If you want to see what ‘playing with fire’ literally means, just look at what’s been happening in Pakistan in the last three weeks. As for the last three days, what has happened is not just mind-boggling but has also left one feeling cold and nauseous – literally. Decades of terrorist attacks around us may have made one immune to violence but there are some incidents that just leave a mark on you permanently. The way the state of Pakistan capitulated before the mullah brigade on Monday is one such incident, which will also have long-term repercussions not just for the country but our society as a whole.
For the past three weeks, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) held the capital hostage as a result of its sit-in at the Faizabad inter-change that connects the Pakistani capital Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The Punjab government, headed by deposed Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, gave safe passage to the protestors to reach Islamabad (this was confirmed by the Punjab government spokesman on Geo TV).
TLY’s protests started as a result of a minor amendment in an oath pertaining to Khatam-e-Nabuwat (Finality of Prophethood) clause in the Elections Act 2017. The clause was later restored to its original form but by that time enough politics had been played on this sensitive issue and Pakistan’s Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid was in hot water. Led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a man who hurls Punjabi abuses in his sermons as a new normal, the TLY brigade would just not budge from the capital despite court orders. The leaders at the protest were abusing the government, the judiciary, politicians, the media – basically any and everyone.
The PML-N government, which was already on the defensive after the ouster of its prime minister earlier in July, was not willing to take any action against a frenzied mob. The Islamabad High Court ordered the administration to remove the protestors using “any means necessary”. The government tried to negotiate with the agitators. They failed. On Saturday, an operation was launched by the police and the armed constabulary against the protestors. The operation failed, badly. The police was not prepared while the protestors were. This led to several protests in other parts of the country, including Lahore and Karachi.
In the midst of all this, the spokesperson of the armed forces, Major General Asif Ghafoor, tweeted: “COAS (Chief of Army Staff) telephoned PM. Suggested to handle Isb (Islamabad) Dharna peacefully avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest & cohesion.”
This tweet not just undermined the government but also gave an impression that the military was in no mood to assist the government. As political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi succinctly put it, “The army issued a tweet, unbelievable in its brazenness and audacity, equating a bunch of criminals and the government – whilst distancing the army from it all.”
On the one hand, the protestors – who were far less in numbers than the police conducting the operation – were ‘winning’ and on the other, the military had all but told the government to sort this out. In panic mode, the government took most private news channels off-air due to their live coverage of the operation and also blocked social media (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc). While news channels and social media websites were restored the next day, the damage had already been done. The operation was called off. There were rumours that the federal law minister would be resigning under pressure.
On Monday morning, Zahid Hamid handed in his resignation to the prime minister. It was accepted. He paid the price for something he was not responsible for. He also paid the price for the state’s total lack of guts to tackle the mullah brigade. A deal was negotiated between the government and the protestors – a deal that gave everything to the protestors and nothing to the state, a deal that ensured the freedom of those protestors who were arrested for committing violence against the state; in fact, the state would be paying for damages to public and private property. The guarantor of this deal was none other than the army itself.
Once the law minister resigned, the deal was officially signed and the Islamabad sit-in was called off by Khadim Hussain Rizvi.
The signed document has sent chills down the spine of every sane person in Pakistan. It was nothing but a complete breakdown and failure of the state. Nothing but complete surrender. We have now surrendered ourselves to the whims of a religious mob. We have surrendered ourselves to those who issue fatwas against their detractors. This essentially means that the state has lost to extremists. This is not just a setback. This is the beginning of the end.