‘Sad Day for Pakistan’ : Islamabad’s Deal With Islamist Protesters Can Erode Government’s Authority
The deal Pakistani authorities reached with Islamist protesters can serve a devastating blow to the legitimacy of the government.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan has expressed displeasure over the way Islamabad handled protests organized by hardline religious group Tehreek-i-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah.
During a hearing on Thursday, a judge observed further that neither Islam nor Pakistan were served during the sit-in.
The government of Pakistan struck a deal on Monday with leaders of a fundamentalist Islamist protest movement to end a protest-turned-riot that resulted in violent clashes and paralyzed Islamabad for weeks.
The protests started after a change in the country’s electoral law omitted a reference to the Prophet Mohammed from a constitutional bill in parliament.
The government said the omission — subsequently corrected — was a clerical mistake, but Islamists claimed it was a conspiracy against religious values and an attempt at softening the state’s position against the Ahmadi community.
Ahmadis are a minority Muslim sect whose views on the spiritual status of the Prophet Mohammed are different from mainstream Islam.
Their faith is rejected by the Pakistani state and Ahmadis cannot call themselves Muslims, profess the Islamic creed publicly or call their places of worship mosque.
What had been a peaceful blockade in Islamabad demanding the resignation of the law minister, Zahid Hamid, who the protesters accused of blasphemy, turned violent last weekend with chaos quickly spilling over to other parts of the country, including Karachi, the economic hub of the country.
The government was forced to suspend the operation and concede with the protesters after at least six protesters were killed and 200 injured in Islamabad over the weekend when thousands of police officers unsuccessfully tried to disperse the protestors.
“The decision to resign was taken in a bid to steer the country out of the prevailing critical situation,” Mr. Hamid said, according to a report in Pakistan’s Tribune newspaper.
Observers said Monday’s deal could set a dangerous precedent.
“It is a sad day for Pakistan,” Ammar Farukh, a political analyst for a sustainable development think tank in Pakistan told The Globe Post. “Anyone can hold the state up and ask for anyone’s resignation for absolutely no legitimate reason and the state is so weak that it can’t stand up to blackmailing.”
Mr. Farukh also rebuked the army, which brokered the deal and has been criticized for its alleged proximity to extremist groups, for refusing to step in against the protesters, despite a request from the government.
However, the leaders of the protest thanked the army in the formal agreement saying its “special efforts helped to put the agreement together and averted a major disaster for the nation”.
The government also agreed to release a report on an investigation into the alteration of the electoral oath and free, while dropping charges, any detained protesters.
In return, the leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik agreed not to issue a fatwa — a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority — against the minister, seemingly to dissuade attacks on him.
Mr. Farrukh added that the decision to bow to the Islamists’ demands has eroded the government’s authority and set a disturbing precedent where fringe groups can bend the state to their will by citing blasphemy.
Blasphemy is a capital offense in Pakistan and frequently serves as a rallying cry for religious extremists. Baseless allegations regularly trigger mob attacks and lynching, which the government has so far been unable to prevent.
Analysts say that the government’s failure to uphold the law exposes the fragility of the governing party, which has been under increasing pressure since disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in July over corruption allegations.
“The deal negotiated between the state, both civilian and military facets of it, and the protesters is a devastating blow to the legitimacy and moral standing of the government and all state institutions,” Mahwish Khan, a civil worker and supporter of Awami National Part, a secular leftist political party, told The Globe Post.
According to the agreement, two representatives of Tehreek-e-Labbaik will participate in a panel assigned to decide changes made to the national curriculum.
“We’ve basically handed over children’s minds to a violent gang of religious fascists,” Ms. Khan added. “This might be the scariest thing to come out of this.”
In the aftermath of the deal, prominent Pakistani-American film director Jamshed Mahmood Raza, popularly known as Jami, stated on social media that he would be moving his family out of Pakistan saying that his “kids will not see this mess.”
He added that he left the U.S. for Pakistan and gave the country 20 years but will do it “no more.”
Left US for Pak gave 20 years for cinema when there was none. Waited and now NO more!! Army GOvt IK they all in it – to burn us all down. My kids will not see this mess. Enough of darkness and waste of life. Eat ur faith ????????
— jami (@jamiazaad) November 27, 2017