New Age Islam
Fri Oct 23 2020, 04:12 AM

Current Affairs ( 28 Aug 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

After Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri Protests, Secularism Has Lost Its Force in Pakistan



By Mehr F Husain

28 August 2014

Yes, the elections may not have produced the results that some parties may have believed in.

And yes, the current government's conduct towards demonstrations being conducted by political parties and/or by their workers can be labelled as undemocratic.

And granted, Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri have every right to conduct their peaceful mass demonstrations in the country's capital city.

But there was still some resistance to succumbing to the marches in Islamabad – the need to preserve democracy at a time when the country was finally shedding military rule - and that meant standing by the PML N government.

But that resistance to the Qadri and Khan protests may have waned as the PML N relies on the wrong kind of ally for religious clout.

It was all about ensuring the PML N remained for the sake of democracy until the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) decided to come out and show their support for the government.

Suddenly, the dynamics of the political struggle changed. This banned group had emerged from the sidelines to show their support for the democratically-elected PML N.

So on one side there is the right wing PTI taking a stand on principles and freedom by asking the PM to resign, and Qadri the cleric talking about a system where clean technocrats run the country despite not contesting elections himself.

And on the other side we have the right wing PML N touting dialogue as a means to resolve issues despite having a bloody stain on its regime with the Model Town tragedy where innocent people were killed for exercising their democratic right to protest.

Now, the banned ASWJ, whose very name is enough to send shivers down minorities' spines.

Whether the government stays or goes, the PM resigns or not, the fact of the matter is that secularism can be seen as a thing of the past from this episode on.

It used to be religion and the military, but increasingly, religion and politics have joined hands to fight for democracy. Which, given the right wing shift that has swept the nation since the war on terror, is not a new feature of Pakistani politics.

What is interesting is how people have steadily responded positively to religious-affiliated actors participating in a political battle for power. With the ASWJ entering the arena and supposedly showing its support for the PML N, it is likely to put off those who were rooting for the PML N causing them to flock to Qadri who is known for his anti-violence stand.

On one hand, putting the political opportunitism aside, the ASWJ is capitalising on a situation where religion and politics have merged by campaigning for democracy and they have supporters.

Supporting the PML N is one thing, but if they are on their way out why not make the most of the space left behind? However, they are still a banned, allegedly terrorist group that cannot compete with Qadri.

Despite knowing Qadri to be a religious scholar from Jhang and not an elected politician, it is alleged that his supporters apparently outnumber the PTI supporters. Even if this is not true, the support for Qadri cannot be mistaken - his rally for revolution pulled in more people than those at the ASWJ one.

Leaving aside his political stand, which demands a clean set of rulers, Qadri's pull is his broad religious appeal to various segments and sects of society. Support for him is growing, not waning.

More importantly, those who are anti-PML N find another reason to rally against them since a Sufi cleric demanding a clean government is far more acceptable than a banned organisation like the ASWJ aligning itself with a government accused of rigging the elections.

And now, the final seal of approval came in the form of the military when ex-General Pervez Musharraf in a televised interview praised Qadri. Ex or current, once a military man always a military man. And if you have the khakis' blessing, even if it is the form of appreciation, that is all the legitimacy needed in Pakistan to secure a safe political future.

If the Prime Minister resigns, democracy in Pakistan will be weakened. If the people are not given answers to questions put forward via Imran Khan, disillusionment may translate into support for the military.

If the military intervenes, it will be another indication of how weak our political parties are that they cannot even resolve issues via institutions such as the judiciary.

But if secularism disappoints, with a theoretically ineffective Left wing, can religious entities, banned or unelected, remain on the outskirts of politics? No. And that is most frightening.

Mehr F Husain is a columnist based in Lahore