Playing with hellfire

TLYRA dharna

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

MUCH significance is being attached to the rise of the TLYRA (Tehreek-e- Labaik Ya Rasool Allah) and its political face TLP (Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan) ; and the MWM (Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen). There must be finer points of differentiation in party postures but the new bodies seem a Maulana TQ’s PAT derivative in terms of political leverage (intent is a matter of speculative personal opinion). But the future may be fraught with menacing linkages.

In 2012 Maulana TQ baulked from venturing to show how his national electoral vote-bank matched the heft of his staunch foot soldiers in road-camps. Awesomely righteous he remains; but a comparatively familiar game changer does not occasion the anxiety the undefined goals of these fresh but by-electorally promising moral stalwarts do – or, perhaps even more pertinently, could be projected as embodying. They are not waving the Daesh flag (anyone can chalk walls or paste posters of any sort) but they have made their debut  customized to the current international perception of militant Muslim obscurantism. Their apparent success and the government’s apparently craven surrender enables international global-jihadism terrorist-risk-perception tanked up thinkers to move Pakistan a notch higher on the flashpoint watch-list of alarmingly unstable, no matter how wistfully democratic, extremism prone Muslim countries.

If not naturally from our own collective unified bigotry, can we be intimidated or persuaded into Muslim exclusivism as recently on show at miscellaneous city roundabouts?

Irrespective of the navigator, so far Pakistanis have not been responsive to fanatical appeals, however they may be couched or packaged. Take the ongoing religious rhetoric and stance: Despite the leeway allowed it, few exhibited empathy with protestors assuming the government of the day could doubt the finality of prophethood in the Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH). Generally the man in the street –- as distinct from the men holding dharnas on the street -– felt there was either misconception of other citizens in the minds of these self-established custodians of Islamic wellness, or a mischievous intent to trigger religious rage and mayhem and deliberately destabilize the country/its government.

The dharna’s mood has not subsided: neither has it gained the momentum it still seeks. Will it gain critical mass, and how could official restraint read for weakness; or law-enforcement action read as anti-Islam escalate or neutralize passions? It is a time for all of us –- not just the civil and the military and the establishment and parliament –- be on the same page and block the exploitation and manipulation of religious rectitude.

Unfortunately, there are many clerical as well as non-clerical political parties whose leaders would gladly see the government of the day fall for little other reason than to gain control of government themselves. Of course accusations of corruption, mistaken policy, cronyism, have meat. But so far, the populace is not out on the streets as in the PNA’s glory days despite the PTI’s sustained post 2013 elections efforts. A convincingly spontaneous constitutional emergency is not yet become evident.

What is evident is that, despite cases of rigging and electoral pressures, incumbent parties vote-banks decreased, and the PTI found, and was allowed, a raucously oppositional voice. Possibly in reaction to repeated allegedly salutary non-democratic inter-regna, many now think the only way to treat our political diseases is in adherence to democratic form in quest of establishing its norms. Party dissatisfaction or disdain does not extend to the point of wishing to see parties defunct or banned.

Also, voters realize that the problems of neglected and inadequate infrastructure at the root of the poverty of utility services cannot be wished away overnight: Expansion, provision and maintenance take time, not just retrieval of ‘stolen’ funds. They apply the same logic to deficiencies in the health and education sectors. Post Musharraf, party incumbents’ political will and effort is increasingly directed to heeding civil society and respond to meeting civic needs: Else they pay the cost electorally, for maladministration and cronyism have begun to show their longer term electoral impact.

There is also a growing perception the government of the day is deliberately obstructed and vilified by political rivals and challengers. Kudos, especially when deserved, are never given. Newer entrants while challenging the older parties, need to accept that, unlike mobile ‘electables’, electors have party loyalties. There are those who prefer and hope to see the parties they supported becoming agents of democratic amelioration; without generating hysteria, contempt, and resentments bordering on hate that have regrettably come to characterize those seeking to diminish former mainstream giants. Public meetings are integral to the electoral campaigning process; but the present style of inflammatory and destructive rhetoric, deliberately or unthinkingly, makes a dangerous reinforcement for misconceived ‘jihadist’ zealotry.

That is a direction that Pakistanis have unfailingly rejected resoundingly at the polls. But we need to be aware of snares and pitfall on the way there.