By Ghyasuddin Abdali
The outgoing year, 2017, saw developments that don’t bode well for the future of democracy in Pakistan as the forces known as liberal now bent upon to seek refuge under religious and fundamentalist umbrella. There was a destabilising chain reaction to the disqualification of the Prime minister by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in July. Almost simultaneously the release of Hafiz Saeed by the Lahore High Court from house arrest on November 24 and the end of the 21 day old dharna by Islamists at the crossing between Islamabad and Rawalpindi on their own terms with the Army’s intervention was intriguing. This intervention came after a failed police action that left six policemen dead and a hundred injured. The rustics, who staged the dharna under their leadership of wheel chair-bound Khadim Hussain Rizvi, were well equipped to defeat any government action.
Before we look at Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification by the Supreme Court and his subsequent humiliation and emotional torture by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), we should try to see if there was any connection between the release of Hafiz Saeed and the Army-brokered agreement between the Federal government and the pro-Khatam-e-Naboobat supporters. One very vital common point between Saeed and Rizvi’s Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) activists is that both are said to enjoy Army’s patronage for similar and different reasons.
According to political observers, now that the general elections are expected in Pakistan next year, there are very clear indications that the establishment experiments with mainstreaming Islamic radicals and non-state actors to have stronger grip over the next Parliament and country’s political life than at present. The performance of TLYRA and Saeed’s Milli Muslim League (MML-so for unregistered) in the by-election of the seat of NA-120 in Lahore in September must have been very encouraging to the Army. The TLYRA got 6 percent votes and was third in position after Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI). But it left behind the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). This seat was won by Muslim League (Nawaz)’s candidate Kalsoom Nawaz, the wife of disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who had to vacate it. The MML candidate, who fought as an independent, won 6000 votes.
It was a Friday (November 24) when Hafiz Saeed was released. He straight went to Jamia al-Qadasia mosque in Lahore to lead Friday prayers and announce his determination to continue with the struggle to “free” Kashmir. In Pakistan’s Punjab, Kashmir is a big emotional issue. Politicians try to exploit it at election time. Saeed, too, might be eyeing the next year general elections while harping on Kashmir. On December 4 he announced his Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) would fight these elections under the banner of his MML which till today is refused registration by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) because of its links with a United Nations Security Council (UNSC)-designated global terrorist organisation, JuD.
It appears Saeed hopes the UN designated tag of terrorist, will be removed from JuD before the election scheduled for August next year. He has allegedly hired a Lahore-based law firm, Mirza & Mirza Law Associates, to petition the UNSC to delist his name from the list of designated terrorists. His argument: none of the allegations against him either related to terrorism or otherwise has been proved in the Pakistani courts, which do not enjoy credibility at home, have different image in the world body or it suffers from amnesia.
But strange things can happen in Pakistan, the ECP may have to twist the EC rule to justify the registration of the MML if its own hand is twisted by certain forces. Just see how a dharna is staged in Faizabad to paralyse traffic between Islamabad and Rawalpindi for a non-existent issue and the failed police force is made to retreat with six of its men dead and a hundred injured. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court criticised the Army’s role in the whole episode and observed the police was stabbed in the back.
Another comic example of strange things happening in Pakistan is former Army Chief and President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s sudden expressions of love for and defence of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) which he himself had outlawed in 2002 as a terrorist organisation. Now he says he always liked LeT and calls it and its front terror group JuD as NGOs with which, he says, he is keen to have an electoral alliance for the 2018 elections. He appears to be sure that JuD being a terrorist and unregistered organisation with ECP will not come in the way. Being a top ex-Army man, he knows how the Army can play with civilian rules. EC rules do not seem to bother him.
Many political observers in Pakistan believe that the 21-days dharna in Islamabad had two objectives: (1) preparation for the 2018 elections and (2) demolish the present system of government. It may be recalled a section of the Army and the Air Force men had made a failed attempt in 1995 to violently replace the extant system by an Islamic government. The Army may not be interested in an Islamic system. But it seems it wants to push Islamists into the next Parliament as a Trojan horse to control it. On November 27, the federal government in Islamabad signed its own death warrant by agreeing to the Army-brokered agreement with the TLYRA. Federal interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal signed the six-point agreement, committing his government to all the six conditions of the TLYRA. It carried no conditions of the government. It was like the conqueror’s commandment to the defeated. Ahsan Iqbal said the agreement was signed in helplessness. Justice Siddiqui said the agreement was illegal.
While signing this agreement, the TLYRA was planning to storm Lahore. Its activists descended on Model Town and started another dharna to demand the head of Punjab’s Law Minister Rana Sanullah for his reported remarks against the persecution of Ahmediyya. The supporters of TLYRA were obviously encouraged by the removal of Federal law minister Zahid Hamid as demanded by them. Their demands did not stop here. In addition to their six demands in the agreement, they made nine demands. One of them was that to two representatives of TLYRA will be included in the panel assigned to decide changes in the Textbook Board. The officials will push for inclusion of translation of the Holy Quran and chapter about Seerat un-Nabi (PBuH)) and Muslim leaders.
(The author is geo-political analyst and the contents of the article are his own views and not necessarily be agreed by the newspaper. Editor)