Hafiz Saeed's release, Zahid Hamid's ouster show Islamic fundamentalism is still very much alive in Pakistan

Islamic fundamentalism and the fuelling of terror are alive and kicking in Pakistan, if the outpourings of public support in the wake of Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed's release from house arrest and the violent protests against a proposed new version of an oath to be taken by lawmakers that omitted mention of Prophet Muhammad are anything to go by.

In the latter case, the changes in the oath were dropped forthwith by a chastened government but the agitation escalated to such an extent that Law Minister Zahid Hamid, who was seen to be the architect of the 'blasphemous' changes, was forced to quit.

Tehreek-i-Labaik firebrand leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who is the agitation spearhead, is indeed in no mood to let up. He called for an immediate nationwide strike to agitate against the 'atrocities committed' by the police on Saturday, even as the agitation spread to Karachi, Lahore and Multan.

 Hafiz Saeeds release, Zahid Hamids ouster show Islamic fundamentalism is still very much alive in Pakistan

File image of former Pakistan law minister Zahid Hamid. Twitter @nailainayat

To the new generation of Pakistani liberals who abhor the whole hypocritical emphasis on 'blasphemy', the fact that Facebook, YouTube, DailyMotion and Instagram were all down in parts of the country, as the government mulled blocking cell phone signals, was a signal for obscurantism which angered them. Just prior to this, Pakistani authorities had announced a ban on all live TV news coverage of the operation to remove the protesters.

"All satellite TV channel licensees were directed to exhibit utmost sensitivity on the matter… and refrain from live coverage of the ongoing operation at Faizabad, Islamabad," read a notice from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority.

Hamid tried to cover up the decision to change the oath-taking text by ascribing the whole thing to a 'clerical error' but the ferocity of the demand for his ouster was unrelenting.

At least six protesters were killed and 200 injured — including dozens of police officers and paramilitary troops – as stone-throwing crowds fought with police for control of a highway intersection.

Supporters of Rizvi's political party, camping at the Faizabad Interchange, blocking the main road from the capital Islamabad to neighbouring Rawalpindi, clashed with thousands of Pakistani police officers in riot gear who were firing tear gas and rubber bullets, paralysing the Pakistani capital for weeks with a protest on the main highway.

Interestingly, there was a perceptible reluctance on the part of the army to deal with the agitators, pointing to the fact that the forces did not want to be seen as being on the side of the government against the Islamists. This is an ominous sign indeed. It raises possibilities that if the agitation continues despite Hamid's resignation, the army's support to the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government cannot be taken for granted.

As the standoff has escalated, protest leaders have stepped up their demands, and are now calling for the entire cabinet to resign. Behind-the-scene attempts are, however, being made to defuse the situation.

On Saturday, a new dimension was added to the rally when Rizvi, addressing his supporters from atop a trailer, accused the authorities of working on behalf of the United States. "(Donald) Trump says change Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Are you acting on his orders?" he asked the police.

There is a section in Pakistan, especially among the hardcore elements, that despises the Americans. Especially when passions are aroused against them, there are many takers for defying them. While the Americans have already expressed great displeasure over Saeed's release and the sham nature of his arrest and trial, United States' statements on scrapping the blasphemy law are likely to meet with fresh resistance.

The law on blasphemy was the result of former president Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's attempts to ingratiate himself to the mullahs when he was losing ground with the people. It was Zia-ul-Haq as a former army chief who had built up a strong army-mullah bond.

Finding Pakistan increasingly isolated in the world with a recognisable tag of a fundamentalist state, the Pakistan government thought it expedient to modify the oath of office as a move to look more liberal than it actually is.

This is what led to the agitation that is threatening the existence of the Shahid Khaqan Abbasi government. There was no love lost between the Nawaz Sharif government and the army top brass in the latter's last days in power. The same is the case with Sharif's chosen successor and the forces.

Pakistan is today widely looked upon as a failed state as much because it is the fountainhead of terror but also because of the power the fundamentalists wield in the country among large sections of people. As it is, over the years, the severely depleted Hindus and Christians have been reduced to second-class citizens.

Successive governments in Pakistan trained and armed terrorists to fight the Indian Army in Kashmir. Today, the Pakistanis themselves are victims of unbridled terror because extremism has a tendency to escalate beyond proportions.

By fanning the flames of fundamentalism over the years, have successive Pakistan governments been committing the blunder of raising another monster that would prove to be a huge liability for Pakistan? Only time will tell but that appears a strong possibility.

Updated Date: Nov 27, 2017 18:57:13 IST