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The act of silence

The stance of mainstream political parties during the TLP dharna was disappointing when it was time for them to be loud and emphatic

The act of silence

The role of political parties and elected representatives in the three-week-long sit-in of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) is questionable. Did they not realise the consequences of these developments on the country and society?

TLYR — registered in 2017 as a political party as Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) — is giving a tough time to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

All key leaders of political parties, including the ruling party’s chief, Nawaz Sharif, and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, did not utter a word about the situation. Similarly, Imran Khan, Asif Zardari and his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, were silent on the issue.

The PTI has demanded an independent inquiry into the hastily-abandoned amendment to the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat oath. The party’s leadership now views that amendment to such a sensitive clause was impossible without the PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif’s consent. The party has demanded an inquiry into this matter.

Historically, in Pakistan, the religious right has never secured a clear majority in elections but captures a lot of political space through making political alliances. In the 1970s, the religious right was used to oust Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

“It is a very sensitive matter pertaining to religion. And no Muslim can compromise on the finality of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH),” says Jahangir Tarin, senior PTI leader. “If we were in the government we would never even think of touching this law.”

He believes that it was not a typing error but a planned move to change this law.

“There is no doubt political parties do not take a strong view, individually or collectively, to address such issues. However, Pakistan People’s Party is a parliamentary party and we believe such matters should have been addressed in the parliament,” says Farhatullah Babar, PPP senator. “But on this issue of Faizabad sit-in, we can say that the ruling party did not take other political parties into confidence on how to address it.”

He adds, “PML-N was in disarray because it did not want to offend this religious group. The party sees the group as part of its vote bank. All political parties should have been united on this matter of concern, which is an issue of the state and society and not just one party.”

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Nasreen Jalil, MQM senator, says, “First, we all failed to understand who these protestors were. Why did the ruling party in the province or Islamabad not take any action? Why did the government tolerate Khadim Hussain Rizvi?”

She thinks most parties were quiet on the issue because it was a sensitive point. “MQM has a clear policy of not tolerating religious extremism. But it is difficult to have a collective voice on the issue when most political parties are not like-minded. When you see your former army chief, General Musharraf, saying that Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaatud Dawa are his favourite groups then what collective voice can we raise against the religious right?”

Historically, in Pakistan, the religious right has never secured a clear majority in elections but captures a lot of political space through making political alliances. In the 1970s, the religious right was used to oust Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Later, General Ziaul Haq used religion as a tool to prolong his regime and strengthened religious parties in the backdrop of jihad against Russia.

In the 1990s, this religious right aligned with the PML-N twice in ousting PPP’s Benazir Bhutto. In 2002, military dictator General Pervez Musharraf-backed religious alliance — Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal — ruled in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Today, the TLP, with the alleged backing of military establishment, aims to contest next general elections scheduled in 2018 to give the PML-N a tough contest.

Rasul Baksh Rais, senior political analyst, says this is not the first time the state authorities have surrendered to the demands of religious groups. “It is a recurring story, starting from the Objectives Resolution in 1949, and it has strengthened the street-power of mullahs.”

He thinks, if popular votes were to be measured, probably, the religious parties don’t have mass public support but they have “guns, sticks, hate-speech, and above all the power of fatwa that put lives of their opponents in danger”.

Rais adds, “no political party raised a strong voice against this religious bigotry until the government failed. We have to understand that we have to speak against this religious extremism and hate-mongering. At a larger level, it is the failure of the state, society and the people of Pakistan in not standing up against the intimidation of the religious extremists. These political compromises and surrenders would further weaken Pakistan.”

For Abid Hassan Minto, senior leftist leader, the role of political parties on this issue is quite strange. “They might be thinking that any political intervention from their side will damage their political interests and affect their vote bank in the next elections.”

He says, “It is time political parties took a solid decision to counter religious extremism rather than looking for political gains because such one-sided agreements weaken the society and affect the rights of other people.”

In the two recent by-polls in Lahore and Peshawar, the TLP and Jamatud Dawa-supported independent candidate gained significant number of votes. In the Lahore by-polls in September, the TLP candidate Sheikh Azhar Hussain secured more votes than the mainstream PPP. In Peshawar, the TLP got 9,935 votes. There is also a debate in the country on whether these extremist groups should be mainstreamed.

Waqar Gillani

waqar gillani
The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

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