Twisting the narrative

Published January 10, 2015
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.—INP Photo
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.—INP Photo

OBFUSCATION, deception and wrongful conflation are the usual tools of the religious right when it comes to attacking any form of consensus on the need for state and society to focus seriously on the fight against militancy.

Now, it is the turn of Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F to try and create doubts in the minds of the public about what the principal internal threat is in Pakistan and suggest that there is some kind of conspiracy afoot against madressahs, conservative Muslims and the religious right here.

Also read: Fazl mobilising religious parties to protest against military courts law

Clearly, the 21st Amendment is a deeply flawed, undemocratic piece of legislation, and anti-terrorism military courts for civilians are a blow to the democratic project.

There are many good and proper reasons to oppose draconian laws on grounds of principle and in practice too. But in criticising the 21st Amendment to the Constitution and an amendment to the Army Act for singling out religious militants for trial in military courts and threatening to launch a national movement, the JUI-F chief is simply pandering to his base — and doing his best to confuse issues.

To be clear, the principal internal threat in Pakistan today is terrorism and militancy in the name of religion — simply, the Islamist militancy, terrorism and extremist threat. In trying to lump other groups carrying out political violence together with Islamist groups waging war against the Pakistani state and society, Maulana Fazlur Rehman appears to be deliberately trying to dilute the national consensus and create fresh discord between state and society.

Political groups embracing separatist or sub-nationalist ideologies inside Pakistan do resort to violence. But, inspired by a sense of disenfranchisement and exclusion from mainstream Pakistan, those non-religious, secular movements need to be won over by political action at the macro level and thwarted in their violent agenda by more effective law-enforcement and intelligence-gathering at the micro level to prevent attacks.

To its credit, the wider political class understands the very fundamental difference between the overarching Islamist militancy threat and small-scale, regional groups that have turned to violence to achieve otherwise justifiable political aims of inclusivity and equality. Hence the very specific focus in the new legislation on the much bigger and more potent Islamist threat.

It is fairly obvious that by demanding all forms of armed militancy be treated in the same way — ie the new military courts regime be used against all groups that have resorted to any kind of political violence— the JUI-F is trying to drive a wedge between state and society and ensure that the effect of the National Action Plan and military courts embedded within that plan is minimal.

To do so makes sense for the JUI-F because of an unpleasant truth: the party continues to sympathise with and have allies in the world of Islamist militant groups here. The JUI-F is yet positioning itself on the wrong side of a democratic, inclusive, moderate Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2015

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