November issue 2018

By | Editor's Note | Published 1 month ago

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has emerged as the victor, once again. And the state of Pakistan has conceded defeat, yet again. Without putting up even a semblance of a fight.

It was abject surrender, after what was widely lauded as a “brilliant speech” by Prime Minister Imran Khan, post Aasia Bibi’s not guilty verdict. After some extremist agitators protested, threatening the government and the country, Khan pledged to take strong action against all those who resorted to violence and to establish the writ of the state.

But post speech, the prime minister flew to China on an aid-seeking mission, and the country was taken over by hordes of rampaging TLP hoods who burnt, plundered, looted, and called for a revolt within the army and the murder of the three judges who ordered Aasia’s release. With the government silent, and the army refusing to get involved in what the military spokesman said was not their business, no one, it seemed, was in charge.

After three days of murder and mayhem, a deal was struck between the PTI and the TLP, which would put any self-respecting government to shame. It stated that the PTI government would not contest the TLP’s review petition in the Supreme Court against the verdict, and would, in fact, initiate a legal process to place Aasia Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List. Further, all those who were arrested after October 30 would be freed. To add insult to injury — literally — the TLP apologised for any “unintentional inconvenience” they may have caused to citizens.

The deal was a throwback to 27 November 2017, when a similar deal was struck between the TLP and the PML-N government, following the TLP dharna that held Islamabad hostage for three weeks on the issue of a minor amendment in the Khatme Nabuwwat clause in the Election Reforms Act 2017. The then law minister was forced to resign, the interior minister was shot at by a TLP supporter, the government was forced to pay for the damages incurred by the TLP. And at the end of the day, the DIG Punjab Rangers presented 1000-rupee notes to all the TLP marauders as they departed!!! Incidentally, the PM, who was then in the opposition, was very vocal in his support of the dharna and consistently demanded that the PML-N name those “blasphemers” who wanted to change the clause. It was a dangerous game to play. Unfortunately, assorted political parties have been guilty of using the religion card, without realising its consequences for the country’s future. It is then hardly surprising that the TLP has now come to haunt the PTI government. And like the PML-N, the PTI too is treading with caution.

The question is, why, when the army and judiciary are on the same page? When politicians criticised the judiciary, they were held in contempt. When bloggers wrote blogs critical of security institutions on social media, they disappeared. A journalist, who reported on a prime minister’s comments on security issues, is being accused of treason. But the TLP, which has demanded the heads of the chief justice and the army chief, (allegedly for being an Ahmedi), and incited a mutiny in the army, is sitting pretty in his lair.

Incidentally, the TLP emerged as the sixth largest party in Sindh, with two provincial seats, and the fifth largest in the country in the 2018 elections. And their support base is growing. Are the TLP-backers having second thoughts about mainstreaming religious extremists into politics to cut into the PML-N vote bank, despite strong protests from political parties? 

October 31 should have been a day of celebration for Aasia Bibi. After languishing in prison for nine years on blasphemy charges, the Supreme Court had finally ordered her release. But it was not to be. TLP fanatics are threatening to shed more blood, if she is released. Will the state intervene, or stand by like a silent spectator?

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.