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EDITORIAL: Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s bold statement of facts at an event organised by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies would surely resonate with all people interested in this country’s progress and prosperity. Speaking in the aftermath of over two-week long violent protests by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) over a foreign policy issue that left nine policemen dead, hundreds of others injured, and ended in the government accepting a humiliating surrender deal brokered by the powers-that-be, he said, “neither the government nor the state [the establishment] is completely ready to fight extremism.” As regards the former, according to media reports, the Prime Minister had ordered the use of force against TLP agitators, but was offered some flimsy excuses to dissuade him from taking the right action. Stating the obvious the minister averred that “if the state becomes weak and violent groups strong the problem starts”, adding that soft change in society comes only when the state establishes its writ and enforces its laws.

What should worry us all was aptly identified by him when he said Pakistan, a nuclear power and the sixth largest military force in the world, faces no potential threat from its arch rival, India, but from within. Unfortunately, no lessons have been learnt from the experience of over 30 years that started when the late military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq first sowed the seeds of religious extremism for the perpetuation of his illegal rule. Countless people have since been killed by suicide bombers emerging from the sectarian outfits established on his watch. Many of them later joined the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) terrorists challenging writ of the state. These people have killed more than 80,000 Pakistanis, civilians and soldiers, alike. The society has been radicalised to a point where even genuine religious scholars can express their views at the risk of life. As Fawad Chaudhry recalled Maulana Hassan Khan was martyred for declaring suicide is prohibited in Islam; another respected scholar, Javed Ghamdi, had to take refuge abroad under life threat. And yet a group like the TLP which has challenged the writ of the state three times, killed several law enforcers; called for the assignation of three honourable judges of the Supreme Court as well as the prime minister for upholding the rule of law in a false blasphemy case; and destroyed public and private property not only gets forgiven all these crimes but is also allowed to function as a ‘normal’ political party. Reversing its earlier order, the interior ministry has felt constrained to absolve the outfit of its crimes. Its activists’ names have been removed from the Fourth Schedule, and all others nabbed for involvement in the latest acts of violence released. The day Fawad Chaudhry expressed his very valid concerns, the jailed TLP chief Saad Rizvi also walked free.

As pointed out in this space before, no private group is more powerful than the state. Yet there is something that tells the TLP it is free to confront elected governments, kill people and still face no consequences. Whatever makes it so sure of its ability to do that, it is important not to ignore the lesson this country’s turbulent history offers: it is easy to exploit religious sensitivities for political purposes, but difficult to control forces thus unleashed. Promotion of violent extremists invariably leads to all round instability.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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