For three days there was a societal shut-down, disruption of law and order, an unleashing of violence and anger throughout Pakistan following the radio broadcast of PM Imran Khan. He had tried to give his agitated compatriots sane and sensible advice on the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Asia Bibi case of blasphemy. The Supreme Court said that there was no irrefutable evidence to prove blasphemy against Asia Bibi, a Christian woman and mother of five children. The case has been hung for nine years by now. The court has set her free.
The fanatical religious extremists in Pakistan felt deeply humiliated by this pronouncement of the court and threatened to launch a countrywide protest against the verdict. They threatened to disrupt law and order and paralyze the government, charging that Islam was being undermined in Pakistan. At the front of these protests was Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, the offshoot of Sipah-e-Sahaba – an extremist Sunni Hanafi organization that has taken upon itself the genocidal mission of decimating the Shi’a community of Pakistan.
Upon realizing the gravity of the situation, Prime Minister Imran Khan felt the compulsion of addressing the nation through a hurried broadcast. He spoke what any rationalist and sensible politician and leader would speak. He was polite and persuasive, appealing for respect for the judiciary and the need to maintain peace. He even said that the country was passing through severe financial crisis and is not capable of bearing further strain on its economy. He asked how Pakistan could be run when there are calls for the army to revolt; when there is demand to kill the concerned judges of the Supreme Court; and when there is the cry that the Army Chief is not a Muslim. However, the sting was in the tail: he said it was the duty of the state to protect the life and property of citizens.
Apart from the threats and intimidation flowing rapidly from the extremist groups, there was urgency for Imran Khan to make his hurried broadcast. He was scheduled to leave for Beijing the same night and he did not like that his maiden official visit to China should get spoiled. Nevertheless, his apprehensions did not fail him.
The mayhem let loose by the fundamentalists has forced the government to deploy high-level security at the Pakistan Supreme Court and for its judges. The lawyer who was pleading the case of the defendant has left Pakistan owing to threats to his life. Important government installations have been brought under a security umbrella. And the government has surrendered to fundamentalist pressure and agreed to revisit the matter.
Pakistan’s malaise is rooted in history. The country was created on the assumption that the Muslim community in India was entirely a separate and a superior entity having nothing in common with the indigenous communities of India. Actually, this type of thinking goes into the history of Islam and the Pakistan movement leadership was unable to move beyond the original Islamic cultural parameters and walk into the arena of modernity.
The history of Islam’s opposition to and clash with secularism is an old one. Interestingly, in Arabic language, despite the richness of its lexicon, there is no equivalent word for “secularism.” Secularism, in its political and social sense, has been borrowed from European thinkers and after the Reformation of A.D 1688, secularism became a meaningful term in the political history of Europe. However, it made no impact on Muslim societies in the East because they were still struggling under the rule of autocrats either in the form of monarchs or powerful satraps.
We used to say that in Pakistan the real power rests with the Army. But the Asia Bibi case has exploded that myth, and now we find that real power in that country rests with the religious extremist organizations, which have exhorted the army to rise in revolt against the state.
Pakistan has frequently been warned that the Frankenstein of religious fundamentalism will one day take on the State, including the army. That day has come. It is the Pakistan army that patronized and supported fundamentalism. It is the State of Pakistan that financed and patronized thousands of madrassahs which have churned out hundreds of thousands of fundamentalists-terrorists, who have been working for the destruction of peace in the country and its neighbors – India and Afghanistan in particular. They had tried their tactics in Xinjiang with Uyghur at one time but had to eat humble pie when Beijing issued a stern warning and banished Islamist propaganda in her autonomous province.
This fire will not be doused with the surrender of the Imran Khan government to the fundamentalists. Its embers are smoldering and can ignite a great fire sooner than later. The army has a large number of recruits from the madrassahs, where they have been brainwashed and radicalized. The exhortations of religious extremist leadership will not go unnoticed by the lower echelons of the Pakistan army keeping in mind the milieu from which they have arisen. At the same time, the Army will also have to recollect that in the past, Imran Khan has been highly critical of the United States and the Pakistan army while conducting his election campaign in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa. He is riding the tiger but will he dismount without being bruised and mauled? That is the question.
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