NationalVolume 13 Issue # 21

Fanaticism and politics in Pakistan

Fanaticism is increasing very rapidly in Pakistan. The state has utterly failed to root out all the factors and causes which are creating fanaticism, extremism and intolerance in the country. On May 6, Pakistan’s former Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal survived an assassination attempt in Narowal. A government official confirmed that the attacker, Abid Hussain, is affiliated with Tehreek-e-Labbaik. The attacker has confessed that he shot Ahsan Iqbal because in his views the minister is a blasphemer. However, in a statement, Labaik leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi condemned the attack on Ahsan Iqbal. “The party had not authorised any of its supporters to take up arms. Tehreek-e-Labaik is an unarmed struggle to bring the Prophet’s (Muhammad PBUH) religion to the throne,” Rizvi said.  Almost all the political and religious parties have condemned the attack.

The attack on Ahsan Iqbal, former Federal Interior Minister, manifests many alarming things.

1:  The PML-N government has deliberately ignited religious hatred and intolerance by changing the law related to the finality of the prophethood last year. The sole purpose of this move was to get the support of Western countries for Nawaz Sharif, who has been ousted from the office of prime minister in the Panama case verdict. But, now, the PML-N and Nawaz Sharif are not accepting their blunder. Rather Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N leader and former prime minister, said: “This is the result of the distribution of Rs1,000 to the protesters. If the protesters had not been given Rs1,000 each, perhaps this day would not have come. I would like to know — and not just I, but many people would like to know — why the money was distributed, and with what motive? This question remains, and one day the reality will come to light. If this matter can be resolved now, then it should be resolved now”.

This insane move by the PML-N government has made another religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik more active under the leadership of Khadim Hussain Rizvi . Tehreek-e-Labbaik staged sits-in at Faizabad and Lahore against the PML-N government. The party also launched protests across the country. The clerics delivered hate speeches, instigated the people against the government and enhanced extremism and religious prejudice among the people. Due to this instigation, Munawar, a religious fanatic, hit Nawaz Sharif with a shoe in the Jamia Naeemia Lahore. Immediately afterwards, the man jumped on the stage chanting a religious slogan. A day before this incident, another religious extremist had blackened the face of Khwaja Asif, Pakistan’s former foreign minister, while he was addressing a convention in Sialkot. The same day, a man, Bilal Haris, lobbed a shoe at interior minister Ahsan Iqbal while he was addressing a workers’ convention in Narowal. Then Abid Hussain, the 21-year-old suspect, tried to kill interior minister Ahsan Iqbal. Tehreek-e-Labbaik which was born out of a protest movement supporting Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard, who killed the governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer in 2011 over his call to relax blasphemy laws, has now become a political party under the name of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan. The sole aim of the party is to punish blasphemy. This party is becoming very popular among the people due to very sensitive religious issue.

2: Due to this attack, the PML-N will not be able to launch election campaign openly. This attack has created an atmosphere of fear among the PML-N members. To save themselves from the attacks, now, many party members would like to contest the election as independents. In the 2013 elections, which PML-N won, the TTP killed more than 70 people in attacks targeting the Awami National Party (ANP), the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).  The ANP leader Bashir Bilour was killed while Mian Iftikhar Hussain lost his son in these attacks. Many other prominent candidates, belonging to different political parties, were not able to campaign openly. The militants have also killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in 2011 and Punjab Home Minister Col. (retd) Shuja Khanzada in 2015. According to Pakistani thinktank, the Center for Research and Security Studies, “since 1990 vigilantes have been accused of murdering 65 people tied to blasphemy”.

3: It is a sad reality that religious intolerance and extremism has spread widely in our society. Even, schools, colleges and universities are not free from extremism and fanaticism. Mashal Khan’s lynching in a University in 2017 is a tragic example in this case. Pakistan Human Development Report 2018 indicates “almost half the young people surveyed did not feel it was okay to have friendly relations with people from other religions. Many more felt that people of other religions should not be allowed to establish places of worship and should not be allowed to preach their religion”. Offended by Abdus Salam’s name, even, the National Assembly has unanimously adopted a resolution for renaming the Physics Department of the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, naming it after Muslim scientist Abu al Fath Abdul Rehman Al-Khazini. It is very interesting that the PML-N government itself renamed the National Centre for Physics by honouring Pakistan’s first Nobel laureate Dr. Abdus Salam in December 2016. But, now, the PML-N government has changed the name again. This act is a sheer negation of Quaid-e-Azam’s vision of Pakistan, who said: “You are free. You are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state”. The Quaid also declared “We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state”. This act also shows that the non-Muslims are not considered equal citizens alongside Muslims in Pakistan, which is also a violation of the constitution. The constitution says “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law”. There is also no inter-faith harmony in the country.

4: There are also some social, economic and political factors like poverty, illiteracy, corruption, feudalism, etc., which are creating extremism in our society. Haroon K Ullah, in his book Digital World War, writes: “Muslim nations have a long history of imperialism, colonialism, regionalism, feudalism and factionalism, which makes them more likely to foster religio-political power dynamics. The power and resources that have historically been attached to religious leaders have long stood in tension with secular, feudal, political power, now expressed by proxy through democratic electoral politics. Islamic political parties combine both types of power, but with specific limits. Those who strongly favour religious identity are restricted in their access to electoral means, and vice versa”.

Now, some religious parties, including the JI, the JUI-F, etc., have formed Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal again. The purpose of this group is just to acquire power on the name of Islam in Pakistan. These parties have been exploiting religious sentiments of the people since 1947. They are the real culprits who are spreading religious bigotry, prejudice, hatred and extremism among the people. They are against educational, social and economic reforms and development as in ignorance, their power and prestige, survives.  Pakistan’s media is also playing its negative role in spreading sectarianism. Dr. Amir Liaquat Hussain, a controversial anchorperson, loves to incite sectarian animosity in his shows. He is in the habit of passing hateful remarks against minorities. He likes to level allegations of blasphemy, kufr and treason against other persons just to increase his programme’s rating. On May 25, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has suspended his Ramazan TV show on Bol TV for creating “unwarranted drama” on religious matters in his programme. Amir Liaquat should be banned for life as he is igniting sectarianism, fanaticism and extremism in our society.

5: Pakistan’s establishment uses the religious card successfully to dismantle political parties and political leaders. No doubt, it has exploited the issue of blasphemy again very expertly which has made the PML-N very unpopular. But, it is also a fact that the PML-N government has handled this issue very poorly.

Dawn writes: “The attempted assassination of Mr. Iqbal has dire implications for the upcoming election and for public safety generally. The TLP is one of many groups actively promoting intolerance and religious hatred in the country, but the politics of this organisation are particularly dangerous for national peace and cohesion. Once the controversy stirred after the overhaul of the election laws had been resolved inside parliament, the government ought to have handled the protests and the Faizabad sit-in by the TLP decisively. Whatever the suspicions created by the chaotic and catastrophic end to the protest in Faizabad, the PML-N governments in Punjab and Islamabad appear to have been paralysed from the time the protesters set off in Lahore until close to the end. Then, when action was finally ordered by the centre and supervised by the interior minister, removing the violent protesters from Faizabad was a poorly executed operation. Incompetence allowed for total capitulation to be engineered. Yet, there is more at stake here than just the incompetence of some in government and the cravenness of the state when challenged by religious bigots and demagogues. The flames of hatred stoked by the TLP and sundry groups to engulf the political process, the upcoming election and the country itself, can spread quicker than wildfire and may be impossible to stamp out. Faizabad was a disaster and lessons should have been immediately learned. It is not clear why the TLP’s status as a registered political party has not been re-evaluated, the group’s leadership has not been investigated for violating anti-extremism laws and the national leadership has not worked out a plan to mitigate violence in the upcoming election campaign. Democracy is under attack, the national fabric is being torn apart and the country’s leadership is preoccupied with power struggles”.

It is the duty of the state to ensure that extremism could not become a tool to rig the upcoming elections. Pakistan needs and deserves a real democracy which can be achieved through free and fair elections.