The religious zealots have made it a cause célèbre vehemently apposing anyone tinkering with the anti-blasphemy law inserted by the late dictator General Zia ul Haq in the constitution
Just a day after the provincial administration kowtowing to the extremist groups virtually shutdown Lahore as a preemptive measure, the Punjab apex committee met under the chairmanship of the chief minister vowing to eliminate extremism, terrorism and sectarianism. Actions speak louder than words. And this is what the Lahorites, to their utter detriment, experienced last Wednesday.
Protesters belonging to the Sunni Tehreek, Tehreek-i-Khatame Nabawat and Tehreek-I-Lbbbaik Ya Rasool Allah had threatened to protest on the fifth anniversary of Salman Taseeer, who was shot by his own guard Mumtaz Qadri. As a preemptive measure all major arteries of the city were blocked by strategically placing containers on them.
The religious zealots have made it a cause célèbre vehemently apposing anyone tinkering with the anti-blasphemy law inserted by the late dictator General Zia ul Haq in the constitution. The Punjab government, instead of engaging the clerics in talks, took the easy way out by deciding to throw the baby with the bath water.
The ‘hukumrans’ were perhaps oblivious to the travails that the citizenry would face as a result of the blockades. In any case perhaps they are not fully aware how the common man commutes? Even within Lahore they often take the chopper — in the name of security concerns.
Lahore is not only a city of more than 10 million it is a mega polis connecting different housing and commercial districts like the DHA (Defence Housing Society), Johar Town, Bahria Town, just to name a few. Hence there was little realisation that it would be a nightmare for the citizens to shut it down. The bureaucrats, comfortably ensconced in the chief minister’s office, were plainly oblivious to the ramifications of their flawed decision making.
Thankfully the day passed without any loss of life or property. The political leadership, perennially engrossed in its self-congratulatory mode, will pat itself on the back for a job well done. But will the state keep on doing a cut and paste job instead of catching the bull by the horns?
While the provincial apex committee was meeting in Lahore the prime minister was addressing the Academy of Letters in Islamabad. He stressed the need for starting operation Zarb-e-Qalam on the pattern of Zarb-e-Azb to fight against forces spreading extremism and intolerance in the society.
Noble thoughts. But easier said than done. No one can deny a marked downward spiral in terrorism. The civilian and military leadership rightfully take credit for making Pakistan a safer place.
However, vestiges of terrorism and their strongholds are yet to be eliminated so as not to pose any danger to the populace. It is no coincidence that Balochistan saw some of the worst acts of terrorism and sectarianism in its history during the previous year.
Only last Thursday the army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa announced in Khuzdar that an engineering and technology university in Quetta would soon be a reality
Terrorism in terms of sheer figures has visibly declined. But paradoxically extremism and intolerance in society is on the increase. Somehow the federal government, the provincial governments and to an extent our security apparatus take the easy route by preferring not to stir the hornet’s nest.
The Punjab apex committee has decided to “launch a crackdown without any discrimination against those providing financial support to the terrorists and their facilitators and close down all financial aid to them. “ This is a tall order.
But making such pronouncements post such meetings has become the norm. It is another matter that no one is willing to walk the talk.
Shahbaz Sharif has claimed that NAP (the National Action Plan) has been fully implemented in the province. In the same breath the apex meeting also decided “efforts would continue to uproot terrorism, extremism and sectarianism”.
It is stating but the obvious that in the absence of a concerted game plan these goals will remain illusory. Merely putting containers to prevent extremists from wreaking havoc is no plan.
The elder Sharif wants to launch an operation a la Zarb-e-Azb to eliminate extremism. However it cannot be done without a change in the present ethos and cooperation of the security apparatus.
The madrassas, as claimed by their apologists including Imran Khan and protagonists like Maulana Fazlur Rehman, are performing a useful function in the society by imparting education.
Might be so. But by sheer dint of the zealots’ ideological moorings, intolerance and bigotry is embedded in their teachings. Additionally these ‘students’ also provide the necessary fodder for their street prowess. This was amply demonstrated on the streets of Lahore on Wednesday.
Theoretically only the state can declare jihad. But self-styled jhadists in every nook or corner of the country have no compunction issuing fatwas against whomsoever they feel like.
The state has been unable to curb extremism because some of the so-called jhadist organisations are tolerated if not actually nurtured for so called strategic goals. Organisations like the LeT (Lashker e Taiaba) and JeM (Jaish e Muhammad) have made so much ingress in Punjab that the government is weary of clamping down on them for fear of a backlash.
Nevertheless apart from the mechanical steps there is a lot of talk of the need to change the narrative. Unfortunately, despite claims to the contrary, the PML-N government at the federal level and the provincial governments are least interested in embarking upon investing in the social sector.
Take the case of education. Till recently the premier university of Pakistan, the Punjab University, was headed by a vice chancellor – incidentally on a third extension of his term– whose work includes a book that 9/11 was a Jewish conspiracy. The VC had to leave on the express orders of the court since the chief minister was not willing to remove him.
The curriculum being taught in government institutions does not inculcate values of tolerance and respect for opposing points of views. The founding fathers’ raison de etre for Pakistan is somehow lost in clichés and stereotypes.
The Quaid e Azam’s utterances urging respect for minorities are simply ignored. Ironically in Balochistan the army is doing the job that the politicians ought to be doing.
It has set up and helped in setting up education institutions including state of the art universities. Only last Thursday the army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa announced in Khuzdar that an engineering and technology university in Quetta would soon be a reality.
The ruling elite, so obsessed with motorways, highways, metro and bullet trains, and power projects in order to win elections, needs to urgently revisit its strategy. The hydra headed monster of terrorism and escalating extremism will devour democracy and its institutions if not checked on a war footing.