By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
If there ever was such a severe indictment of a sitting government as now by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, its days in power would have been over long time ago. Not a day passes when the Supreme Court judges miss to pass strictures on the failure of the government to deliver. Their latest criticism relates to what the apex court judges describe as government’s abysmal failure to tackle coronovirus pandemic in the country. Unfortunately even the writ of the state has no respect in certain quarters especially the clerics who continue stubbornly to defy government’s decision to overall lockdown.
Despite restrictions on congregations anywhere including mosques, prayer gatherings continue to take place in mosques though the Mulla community endorses government’s measures in support of lockdown with the exception of mosques. Last Friday Islamabad witnessed biggest religious congregation including division of clerics at the Red Mosque with ‘Mulla Burqa’in command. Incidentally this congregation was held within stone throw away of ISI’s Aabpara Headquarters. Islamabad Police cops wearing face masks stand guard outside the mosque as a sort of lockdown measure. Police is also seen on guard in Islamabad’s largest mosque—Shah Feisal mosque– where too Friday had a gathering in defiance of the lockdown.
On April 14th selected senior socalled ulema with their own agenda announced re-opening of mosques under their influence. This decision has been termed as reckless and suicidal in the face of lethally spreading coronovirus pandemic. It also is a sure sign of IK government being spineless to counter the defiance of the Mullas. On April 17th Friday witnessed Friday prayer congregation at Islamabad’s Red Mosque as well smaller congregations in other parts of the country.
This has been horrendously strange when majority of Pakistanis are directly impacted by the lockdown losing their jobs and means of livelihood in the national effort to minimise the fatal consequences of pandemic. It is said that vast economic impact of the lockdown is still difficult to evaluate. Because of inevitability of what is in store, the government has extended lockdown by another two weeks with greater emphasis on practicing with religious zeal social distancing.
Indeed, social distancing is being implemented world wide as one of the most effective means to minimise spread of pandemic. Surrendering to the whims of the mullas will force the government to an extend lockdown for an indefinite period that will amount to more economic difficulties for the poor in Pakistan.
Indeed, in the obtaining scenario with unprecedented dangers aggravating the crisis, it is extremely criminal and irresponsible for the Pakistani state to let mullas romp around with their suicidal activities. It is high time Prime Minister Khan stops being passive to the mullas, shows some spine and gives up policy of subservience of his government to the mulla brigade at large. In these times of distress and crisis definitely demand a strong leadership with no re-course to ever bended approach of the government to deal with the mullacracy and not allow the mad clerics to putting the people of Pakistan in extreme danger. Mullas have no vision or no clue to medical needs and consequences in such a grave situation as these.
It is indeed, a matter of profound regret and concern that except for the Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali who rose to grapple the situation effectively by imposing lockdown when the Prime Minister and his advisers were hell bent in opposing Shah. Since the start of the coronovirus crisis, the federal government’s response to the opposition by the mullas has been as bad as its own. PTI government following its policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds has been just cajoling the clerics to seek their support in keeping people at home and away from the mosques.
Even when the mullas overtly appeared to be receptive to such requests, the fact of the matter was that many mosques across the country were holding daily prayers clandestinely. However, with more defiance in dissent by the mullas, there is an urgent need for firmer measures than ever. The government must act before it is too late.
As highlighted by the Supreme Court in its various oft repeated observances, the government which has been otherwise very oppressive such as prolonged detention of Pakistan’s largest media group’s Jang/Geo’s editor/owner Mir Shakilur Rehman for no legitimate reason, IK government has established itself as high-handed. Here one must refer to the case of Quetta doctors who were arrested by police just for demanding essential personal protective equipment (PPE). There is no doubt that the might of the state is only meant to the country’s ordinary citizens, while mullas have got a blank cheque to enjoy freedom to do as they wish at the cost of ordinary lives.
It is not that the government cannot enforce its writ in the mosques. Remember 2018 when clerics belonging to Tehreek-e-Labaik took to the streets to protest Aasia Bibi’s acquittal, government’s response was swift and firm. More importantly, Sindh Chief Minister has shown that even with a fraction of the resources at his disposal, he could ensure that the lockdown was enforced during Friday prayers.
With federal government having emergency powers and the might of one of the strongest militaries in the world, it is definitely disappointing to see it retreat from imposing the measures necessary to save Pakistani lives. Indeed, the question being asked as to why is the federal government so sacred of the mullas and is avoiding to confront them? The obvious response to it would be its fear of breaking its secret understanding with the mulla brigade.
It is good to know that people at large are willing to avoid any kind of public congregations, and surely public support to the government is significant to enable it to clamped down on open mosques given the pandemic, the possibility of large scale unrest is ruled out. The Sindh government’s firmer reaction has not just been appreciated by large sections of the populace, but the provincial government has also avoided any major unrest and is largely supported in other provinces too. Surely, if the federal government had with its reservoir of power, adopted firmer hand, it could have established in its writ in mosques too.
Last but not the least, its lockdown decision has been supported in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries where no mosques including Hareemen-e-Sharifeen, have been permitted to function.
(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)