By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
TLP Frankenstein is once again flexing its muscles. And why not when its uniformed god-fathers that backed them in 2017 to pack up the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are still holding the fort. No doubt the feeling one is getting is strange. It indicates that there is something more sinister than meets the eye. Never before did we see an incident as painful and as traumatizing as that of TLP Faizabad Dharna of 2017 and the subsequent abject surrender of the Khaki before the TLP work force. Latest from the battle front is that several policemen including an SHO were injured in a clash that continued throughout last Sunday between police and workers of TLP who had gathered in Rawalpindi Liaquat Bagh to protest against French President Emanuel Macron over blasphemous cartoons.
The agreement brokered by the Khaki war lords as an institution that was sworn by the Constitution of Pakistan to lay down lives of its fighting personnel and not to surrender what it did before the conquering Indian Army led by General Jagjeet Singh Arora in Dhaka on December 16, 1971. The prime intelligence institution and the army was expected to quell and crush the defiant TLP brigade out there to make mockery of the writ of the state. Instead, its senior officer, fully uniformed in Khaki was out there buying off TLP renegades with cash loaded envelopes.
Once again history seems to be shamelessly repeating itself. Many conscientious Pakistanis have desired to know of me if there was yet another conspiracy behind TLP war mongering on the pretext of blasphemy against France for will-fully allowing disrespect to Islam. In 2017 two million inhabitants were kept hostage for nearly three weeks by TLP. At that I felt perhaps the surrender was brokered with the TLP renegades by a major general was a bigger event and unparalleled tragedy then the fall of Dhaka in 1971. And what was more hurting was to see that a serving major general disbursing money among the rabble rousers responsible for the blockade and disruption in business.
Indeed, Pakistan army — a renowned fighting force by any international standard — was pitched against its own people in Dhaka by the ambitious military leadership. There is some wisdom in the saying of French statesman Clemenceau that war is much too serious a thing to be left in the hands of generals. Surely the generals at the helms of affair in 1970-1971 had no clue what they were to achieve or it was all by design to create a political and law and order situation to end in the fall of Dhaka. And — if at all — it was saving grace for them to surrender their arms in a war front made to order by the generals just commensurate for Indian victory enabling Bengali Muslims to establish separate independent country. In the hind sight one wishes that it would have been better if President Ayub Khan had his way as discussed by him with his Law Minister Justice Muhammad Munir as early as 1962 that Bengali cabinet ministers be convinced to seek East Pakistan’s secession since there was no cultural or lingual compatibility between the two wings.
When the matter was taken up by the Supreme Court it took an exception to the fact that the Faizabad Dharna and surrender brokered by a major general of Pakistan army was out right blasphemy against the Constitution that would always be remembered in Pakistan’s history as more ignominious an event then the Pakistan army’s surrender at Dhaka on December 16, 1971. At that time Pakistan army — one of the finest fighting forces in the world — had been outnumbered by Indian manpower backed by Mukti Bahini and the desertions by the Bengali troops from the Pakistan army. India was not alone in its invasion. It received assistance in the shape of huge Russian helicopters for transporting of Indian soldiers to East Pakistan borders. And supply of arms and ammunition were reassured…
I remember writing a series of articles on the Faizabad siege before any serious notice was given to it. I termed the Dharna as ‘Assault on Jinnah’s Pakistan’. The then Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Interior Minister, Information Ministry and the rest were neither here nor there. They were feigning being clueless about the powers that be pulling the strings from behind the curtain. It seemed it was Praetorian conspiracy to get rid of the 18th Amendment that remains a thorn in the eye of the Establishment. What looked intriguing in the Faizabad episode and more so now was the reluctance and helplessness shown by both the civil and military authorities — to establish the writ of the state by effectively using means available to them to disperse few hundred religious rabble rousers whose demands were becoming more oppressive by the hour.
It seemed that the TLP renegades were assured that if they continue for some more days, all their demands would be accepted to convert Pakistan’s democratic moorings into a theocratic state. The most shocking was the public disbursement of money by a major general to the rabble rousers. It clearly established the new rule of the game that hence forth people staging dharnas would get paid too.
Notwithstanding what the apologists of the dharna and disbursement of money to the protestors say, there is a valid point raised by those who suspected 2017 dharna and anti- France protest now, organized by the powers that be to subvert democracy although the fact that cannot be denied is that the present government would be remembered as the weakest that we ever had.
The most horrendous aspect of the Faizabad siege was the fact that both the constitutionally assigned defenders of the writ of state, slept in different beds but had the same dream. They did not want to create a situation that would look like a defeat for the religious rabble rousers. As such they were allowed to lay off their siege by letting them have victory. Obviously, more of such dharnas would unfold in the country run up to the next election. It not only gives the rabble rouser sense of victory but they get paid as well.
The Faizabad Dharna and its fall out affects should be treated as a defining moment for the country’s history. Both the civil government and the miltablishment should be questioned by the Parliament as to why did they surrendered Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan to religious miscreants. It is rightly said that if both the civil and military authorities wanted, they could have dispersed the crowd with least use of force—both now and then. They did not do it deliberately. On the other hand, despite most obtrusive pressure and increasing drone attacks by the Americans, miltablishment is not willing to let go its so-called strategic assets such as Hafiz Saeed’s LeT, his Milli Muslim League now for early elections to provide an edge to TLP. At the end of the day loser will be Quaid’s secular and liberal Pakistan. Pakistani establishment must draw a line.
According to the Pew Research Centre, Muslims make up 8.8% of the population of France, totalling 5.7 million people. These numbers also correspond to the CIA official estimates for number of Muslims in France. It is understandable that the French Muslims accepted their government’s explanation over the despicable cartoons and they did not follow TLP’s rampage.
(The author is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)