BELATEDLY, the state may be proceeding to hold accountable the party leadership and some of its supporters for the violence and terror that they unleashed on the country more than a month ago.
According to Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, the PTI government is moving towards having the leadership of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan and individuals involved in violence during the days-long protests that paralysed the country in late October and early November put on trial on an assortment of treason, sedition and terrorism-related charges. The trials will, according to the information minister, be held in anti-terrorism courts in the relevant jurisdictions across the country.
It remains to be seen if the government intends to follow through on what the information minister has asserted, but if it does it would lay down an important marker for lawful discourse and protest in the country.
The protests were a historic debacle for the state and more than a month since the country has tried to return to normality, the shocking nature and brazenness of the TLP rhetoric has not faded.
So direct and categorical was the violence-inciting narrative against the government, the judiciary and the military leadership by the TLP leaders that the lawful sentencing of the latter and their violent supporters is a sine qua non for the re-establishment of the rule of law in the country.
Unhappily, elements within the religious establishment in the country are seeking to shield the TLP leaders from lawful action by the state in the name of so-called religious harmony. Several clerics led by Mufti Muneebur Rehman, who heads the Tanzeem-ul-Madaris Ahle Sunnat and the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee, held a news conference on Sunday to demand that the government not take action against the TLP’s Khadim Rizvi and Afzal Qadri.
But what the religious leaders argued was necessary for religious harmony and peace in the country would amount to the state being blackmailed by violent extremists in the name of religion. There exist laws in the country against incitement to violence and attempts to spread religious hatred. If the language and actions of the TLP leaders and some of their supporters do not meet the criteria of unlawful incitement to violence and attempts to spread religious hatred, then what else possibly could?
Arguably, the one-sided politics of appeasement that the state has used — seemingly allowing those threatening violence and spreading intolerance in the name of religion free rein, while taking oppressive action against those demanding constitutionally protected rights — has created distortions in both state and society that now threaten to devour everyone.
Similarly, the dharna culture that has developed and been tacitly supported by elements within the state in recent years has turned political protests into deadly affairs.
The shocking events in the country after the acquittal of Aasia Bibi by the Supreme Court must never be allowed to take place again.
Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2018