Who controls the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?

Published: November 27, 2017

When finally it did try to disperse the agitators, it was extremely ineffective. The incompetence of the government can be gauged by the fact that despite having a force of several thousands, it could not disperse the agitators and allowed them to regroup by suspending the operation.

If I were to rank the worst weeks in the recent history of Pakistan, this one would most definitely be a strong contender for the top. The week, which also witnessed the release of Hafiz Saeed, much to the dismay of the outside world, reached its crescendo when yesterday, Pakistan saw its elected government, with supposedly a heavy majority, capitulate in front of a few thousand zealots.

The hopes that had been raised when the government initiated a crackdown on Saturday were quickly dashed when the crackdown was suspended, and subsequently transformed into horror when the government proceeded to yield to the unreasonable demands of the protestors.

The entire week seems like a black comedy. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) own law minister, Zahid Hamid, has resigned because of a dharna, in which Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law also wanted to participate. What could be a bigger irony than that?

By buckling under pressure and making the law minister resign, the government has effectively endorsed the kind of politics which hardliners like Khadim Hussain Rizvi indulge in. Now a precedent has been set, and in the future, other religious zealots can use similar tactics to pressurise the government. Not only that, an allegation of blasphemy will now become an even more potent political weapon and will be used by all sides in order to tackle opponents.

It is a shameful and spineless capitulation, and highlights the government’s cowardice and incompetence at several levels.

For weeks, 22 days to be exact, the government showed little signs of establishing its writ, which frankly, is the most important function of any government. Only by establishing its writ, underpinned by monopoly over physical violence, can a government provide basic security to its citizens. In this case, for weeks, the government did not do anything as it wanted to “avoid a situation like Model town”. This merely worsened the extreme discomfort of the ordinary citizens, while at the same time, emboldening the agitators.

When finally it did try to disperse the agitators, it was extremely ineffective. The incompetence of the government can be gauged by the fact that despite having a force of several thousands, it could not disperse the agitators and allowed them to regroup by suspending the operation. The fact that its crackdown failed and the minister’s resignation came after that speaks volumes of the sheer cowardice and incompetence of the federal government.

But the failure is not of the government alone. Our political parties showed extremely opportunist and inconsistent behaviour, which didn’t help.

For example, Imran Khan criticised the government for failing to establish its writ and lamented the discomfort of citizens of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

Mr Khan, of course, conveniently forgot his own dharna, which paralysed the capital for 126 days in 2014 and included multiple attacks on the Parliament and TV stations. In fact, in many ways, his party created this template of using dharnas and violence to pressurise the government.

After criticising the government for its failure to establish its writ, in another characteristic U- turn, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) started to criticise the government for using force the moment the operation was underway. Its own leader, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, actually attended a sit-in in Multan in order to show “solidarity” with the protestors.

In short, we have collectively ceded more space to political reactionaries and religious zealots. It is a collective failure and depicts our moral erosion at every level.

But is it really that surprising?

The reality is that over the last few decades, our collective mind-set has become more and more hard-line. Rizvi is merely a cruder reflection of the society we have become. His emergence is political mainstreaming of the religious hard-line sentiments, which have been seeping into the society.

After all, let us not forget that hundreds of thousands attended Mumtaz Qadri’s funeral despite the fact that he had shot Governor Salmaan Taseer for merely criticising the blasphemy law and for standing up for an illiterate and vulnerable Christian woman. Let us also not forget that in this country, minorities are feeling increasingly afraid and marginalised, and yet we remain apathetic.

Scandals like the Panama leaks cause more concern in our so-called “educated” middle class, rather than the seeping religious intolerance and increasing usage of sensitive issues for extracting political mileage by various political parties. Extremism has now assumed monstrous proportions shaking the very foundations of our society.

As George Fulton eloquently and aptly described in one of the most heartfelt articles I have ever read,

“Fascism with a religious face is no longer a political or an economic problem in Pakistan; it’s now become a cultural issue. Extremism permeates all strata and socio-economic groups within society. Violent extremists may still make up a minority but extremism now enjoys popular support. As for the dwindling moderates and liberals, they are scared.”

I now fear for the future, as I think the worst is yet to come.


Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Murad Farooqui

    Kudos to you Raza Habib Raja. courageous article. Enough to scare the daylights out of any sane person.Recommend

  • Feroz

    The journey downhill seems to be gaining speed with not a soul even speaking about the need to curb the extremism seeping into the pores of the nation and working to destroy it from inside. The ruling elites have for years been selling stories to the hapless citizens that all the violence wrecking the nation is due to external machinations. No one wants to admit that religious hate preachers have been empowered to undercut the peoples mandate, making democracy in Pakistan a farce. Prognosis is bleak.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    Now my only hope is that you Pakistanis will stop writing against our honorable PM Shri Narendra Modiji.Recommend

  • Shahbaz Asif Tahir

    The liberal secular so called progressive people need to fear God.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    This dharna drama was another episode in the series that started in the 50s.Recommend

  • fze

    Despite making wrong choices and paying heavy price for it, we haven’t learned anything. No hope. I’m disappointed.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Modi Sarkar, whose BJP party leaders put a bounty of
    $ 1.6 million dollars [US]] on actor Deepika Padukone
    and director/producer Bhansali’s heads for Padmavati]
    And the Butcher of Gujrat acquiesced by not condemning
    it. Same extremists thugs who promised to burn movie theaters
    in Britain, if the movie is shown there.
    Same Butcher of Gujrat who said murdered Muslims are like
    dead puppies, run over by a car.
    Same Butcher of Gujrat who is conducting a Muslim Genocide
    in Hindustani Occupied Kashmir. Just like Ratko Mladic did in Sebia.
    Time to put Modi on a Interpol wanted list. Let Spain prosecute him.
    Just like Augusto Pinochet.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Khan DID NOT block the Motorways and Expressways
    connecting the two cities. And brought everything to a screeching halt.
    He held his dharna in an open space. Did not block traffic between
    Twin Cities.
    But the puppet PM waited too long for orders from his master :-
    Nawaz who as usual was vacillating and could not make a decision.
    Do not blame UTurn Khan for the govt. fiasco/incompetence.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    All downhill from here on, since any future radical protest will be met with Olympic status dithering by a spineless government more concerned with its share of the right wing vote bank than the public Good!
    No lessons will be learned from this fiasco, though the Islamabad public hopefully will recall which incompetent political party allowed this comedy to drag on for some three weeks!Recommend

  • Umar Khan

    That’s not possible bro. He is also a fanaticRecommend

  • Umar Khan

    I think if more people are incline towards religious extremism than its better to give shariah law a try. Let’s see if it works or not. Atleast they will be punished as per shariah law for killing somebody. Democracy in Pakistan will never succeed as our politicians are not competent enough to run a country and above all they all receive instructions from their masters sitting in White House, pentagon and elsewhere. There properties are abroad. If they are not in government they are living in their second home countriesRecommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Note that nowhere on ET is there a full list of the protester demands that the government agreed to!
    Keeping the Pakistani public in the dark????Recommend

  • Moby Inayet

    Did the army cave in??

    I think people are failing to understand the major importance of the the need to make sure Finality of Prophet hood is not tampered with AND the value people of Pakistan place on it. Khadim Rizvi challenged the authorities to try and disrupt the protest and watch how the rest of the country burns! We saw how people reacted in other major cities!! The army knows it as well and did not want to lead the country into another major disaster!! Why would it be seen shooting protesters all over the country?

    Therefore to be seen supporting a valid demand by protesters for the sake of ideology or peace is a smart move !!

    What would happen if soldiers refused to fire on protesters wanting to preserve Khatm e Nubbuwat? What if that lead to a mutiny in the army?

    What lead to the state of affairs is mishandling of the situation by the civil administration by design or by incompetence could be a subject of a judicial enquiry. The inflammatory demands by Islamabad IHC judge did not help either. Is Islamabad a Federal issue or a provincial??Recommend

  • Raj

    This article hits the Bull’s eye and very pointed refers to the future lying in store for Pakistan. The blasphemy act has become now more powerful than anyone and evern stronger than the PM or president of the country. NOw, democracy is finished and the Mullahs and Maulvis will rule pakistan. God save Pakistan.Recommend

  • vinsin

    I doubt that that is going to stop.

    Same Pakistan do not have any problem with China and have issues with India, Israel and Myanmar. Pakistan and India are going for a long cold war for many decades or centuries to come.Recommend

  • Sudhanshu Swami

    1 BJP already ordered the person to explain his threat 2 FIR lodged against him already. These tiny enthusiasts are not able to burn any theater. BJP said that nobody have right to issue fatwa. Did you watch that man’s speech at tiny meeting ? watch that you will see that he is enthusiasts only, he referenced other man. and how lightly he said 10 crore thing, see your self. I dont give any weightage to such statement.

    2 tell me any reference where Modi said that Muslims are like dead puppies. If you cant, then….
    3 Modi was given Highest civilian award, they never objected or said anything about Kashmir. None Muslim country objected Modi, Stop your imaginations.Recommend

  • KlingOn2K

    There are now only 2 pillars of the state that Pakistan rests on. Recommend

  • peter pan

    Long live the Mullahs!!!!!
    They will soon take Pakistan to heaven with them!!!!!!Recommend

  • peter pan

    Is religion a federal or a provincial issue? Khatme Nabuwat is written in the Quran. Why does the Army or any body have to perverse it? If you do not believe in it then the “Author” of the Quran will take you to task. Why is it a any body else’s business?Recommend

  • Parvez

    Well done, you rightly threw rocks at the PML-N and their corrupt and inept governance and also somehow managed to blame the PTI . The one bit I liked and completely agreed with was your boldly saying that our society has become more and more hard-line. Do write about why you think this process has gained such strength.Recommend

  • Patwari

    The main bone of contention was the resignation of the Law Minister
    Zahid Hamid. He offered his resignation and resigned.
    The rest is just how to sell toilets to Bharat and who will get the contract,
    so,…no one is interested.
    Only Hindustanis are on pins and needles, wanting to know
    about the demands…and when the toilets will arriving in Bharat.
    Not to worry, help is on the way.Recommend

  • Parvez

    You Sir may FEAR God …… secular, liberal, progressive people LOVE God.
    I hope you understand the difference.Recommend

  • fze

    They do, may be more than you. Stop playing God and passing judgement about others.Recommend

  • Moby Inayet

    The issue is the army knows that rabble rousers like Rizvi can set the country on fire by asking people to come out and preserve Khatme nubbuwat as it is being tampered with by the government. Army knows the mentality of the common people who are under the control of mosques through pesh Imams all over the country. The army did not fall for the bait.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    So there are toilets for all in Pakistan? OR NOT!