Successful manipulation of religion to achieve short-term goals, myopic self-centered agenda, lack of democratic practices and unabated appeasement of clergies to secure ballots are the reasons why whole nation suffered at the hands of extremists.Regardless of the rhetoric of calming the situation by the incumbent government, Faizabad episode left indelible marks on our society. But, was it a sudden reaction or the movement was brewing for years, is an important question.
On an unfortunate day, 4th January 2011, then Governor Punjab, Salman Taseer was shot dead and his killer surrendered to the police immediately. The killer, Mumtaz Qadri, was showered praises and garlanded by lawyers on his appearance in the court. Fissures erupted in the society, which was evident by the polarisation on this sensitive issue. Though some eminent scholars like Allama Tahir Ul Qadri, and others of his stature, condemned the incident, but those aggrieved over the victim’s remarks on blasphemy laws didn’t pay heed to them and took refuge in appreciating the killer and demanding his release.
Few clerics, including Dr. Asif Ashraf Jalali, Khadim Rizvi, and Pir Afzal Qadri, gathered and decided to build a mass movement to pressurize the government to not to hang him. Though he was sentenced to death, but as ideas are bulletproof, his legacy lived on. The weekly protest was announced after his hanging, by the aforementioned clerics to muster support for the movement, which was named Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Ullah, and to ensure huge attendance at the chehlum of Mumtaz Qadri. Despite being not covered by the mainstream media, they managed to gather a huge crowd there using social media – a mass weapon that has the potential to wreak havoc within seconds, if left unchecked and unregulated.
Encouraged by the mass gathering, a political party named Tehreek Labaik Pakistan was formed. The leadership was very confident that if this issue could be kept alive, they can give crushing defeat to the opponents. As our nation is good at forgetting and moving on very quickly, the support started dwindling. This seemed to be problematic but another controversy, alleged amendment of acts relating to faith declaration in Election Ammendment Act, 2017, gave immense oxygen to the disgruntled leadership. Besides trying luck in by-elections, the party started building organizational strength for the grand finale at Faizabad. State had to sccumb to the burgeoning pressure mounted by the clerics and their demands were met.
A worrying aspect of this phenomenon is that the comparatively tolerant and sufi inspired Barelvi community, who were widely targetted by violent actions of the Taliban, themselves became so agitated and blocked the the main arteries of the Punjab. How could a relatively unknown cleric, managed to get the wholesum support of the community ? Why the community left its long upheld lofty ideals of peace, tolerance, inclusiveness and co-existance? Are we a nation drifting towards retrogressiveness? Or, What if they are left disenchanted by the results of 2018 elections? In that case, Will we have to face another TTP, if they pick up arms after feeling distressed in securing ballots?
Though, the past cannot be rectified but lessons are there to be learnt from it. Our turbulent history is now calling mainstream politicians to form a basic code of conduct, which must include the commitment that no matter what the conditions are, no political party will pander such sentiments that could be threatening to the communal harmony in the country. After suffering for decades at the hands of religious extremists, our state institutions should also realize that stoking fear in public and cashing religious sentiments to achieve strategic goals, could have a devastating impact on the state. Perhaps, these lessons will be learned one day, but sooner the better.