Setback for democracy in Pakistan as government bows to radical Islamists

Setback for democracy in Pakistan as government bows to radical Islamists

The ever fragile democracy in Pakistan got a grievous blow on Monday, when the Federal Law Minister, Zahid Hamid, resigned after three minor radical Islamic outfits successfully blockaded Islamabad for three weeks even after he had conceded their demand for an amendment in Election Law 2017, writes P.K.Balachandran in Daily Mirror.

While the government was dilly dallying on the question of using the police/army to clear the blockade which was affecting movement between the capital, its airport and the garrison town of Rawalpindi, members of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) were blowing hot and cold on the political front. For 20 says it was impossible to read the government’s mind.

The opposition was tearing into the government and the PML (N) for their inability to make the State’s writ run. The army was advising the government not to use force but settle the matter with the agitators peacefully, virtually legitimizing the blockade. Only the Islamabad High Court said that blocking roads is un-Islamic and asked Home Minister Ahsan Iqbal to clear the blockade.

When the government finally sent in the par-military forces to evict the squatters, violence quickly spread to other towns in the country. As the fight engulfed many areas of Pakistan, the government of  Prime Minister Shahid  Abbasi gave in and met the current demand of the agitators,  namely,  the sacking or resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid.

It was a signal victory for an unconstitutional agitational method and for Islamic radicals. It was a defeat for the democratically elected government. It was also a defeat for “reason”, as the offending clause in Election Law  2017 had already been removed in October. As demanded by the Islamists, it  was made mandatory for “Muslim” candidates in elections to take an “oath” that they believe in the finality of Prophet Muhammad (Khatme Nabuwwat). This law coupled with an oath was considered necessary to keep “heretic” communities like the Ahmadiyas from contesting elections as :”Muslims”.

Law Minister Zahid Hamid had explained that the substitution of the term “oath” by “declaration” was a “clerical error” and that the term “oath” would be restored. And it was restored. But the agitators, comprising  three little known Islamic organizations, Tehreek-e-Khatm Nabuwwat, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, and Sunni Tehreek Pakistan, were not satisfied. They charged that there had a been an anti-Islamic “conspiracy” inside the PML (N) government and that Minister of Law must quit. They stepped up the agitation by blockading the nation’s capital without a moment’s let up from November 8 onwards.

.After the PML (N) Supremo and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stepped down following disqualification from holding that office by an order of the Supreme Court in July on a corruption charge, there has been a vacuum in the top echelons of the government with incumbent Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi proving to be unequal to the task. He has failed in the very first test he faced.

The gainers from the failure of the government will the Islamic parties and Islamic radical forces, both non-mainstreamed and  mainstreamed (like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa  headed by the  UN and US designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed). Among others will be the armed forces and parties which are seeking a cozy relationship with the armed forces like the Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan and the new outfit floated by former military dictator Gen.Pervez Musharraf.

The Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) is the second largest party in the country, but its gains will only be marginal as it has nothing new or exciting thing to say now. The general trend in Pakistan appears to be towards a combination of Islamic radicalization and military hegemony. To be in the game, the PPP will have to swim with the tide rather than go against it.

The coming year will be crucial for all political groups in Pakistan as the next elections to the National Assembly are to  take place in September 2018. A week regime in Islamabad without the charismatic Nawaz Sharif at its head, has thrown the electoral field open to all, especially forces and individuals who are daring. The pitch appears to be favorable for the Islamic radicals and the armed forces or a combination of the two.

Setback for Minorities

The other specific message conveyed by the Islamabad standoff is that the Ahmadiya community would continue to be considered “non-Muslim” and the disabilities they have been suffering from since 1974 will continue.

Though the Ahmadiyas consider themselves “Muslims”, and acknowledge Prophet Muhammad as supreme, they do not believe that he was the last and final prophet. The Ahmadiyas believe that more prophets will appear on earth “to renew Islam and establish peace,” though they will consider themselves to be “subordinate” to Prophet Muhammed. Since the Ahmadiyas do not accept the finality of Prophet Muhammad, Pakistan categorizes them as “non-Muslims” for election and all or other purposes.

As “non-Muslims” the Ahmadiyas are discriminated and persecuted in multiple ways. A once prosperous, educated and enlightened community, which had produced physicist and Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam and the famous diplomat Sir Mohammad Zafrullah Khan, the 500,000 Ahmadiyas of Pakistan are in a pathetic state.

Today, there are no Ahmadiyas in high positions in any field. They are expressly barred from becoming President or Prime Minister. They were declared non-Muslim in 1974 and the Zia-ul-Haq regime in the 1980s, piled more disabilities on them.

Since 1984, 27 Ahmadiya mosques have been destroyed; 21 have been set on fire; and 17 were occupied forcibly, Construction of 53 mosques had been stopped and 32 were sealed. Hundreds of Ahmadiyas have been killed.

The dream of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the efforts of Gen.Pervez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif to make Pakistan a modern and tolerant Islamic country have come a cropper.

Attending a Diwali celebration of Hindus in Karachi in 2015 Sharif ,then Prime Minister,  said: “Some people have been using religion to create divides. For this purpose they use Islam. Pakistan was not made so one religion can dominate over others.”

But Sharif’s beliefs and intentions notwithstanding, Pakistan under him continued to slide into religious intolerance and bigotry, posing a challenge to its stability and economic development, besides being a threat to peace in the neighborhood. But with no one at the helm speaking up for the Ahmadiyas and other minorities now, the plight of the minorities is expected to deteriorate.

(The featured image at the top is that of the up and coming Islamist leader Khadim Hussein Rizvi of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah)