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April 1, 2016
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Government under self-siege

Opinion

April 1, 2016

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Collect enough people, march on to the capital, hurl vile abuses and horrendous threats, present your demands and threaten peoples’ lives, and essentially reject rule of law – all in the name of Islam. And then be assured that the government will respond with trepidation and fear, become confused and paralysed and finally put you on a pedestal as high as that of an elected law-making body in conceding to at least some of the demands that you make.

According to the seven-point statement, the group will give the government recommendations on how to implement Shariah, the government will not amend the blasphemy law, the government will review actions including a list of those included in the Fourth Schedule, arrests of and cases lodged against allies of the protestors etc. The government now insists that this statement is only an understanding, no more, but the protestors went back claiming victory, indeed one they may try to use again to rally crowds.

Disarmed by the use of religion by these crowds the government took to decision-making using the informal route. Various influentials of the Barelvi group including the owner of Bridgestone company and Mufti Muneeb were used by the government to negotiate with the protestors.

The government has clearly demonstrated that whoever invokes Islam – whenever and however – the government will suspend all considerations of rule of law. Those who may deserve to be tried for violating law will instead be turned into interlocutors.

For example if you are Pir Afzal Qadri and your name reportedly is already in the Fourth Schedule but you are leading a crowd that is abusing, accusing and threatening in the name of Islam – you will still arrive in the heart of the capital of nuclear Pakistan and paralyse all those around you with fear. Pir Afzal Qadri was the person who from the stage subsequently incited violence against the prime minister, Justice Khosa and the army chief and virtually issued death threats against them.

On March 27, in Islamabad it was the state of Pakistan that was helpless as crowds supporting Mumtaz Qadri – the man who assassinated Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer – were advancing from Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi towards Islamabad. The protestors, led by some old and some new, some known and others less known religio-political outfits, were protesting against the government and the Supreme Court for dispensing justice in the Salmaan Taseer murder case.

They were demanding that the government official declare the murderer a martyr, re-open the Qadri case in the way Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s case was re-opened, guarantee no change in the blasphemy law, hang an alleged blasphemer whose case is still in court and sack all Ahmadis serving in government departments.

The organisers of this protest had taken a vow from the protestors to not desert the protest under any circumstances. The federal and Punjab governments knew what was planned and what the demands of the protestors were. Even prior to the actual protest the government had been provided intelligence information about the intent of the protestors.

Law enforcement becomes a joke this way in out country. We saw that on March 27. As an angry and violent crowd from Liaquat Bagh, led by threat-hurling men sitting atop a truck, was on its way to Islamabad, only the media was talking of what was to follow while decision-makers were almost silent. Subsequently, the interior minister would explain why the crowds found their way into Islamabad: one because contrary to the chief secretary of Punjab who gave an assurance that the crowd won’t leave Rawalpindi , it did and two because the Islamabad administration had presumed that the crowds would take route A but in fact it entered Islamabad from route B.

Whatever the government’s thinking was in handling this protest the fact was that protestors’ were seeking to dictate to the state and to the Supreme Court. They wanted to subvert the process of justice, of law enforcement and essentially the constitution of Pakistan.

The right to protest is a constitutional right but all rights have qualifiers. Citizens must exercise rights in a manner as not to violate other laws laid down by the constitution. Neither should they, while exercising their rights, violate the rights of others or undermine peace or spread hate and intolerance in public space. Videos of thousands of protestors marching towards Islamabad were all over social media.

There appears to be an absence of political will in the federal government to take complete of ownership of the critical task to roll back militancy. Words not spoken in the PM’s March 28 address make this abundantly clear. No specifics on the Punjab operation and not a word about Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging and rule of law. Indeed the sole and courageous spokesman on rule of law in the Qadri case has been Justice Khosa. The rest is all quiet on the political front. Most religio-politicians have spoken up in favour of the man who murdered the person he was under oath to protect.

For words not spoken, nations pay a heavy price. Check out the confusion in the popular Pakistani mind on critical issues. The prime minister and his team must speak on matters like Qadri with reference to the constitution and rule of law. How lethal words can be in a battle for hearts.

The writer is a national security strategist, visiting faculty at NUST and fellow at

Harvard University’s Asia Centre.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @nasimzehra

 

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