Religious parties are at it again. A nationwide movement to bring down the government, put an end to that oh-so-detestable conspiracy of infidels to transform Pakistan into a godless liberal polity. And the contingent factor? A bill to protect women from violence, harassment and other very noble activities. A wide range of religious parties, from Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F to Hafiz Saeed’s Jamatud Dawa, recently met at the Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) headquarters and threatened to launch an agitation movement similar to the one we witnessed in 1977 and which eventually brought Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government down. A picture in the backdrop of the meeting was something of a giveaway. The JI, which is otherwise known for its stoical outlook, does not use such setting unless it absolutely has to. The purpose seems clear and helps you understand the timing and the rationale behind the warning. It seems clerics are convinced that the sentiment generated as result of Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging can be harnessed to topple the applecart and by doing so revive the failing politics of religious parties.
Sounds like a neat plan but will it succeed? No chance in hell. 2016 is not 1977. Mian Nawaz Sharif is not Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Fazlur Rehman is not his father, Mufti Mahmood. JI’s head, Sirajul Haq, is not Mian Tufail. And today’s Pakistani state is not 1977’s state. Too much has changed since then. But full marks for the wishful scheme. If only wishes were horses. Which they are not and our men on the horsebacks, not quite the conquerors they think they are.
In 1977, the country was still reeling from the pain and shock of losing its eastern wing. Religious political parties like the JI had stood shoulder with the Pakistani state in the then, East Pakistan. Bhutto was secretly despised by the deep state and blamed for the dismemberment of the country. The days of the Afghan Jihad were dawning along with the utilitarian potential of religious parties and Bhutto had himself empowered them through the concessions given in the 1973 Constitution. Globally, these parties and their surrogate militants were about to be extolled as great heroes of humanity. And the PNA, the alliance that went on to agitate, first displayed the common decency of participating in the general elections as a bloc.
Now let’s return to year 2016. Just take a look around. No, seriously, do it. The country has been immersed in a 15 years’ long atrocious war against religious fanaticism. The world considers these parties part of the problem and obviously, no longer the solution. Given that the country is now nuclear has raised the stakes and no one would seriously go down the path of Iraq, Syria or Libya. To the state’s annoyance, most of these parties failed to unequivocally condemn the spectre of religious terrorism. In parties and functions, you can still hear the movers and shakers complaining that thousands of lives could have been saved had these religious parties issued timely edicts declaring suicide bombings un-Islamic. But nobody seriously bothered to do that. And the realisation is only getting stronger?
Only until a few years ago, the elements of state were deeply divided. Punjab, the most populous province of the country, was still in denial. Drone attacks and other border excesses were pushing an angry nation further into denial mode. The deep state was deeply suspicious of Nawaz Sharif and wary of Asif Ali Zardari, the head of the then ruling party. Musharraf and his loyalists were still influential. But then, the PMLN rose to power and along came General Raheel Sharif. While the newly elected prime minister quickly made his readiness to learn from mistakes and work with the army quite plain, the general very carefully and painstakingly dismantled the narrative that rationalised, if not openly supported the acts of terrorism. As the state gained an upper hand against terrorism, people also came out of denial. And then came the National Action Plan. While being far from perfect, it will be helpful for the would-be agitators to go through it and the laws that came into existence as its direct consequence one more time. It will help them realise that the entire scheme to use opposition to recent laws meant to empower women, to harness post-Qadri sentiment and finally, employ them to undercut the state resolve against terrorism, will not succeed and will leave them even more vulnerable. As for the utility of sympathy for Qadri. Well. It will be prudent not to count on it in the long run.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2016.
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