Faizabad redux

Published October 2, 2023

THE memory of the infamous Faizabad dharna of 2017 has returned to haunt Pakistan. When one looks back at the stand-off, which eventually saw the Tehreek-i-Labbaik catapulted into the political ‘mainstream’, there is little to feel but regret.

As the Supreme Court takes up review petitions against its 2019 verdict in the same case, the TLP is once again on the rampage, this time against minority communities.

Unfortunately, there has been, so far, no attempt by the state to clamp down on their disruptive activities — an approach in line with the security establishment’s earlier inclination to allow a free hand to the group. Interestingly, those who had filed the review pleas against the 2019 Faizabad sit-in verdict now want them withdrawn.

They include the PTI, which participated in an extended smear campaign against the current chief justice following the judgement, but which now finds it more suitable for his verdict to be implemented without further qualification.

There are also some who do not want the matter to be revisited as this will invariably give rise to difficult questions about the present political context.

It may be recalled that the Supreme Court’s Faizabad ruling had prompted a presidential reference against Justice Isa — a move that was widely seen as a ‘punishment’ for his attempt to hold the security forces to account.

The judgement was seen as a clarion call for unelected quarters to respect their oath, to stop interfering in the political domain, and to check religious extremists, instead of patronising them.

But none was ever prosecuted for engaging in unlawful political activity, and the TLP was allowed to flourish despite its virulent ideology, which recurrently caused immense embarrassment for the Pakistani authorities in later years.

The political instability seen lately and the repeated attacks on Pakistan’s minority communities in recent weeks are just some of the symptoms of the state’s failure to implement the Faizabad sit-in verdict.

After the Eid Milad-un-Nabi bombings this Friday, many observers have been wondering why Pakistan continues to be targeted by those seeking to shed innocent blood. It would appear that violent extremism continues to find easy outlets here because it ranks so low in our state’s priorities.

Consider how the state responded to the Faizabad verdict. When the court excoriated the security agencies for failing to act firmly against those openly spreading hate and advocating extremism, the administration at the time, instead of ensuring that the miscreants were dealt with resolutely, attempted to neutralise the judge who had issued the ruling.

As long as terrorists know that our state will turn a blind eye to bigotry and hate, there is little hope for us to be rid of the malignancies that have become embedded in our sociopolitical fabric.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2023

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