Cross post http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2016/04/05/merchants-of-faith/
“The massacre on Easter Sunday in Lahore of over 70 members including Christian minority and others by Harkatul Ahrar- one of the factions of Punjab based Punjabi Taliban has proved to be a catalyst for getting the Pakistan Army and Rangers inducted into direct operation against terrorists whereas provincial government maintains that it has no groups of terrorists in Punjab and has denied that any operation by the army/rangers is independent of Punjab government. However, ISPR claims that army Chief GRS decided to act on his own following the Easter Sunday mayhem and that army/ Rangers will not be reporting to the Punjab government. Their actions would be independent of the provincial government,” states Wajid Shamsul Hasan, former High Commissioner of Pakistan to United Kingdom. He poses a question oft asked by many, “To overtly counter this military’s interference, Ministry of Interior mysteriously allowed public procession on the 40th day of assassin Mumtaz Qadri’s execution( usually this ceremony is held after 40th day of death but in this case it was held on 27th day).This led to siege of federal capital for four days by over 5000 clerics and eye to eye confrontation. It seemed connived that protestors were given free hand by the law enforcers.”
The siege ended once their demands, multidimensional in nature were accepted though Minister Interior Chaudhry Nisar was categorical in saying no written agreement was entered upon.
A source who wishes to remain unnamed states, “The declaration of successful negotiations and government’s commitment to uphold Namoos- e- Rasalat and acceptance of most of their demands will ease the pressure due to Qadri’s hanging amongst the Brelvis. Their move into Islamabad, the police action and the rally participants ease and comfort indicate connivance of authorities in the affair. It needs to be seen how the days ahead indicate the military and government equation on critical issues. There is real pressure on the government with the Army serious on a crackdown in Punjab.”
The dharna followed on heels of a huge suicide attack at Lahore’s Gulshan-i-Iqbal park that killed 72 innocent people and injuring many more. It shook the government out of its complacency that Punjab was a peaceful haven.
PJ Mir of Din News has a different perspective, “The spectacular dharna witnessed in D Square was nothing more than to degrade the government, challenge it, ridicule it and above all underestimate it. It must have been an expensive exercise for all concerned predominantly not friends of Pakistan to have suffered a setback ably negotiated by Chaudhry Nisar Inc, but it should not have reached the state it did. I would suspect whilst perhaps talks were going on, they must have failed with the result army moving in
This message must be avoided at all costs for the future in the better interest of the State, however those who insulted the armed forces and leaders in the social media as well as on stage must be booked as per the law, and no concession be shown under any circumstances.”
Anger at this massive dharna was expressed by different sections of the society and the manner in which the country was made hostage to a group. Dr Ikram Advocate: Lawyer, Author, Columnist and member of Adjunct Faculty at LUMS says, “Once again the government has surrendered before the forces of obscurantism that are bent upon to push Pakistan towards theocracy. Nawaz et al has proved once again that legacy of Zia-ul- Haq still prevails. It is very unfortunate that clergy is encroaching upon people’s rights by taking justice in their hands and declaring anyone, they choose as a kafir. In a democratic process they do not get majority vote but by in the name of religion prevails upon an elected government. The fault is of course lies with the government and State institutions that show helplessness before these forces. In this scenario, Pakistan will remain victim of bigotry, fundamentalism, extremism, intolerance, militancy etc. This is anarchy.”
However, one must pause, reign in our emotions to think the options government had to deal with the situation. Refuse talks? Open fire upon participants? Any other confrontational scenario? Each was a non-starter in terms of restoring peace. At that point and time, the government took the only viable recourse open to them. Was funds given out to defuse the situation? Wajid Shamsul Hasan says, “Internal rifts among MNS ministers has become very obvious. They are moving on different directions. This was manifested when Finance Minister Ishaq Dar- a relative of Nawaz Sharif was assigned to deal with the Islamabad dharna instead of Chaudhry Nisar who had earlier appointed a team of bureaucrats to negotiate with the protestors. Dar was assisted by one Rafique Pardesi- a businessman from Dubai who actually negotiated the deal and it’s alleged that huge amount was allegedly passed to defuse the situation.”
Whether or not change of funds took place, the government succeeded in containing the situation well. The question that is of paramount importance in the backdrop of the show of strength by the Merchants of Faith is the undeniable fact that religious group have gained greater strength. This has to be dealt with. This once they dispersed. How much can the government afford to give in the next time to restore peace? Can the country be held hostage to any group for any period of time?
Asha’ar Rehman, Resident Editor Daily Dawn, Lahore, says, “I think that the government has for the first time realized that PML N’s old links with the mullahs have been considerably weakened over time. It must also take notice of the fact that these are elements the army would want it to deal with in its own- – with some analysts going so far as saying that these mullahs were actually there at the behest of the army. The PMLN proxies, mullahs close to the party, are not working probably because there has been a proliferation of religious right among all sects. These are satellites who can operate on their own and cannot quite be controlled by religious affairs ministry or a bunch of go between maulvis. They must consolidate and develop some centralized leadership for negotiations with the government but the problem is that the moment this process of centralization begins more factions emerge and they are resourceful enough to go on their own. The difficult question for the government and the already established Sunni groups is how to first bring the entire protesting factions under one umbrella for some kind of engagement. Islamabad was a manifestation of the insight between various groups to seize the leadership. The PML-N government would be taking a huge risk if it believes that this situation — too– would take care of itself. It must find agents that can help it connect with the wide spectrum of Sunni parties.”
Rehman has a strong point in what he says. He points towards a parallel situation in terms of collecting different factions onboard to engage into peace talks in Afghanistan.
The question is can PML N afford angry mullahs in its native Punjab? Another question is with Army serious about dealing with these Merchants of Faith will PML N fully support this drive? Should both be on different pages, will it lead to a three-way chaos? The Merchants of Faith have tested the waters; another dharna may not be far away, what is the government’s strategy- if any?
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets at @yasmeen_9