Using Religion To Ignite Flames Always Leads To Fire
We’ve been here before. A raucous, rowdy and increasingly violent crowd with shades of anarchy locking up Pakistan’s capital city. It happened in November, 2017 and it has happened 3 years later.The latest Tehreek-e-Labaik protests on Islamabad entrance have brought the state head to head with unseen religious zeal. In this latest round of protests, the demands are slightly different: instead of calling domestic leaders’ ouster, the TLP wants the closure of French embassy, return of Pakistan’s ambassador in France & space to protest outside the Embassy Enclave.
That what happened in France is utterly disrespectful remains abundantly clear. That the German chancellor labelled French caricatures as hate speech and ‘insult’ to Islam is also well known.There was widespread condemnation by mainstream western media of the French President,who the Guardian termed ‘was playing with fire’. The deep seated anger against the French has been echoed in statements by Muslim leaders across the world including Imran Khan and Tayyip Erdogan.
So, why are thousands of people chanting Anti-France slogans, disrupting law & order and disturbing public life?The answer can be traced back to the foundation of TLP.The people who created and fueled Tehreek-e-Labaik to bank on the right wing conservative vote forgot this:using religion to ignite flames will almost definitely lead to a fire.The reality of TLP’s onslaught against PML-n government and refusal of high profile figures to act against them provides an inescapable backdrop to the current situation.The failure of overlords’ who never foresaw this group turning rogue can be best captured by Michel Foucault in Madness and Civilization, “People know what they do;frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.”The party was launched as a single issue party, aimed to protect core tenets of Islam, in a country where 98 % as Muslims. But religious sloganeering to incite masses on issues inextricably linked to emotions & passions is always the biggest cause of prejudice.This is playing out in Islamabad as we speak: destruction of public property, attacks on Law enforcement agencies and a demand to upend ties with the French.None of this, unfortunately, is impacting the French authorities.The events transpiring are adrift of any rationale yet dominated by every emotion in the textbook. Amidst the madness, there is Punjab government who failed miserably to prevent thousands of protestors from leaving their jurisdiction. Despite formation of Apex committees with the responsibility to negotiate with TLP, the Usman Buzdar led provincial government was almost
invisible in the days leading up to these protests. The ideal opportunity to nip this protest in the bud
would have been to never let it arrive on the gates of Islamabad.
If the failure of the Punjab government machinery was disappointing, then the resounding silence of Prime Minister is worse. It appears that Imran Khan has deferred the matter to be dealt by the overlords because he can’t risk alienating or inviting the wrath of religiously charged group.Infact, Imran Khan and Sheikh Rasheed wanted to join TLP protests back in 2017.
While several members of the Law enforcement agencies have suffered injuries in trying to displace the protestors, it seems implausible to think that TLP members could be held accountable for violating numerous laws. After all, the source of their strength & freedom stems from age old linkages with the powers that be. From hereon, it appears that further appeasement in the form of cheque handouts (inflation adjusted, I’m sure) and painstaking negotiations can ensure a peaceful resolution.
Pakistan’s image internationally is faring no better. For the capital of a nuclear country to be paralysed is not exactly good headlines. As Islamabad and Rawalpindi citizens suffer from severe
disruption to their everyday life, it is now time for serious introspections about the process of cultivating political forces.It has hurt Pakistan more than it has benefited.
The writer is co-founder Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.