deeply familiar with the intricacies of the case and actually qualified to judge them. As the country waited for the government of Naya Pakistan to respond – for this chaos was indeed a litmus test to witness the change we have heard a lot about – it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the nation was pleasantly surprised and ecstatic after seeing the premier’s clear and bold stance – that the writ of the state cannot be challenged. He called out the “small faction” (heavy shade thrown) and clarified that they do not represent Islam, and that their disruptive behaviour and open threats will not be tolerated. And yet, what did the government do, if not tolerate?

Imran Khan presented himself as the macho saviour of governance, the ‘John Rambo’ of Pakistan who would personally go out and fight miscreants who challenged every single institution in the country. We witnessed some strong words that day, and immediately felt this unknown, unidentified feeling emerge in our hearts – let’s call it hope, from a politician. What followed was quite anticlimactic but should not have been surprising, and quickly doused that shimmer of hope we felt as a nation. What the state said may have been powerful, but what it did can only be labelled a capitulation to the demands of extremists.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s supporters declared judges wajibul qatal and threatened their lives, and also openly challenged the Chief of Army Staff of a nuclear-armed nation where the army is the single most powerful institution. In light of these minor transgressions, the state responded appropriately by basically giving the anti-state actors whatever they demanded. The state did not object to a review petition, and agreed to start the proceeding to place Aasia on the exit control list (ECL), in a way contradicting the verdict of the court which had declared her not guilty. They then followed this by agreeing to investigate any “martyrdoms” caused during the protests and releasing anyone arrested after October 30th. However, the true sacrifice was made by the other party, who agreed to apologise for any “inconvenience” they may have caused.

After signing the agreement and bringing the protests to a halt, the state began a crackdown against those who damaged public and private property, booking hundreds. The damage to our emotional state and the government’s credibility is too heavy to account for.

The government then bravely tackled Rizvi’s... Twitter account? They reached out to Twitter to remove the account (as well as a subsequent account made by him), which did get removed eventually. But how can Rizvi be silenced on Twitter but allowed to roam free on the streets in a state where journalists are summoned by courts and democratic leaders are pushed aside for going against certain institutions, when he has openly attacked the very same? How has he not been arrested? Or been summoned by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP)?

Now, after this surrender to extremists, the security of Aasia, her lawyer and her family is also a matter of grave concern. In fact, her lawyer has already left the country, stating that his life was in danger and he has to be safe so he can continue fighting for Aasia. Fawad Chaudhry claims all measures will be taken to ensure Aasia’s safety, but he had also claimed the government would not go back on Atif Mian’s appointment, so his words should be taken with a grain of salt and a bottle of aspirin. The lives of the judges who attached their names to this decision are also under threat; seemingly no one in the country is safe except for the “miscreants” who held it hostage.

The government is seemingly disappointed by its own behaviour as well. Shireen Mazari called what happened “appeasement”, while Chaudry’s press conference after the capitulation contained that same aggressive narrative that the premier’s speech did earlier, calling out the very same people it visibly surrendered to. He stated that the agreement was only to pacify so the crackdown could begin, but why try to pacify extremists to begin with? What exactly is the ruling party’s position on this? We don’t have a clue, but it appears the party itself doesn’t have a clue either. Moreover, talking about pacifying the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) publicly seems absurd, considering the party is aware of the existence of the media and will be ready to come out once again if the government does not keep its word. Stealthy, Chaudry is not.

Additionally, no one has forgotten that Imran was once upon a time the person who threatened to shut Pakistan down. Now that he goes on to warn these extremists against it, maybe he should be reminded of his hypocrisy in the past. He mentioned that this small tabqa is only interested in increasing its vote bank and has no intention of serving Islam. How the tables have turned! After all, the PTI has infamously appeased to right-wing groups before. Imran using the matter of Khatam-e-Nabuwat to incite hatred is what led to Ahsan Iqbal being shot, all so he could divert the PML-N vote bank in his favour.

Almost a year ago, when Faizabad was blocked by the same group, PTI supported their agenda and pandered away. Had the PTI stood by the former government then and called for action against these anti-state actors, we may not have been facing these extremists again.

Now that his own government is staring down the barrel of the gun, he is being true to his name – U-turn Khan. Since he was so determined when he claimed he would not let this country forget the Khatam-e-Nabuwat issue, maybe he is as guilty as those enemies on the road, who threatened this riyasat. So yes, while Imran’s speech is perhaps unprecedented, so was appointing Mian, and we all saw how quickly the government crumbled under pressure then.

Pakistan has been plagued with right-wing extremists who have dictated the law in this country for far too long. For instance, after the verdict, a right-wing leader can be openly seen calling out to the household help of the judges involved in the case to go and kill them and be recognised as martyrs of Islam. One has to wonder how strong such fringe groups have to be if they openly and publicly threaten arguably the most powerful institutions of the country without any visible consequences.

But it should have never come to this. The people now openly giving out death threats and spreading fear should have been shut down a long time ago. When they supported Mumtaz Qadri and made a shrine to honour him, this behaviour was openly embraced by the current ruling party. It is very apparent that the people who claim to be the guardians of this country fear these groups, which is why they let them get away with anything and everything. We let them compete in elections and vote for them in such numbers that they become the fifth most successful party in the elections.

What did we think would happen as we continued giving these extremists and their hate speech validation? It is absolutely unfathomable that even questioning the Dam Fund in any way can land one in jail for treason but openly calling people to murder judges in their house will bring you to the negotiation table. When will this country wake up and smell the coffee?

The TLP also holds a 100% success rate when it comes to protests – everything they’ve demanded in their protests, they’ve been handed on a silver platter. When the former government wanted to stop the protests at Faizabad and not give in to the demands of this group, the Army refused, saying it could not use force against its own people. Instead, they were handed Rs1,000 for reasons that remain unknown. Additionally, some suggested that the PTI was only in talks with the right-wing to pander for votes, not because they would give in to their demands later. Fast forward to the future, the PTI initially stood by Mian, only to ask him to resign from the Economic Advisory Council in what can only be termed a humiliating submission to the demands of the TLP. It took them three days to give in to the demands of the mob despite being backed by their institutions and their people.

These “protests” were in no way about defending religion. This was all simply about keeping people fearful, spreading hooliganism, and trying to preserve Qadri’s legacy of killing people on a whim because you feel they have committed a crime. For the longest time, these extremists took solace in the fact they could get away with almost anything, and from the looks of it, they did get away. For people who still think that the government actually negotiated, please do not be fooled; one only needs to look at the agreement to realise this was a total surrender.

This will clearly not be the end of it. We keep backing down and encourage these people to come out on the roads every time they disagree. They would burn, destroy and threaten only to apologise later and go scot-free. While the government has said that they would compensate every citizen who suffered during the protest, it does not take away from the fact that this is a superficial gesture. How long will the government keep on compensating? And from what fund? We're constantly reminded every day of the economic crisis in the form of price hikes, so where will the compensation money come from?

We have clearly established that these anti-state actors will be back again in the future. Should they not think about the root cause? Or is the money being borrowed from Saudi Arabia going to be used to help our people recover from the government’s lack of spine?

Do we approve of the kind of justice these mobs claim to deliver? Can we in good conscience justify the government’s handling of this crisis? If yes, please outline how one opts out of Naya Pakistan; sane voices clearly don’t belong here.

Blogs Desk The Express Tribune Blogs desk.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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salman | 1 year ago | Reply | Recommend What kind of parent names their kid Blogs? dude, at least put your name on the article :)
Patwari | 1 year ago This blog is from a group people who are in charge of the blog section. It is not one person. Now, then, with people like you reading ET. The prognosis is bad.
numbersnumbers | 1 year ago | Reply | Recommend Successive Pakistani governments have developed an allergy to potentially fatal bad press blowback when dealing with religious extremists! President Musharraf discover that fact after dealing with those Red Mosque holligans, so no party is willing to go down that path again!
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