The sovereignty of a state is an individualistic characteristic that cannot reside concurrently in two distinct authorities. Splitting it into two or more authorities within a state would jeopardize the unity of a state and pose a serious threat to the writ of a state. In this context, it’s imperative that a state maintains its writ, in light of the constitutional provisions, and doesn’t allow any entity to challenge its writ. Many times, threats may emerge in internal and external environments which pose threat to the sovereignty of the state and it’s naturally expected and required of the state to not bow down, root for negotiations or seek refuge but confront them and ensure to make an example out of such entities as the law allows and instructs you to. However, considering the recent events in Pakistan, following the negotiations and submission of the Pakistan government exhibits some fundamental lessons of statehood that may just have been forgotten by our political elite.
The recent episode of TLP protests exacerbates emerging religious revivalism in Pakistani politics, where the use of a religious umbrella provides the entities the impenetrable shield allowing them to pursue their political objectives with complete disregard of the law, constitutional provisions, and civic duties. However, we are not alone, religious revivalism in politics has garnered apace in many countries: Hindutva in India, Semitism in Israel, and AFO (Alternative for Germany) in Germany have been the classical call of the rise of right-wing politics. Its two-way traffic: Religionization of politics and politicization of religion has been observed. Pakistan has not been immune to the trend; the recent clash between the government and TLP tells the tale.
Religious flag grants immunity and the ability to pursue interests. Keeping the legacy of their founder Khadim Hussian Rizvi this time the party again decided to show their power in the streets for meeting their demands. The party again brought many cities into a standstill situation and repeatedly challenged the writ of the state. Following the arrest of their new leader Saad Rizvi (son of Khadim Rizvi) under the act of terrorism the followers come out on the roads and block the highways and roads. Starting with the demand of releasing their leader, as the negotiations grew they demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador as their primary demand. The government with the help of clergymen decides to negotiate with the leadership of TLP. The party which a few months back recognized as the outlawed and banned organization now able to pressurize the current government to not only release their leader but also accept all their other demands too. This showed the increased influence of religious clerics on the government’s functioning and its conduct. This not only shows the fragile democratic political system of Pakistan but also showed the prevailing idea of radicalization of the society by the religious clerics. For instance, if today the government is accepting the demands of the ultraconservative TLP it would set a precedent which followed by other pressure groups to not only create a law-and-order situation but also achieve their political objectives and demands under the umbrella of religion.
While releasing Saad Rizvi the government seemed to kneel in front of religious extremist groups. This shows the birth of a new feudal class of religious leaders who deemed themselves above the law. To control the law and order situation created by TLP followers three police personals got martyrdom. Now releasing the men who were responsible for such a chaotic situation not only showed the incompetency of government but also the blood the police personals that lost their precious life for maintaining the writ of state go in vain. The secret agreement between the khan government and TLP leadership not only pushed the police department against the wall but also resulted in the demoralizing of the police department which has suffered the martyrdom of its jawans and several wounded personals.
Like previously, this time the followers of TLP again bring the administration to its knees. It’s not for the first time the administration surrendered it has been down last year too. The state seemed to not have any clear policy regarding such religious factions who hijacked the whole system time and again. The government again goes to its previous ad-hoc policy of accepting the demands of protestors instead of taking coercive action against the extremists.
The rise of such ultraconservative factions into the politics of Pakistan increases the risk that in the future, religious factions would prevail in the political realms of Pakistan, derailing what little is left in the democratic system and economic stability. Besides, the state seemed to have no permanent long-term policy and solution to the problem of TLP and such other extremist parties. Every time appeasing and bowing down to the demands of such factions have only increased and strengthened their agenda and influence in political policymaking. The government needs to develop a long-term policy to curb down such factions before they again hit the road and cripple the working and running of the state. If strong and hard decisions are not made and surrendering and bowing down to such extremists would eventually fall Pakistan into the hands of such religious extremists as TLP which will have not only weakened the state internally but put a question mark on the status of the country as a sovereign state internationally!
Afaq Ahmad is a student of Strategic Studies at National Defense University, Islamabad.