Islamists Protests in Pakistan – is the experiment backfiring?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 03 Dec , 2017

Till the last reports when this article was sent for publication, 10 persons were killed and more than 250 injured in clashes in Pakistan as the army and security forces cracked down on Islamist protestors blocking the highway between Islamabad and Rawalpindi for last three weeks demanding the resignation of Zahid Hamid, Law Minister. The Army was reportedly called in on night November 25-26 to restore law and order in Islamabad for providing security to the Parliament House, presidency, PM House, foreign office, main offices of the judiciary, foreign missions, and other crucial installations. Reports emanating from Pakistan a day prior to the army being called in talked of one security personal killed and over 150 injured as Pakistani police and para-military forces moved to clear protestor blockades; some 8,500 security personnel deployed against around 2000 protesters in Islamabad. The security forces action was ostensibly after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued contempt of court notice against Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal for failing to implement orders to clear the roads.

Speaking to Dawn News on November 25, Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s Interior Minister has stated that the religious protestors linked to the country-wide protests in Pakistan were “in contact with India” and that the government has already begun investigating why the protestors contacted India. Iqbal went on to say that the protesters themselves fired tear gas shells, which is the weapon of police and para-military forces. If Iqbal is trying to insinuate that India is behind the protests, there couldn’t be anyone more naïve than him and he could perhaps be counted in the run for joker of the year award. If India was indeed influencing and assisting the protestors, they would certainly be firing something much more potent than tear gas shells. Besides, tear gas firing by them indicates that either some policemen joined the protestors, passed on tear gas guns to them, or the weapon was snatched by protestors from security personnel. “In contact with India” has no meaning, where ISI and terrorist organizations in Pakistan are constantly in touch with radical elements in India, including the likes of Hurriyat hardliners.

Pakistani Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa had reportedly talked to PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on November 25, urging peaceful solution to the problem. As per reports, the 2000 odd protestors from Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST) were successfully blocking the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road that connects Islamabad with its only airport and the garrison city of Rawalpindi for more than three weeks demanding resignation of law minister Zahid Hamid for changes made in Khatm-i-Nabuwwat or finality of Prophet Muhammad in the Elections Act 2017 passed in September.

The Pakistani government says that the changes in the Election Act 2017 were “clerical error”, which had “already been rectified”, but the protests were continuing despite this. There are multiple questions that arise here. How did changes detrimental to radical ideology come about in the Elections Act 2017 in a country where the ruling elite, the military and the ISI are in cahoots with terrorist organizations? If the changes indeed occurred due to clerical error, how come no one read the text before promulgating amendments especially since it allegedly concerned the Prophet? Why was the individual (s) who made the clerical error, whether by default or design, not tried? Given the environment of Pakistan, wouldn’t he / they be been publicly executed, even if innocent, to cover government default? Was the so called corrective action by the government publicly conveyed, in what form, was there dialogue with Islamists, or is it an afterthought to save face? Given the fervor of the issue, how come the Islamists haven’t physically attacked Ahsan Iqbal, his relatives and burned his properties? With the Pakistani military ruling Pakistan notwithstanding the façade of democracy, how did they permit blocking of the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road that connects Islamabad with its only airport and the garrison city of Rawalpindi for three weeks – was the delay on purpose? And, finally, was setting free Hafiz Saeed timed to pacify the Islamist protestors?

In 2009, Nasir Abbas Mirza wrote in his article titled ‘A Monstrous Experiment’, published in the Daily Times of Pakistan on 11 May 2009, “There are thousands of madrasas spread all over Pakistan’s urban centres that are producing millions of neo-drones …Take a little boy and incarcerate him in a remote madrasa. Indoctrinate him with a distorted version of a religion and tell him that he does not belong to this world. Teach him about the fanciful world that awaits him in the heaven, and that in order to attain that he has to destroy everything that stands in his way, including his own body…… At full steam ahead in Pakistan, this is a monstrous experiment in brainwashing and it is on a par with, if not worse than, Nazi Germany’s eugenics. They did it in the name of science; here, it is being done in the name of God and religion. On a very large scale, this is a hugely successful experiment in which nurture triumphs and nature takes a beating”. But while Nasir Abbas Mirza talked about Islamists radicalizing children in madrasas, a year earlier in 2008, Pervez Hoodbhoy, nuclear physicist, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad wrote of promotion of militarism in Pakistan’s schools, colleges and universities, militant jihad having become a part of the culture in college and university campuses, and armed groups inviting students for jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan”.

The protests in Pakistan have spread from Islamabad to other parts of the country including Karachi, Lahore, Hyderabad, Gujrat, Faislabad and Peshawar, with the protests reportedly spearheaded by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, chief of Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, which recently registered as a mainstream political party. Other fundamentalist groups like Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat and Sunni Tehreek Pakistan have also joined in. The total picture of actual happenings in Pakistan may never emerge with all media channels blocked, as well as social media including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. Media personnel covering the protests across the country were also beaten up and a private channels van was burnt. Protesters reportedly entered the house of former home minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and set fire to the main gate. A building, an armoured personnel carrier and a mobile satellite van near Nisar’s residence were also set ablaze. Javed Latif, a lawmaker of the ruling PML-Nawaz, was beaten up by protesters. A police station in Gujrat City in Punjab Province was burned down. All Islamists including pro-Al Qaeda groups have apparently joined forces against the Pakistani government. So, is it politically motivated to change the government, possible military takeover, and what is the role in this of radical politicians like Imran Khan who have come up come up purely on Islamist support?

The turmoil within Pakistan is perhaps more than what the Pakistani government wants its public to know. But suppression of facts can never be total, something that Beijing too has discovered despite totalitarian measures. Radical mullahs like Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed may be propped up to keep the Islamists engaged but how long before they react to China’s repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. And, why Uyghurs alone, with China now targeting some 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs living in Xinjiang against their links with Uyghurs and repressing them from following their religious customs. Besides, Chinese security forces recently cracked down and detained scores of Muslims in Xi’an city for sharing Quran’s MP3 audio files; this surely cannot be music for Islamists of Pakistan. In addition, the Pakistan media has started questioning the Yuan being quirtly introduced as the legal tender in Gwadar – prelude to balance Pakistan? The Pakistani public is unaware that China has already bailed out Pakistan twice for economic default, and the rosy dreams of CPEC and employment are coming to naught with Chinese companies laying off Pakistani workers. All the so called Chinese investments will eventually be converted into equity, enslaving Pakistan in perpetuity, akin to Hambantota.

But what the Islamists should be more concerned about is the cultural invasion of Pakistan by China, the bonhomie evaporating with the arrogant behaviour of Chinese, and most importantly the manner in which the Pakistani hierarchy has surrendered the sovereignty of the country in exchange of filling up individual coffers. Pakistani veteran army scholar Agha H Amin had prophesied un 2012, “There is no doubt that Pakistan will be a semi autonomous Chinese province by 2030 or so… Pakistani Baluchistan by 2030 would be a completely Chinese run show”. There are clear indications that Beijing is advancing this time table with President Xi Jinping focused on the ‘China dream’. But what will be the role of Islamists in all this may not be predictable. 

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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