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Ultraconservative triumph puts Pakistan in danger, World News

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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan may have so far avoided further violence by yielding to the demands of a militant and supremacist religious group. But in doing so, Khan is allowing radical ultra-conservatism to fester, undermining social cohesion, threatening economic development and giving activists oversight over foreign policy.

The government’s surrender to Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan or “I am Present Pakistan” (TLP), a banned far-right group, comes at a time when Mr. Khan has taken several steps to Islamize Pakistani society.

He is also coming on the heels of ultra-conservatives in Pakistan, feeling emboldened by the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan. Moreover, the collapse will do little to support Pakistan’s efforts to be graylisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog. .

In separate talks, Mr. Khan’s government negotiated a ceasefire with Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban. The talks were mediated by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s interior minister of Afghanistan, who heads the infamous Haqqani network. The network has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States while the FBI has declared Mr. Haqqani one of its most wanted.

The ceasefire would end the 14-year TTP insurgency aimed at forcing the government to introduce Islamic law into Pakistani tribal areas. Thousands of people have been killed in TTP attacks and clashes with security forces.

For its part, the TLP has made blasphemy its signature. He has repeatedly used his self-proclaimed position as a defender of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad to pressure the government to meet its demands. The group is using the mass protests besieging Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, as a ram.

Four people were killed and some 250 injured last week in a clash with security forces in the latest clash between the government and the group. Thousands of TLP supporters had blocked a key highway as they marched from Lahore to Islamabad, a distance of 380 kilometers. They ended the blockade once the government accepted their demands.

The group called for the ban imposed on it in April to be lifted; the release from prison of its activists and leader, Saad Rizvi; the thawing of his bank accounts and the expulsion of the French ambassador.

Details of the deal with the TLP have not yet been released, but Pakistani media reported that the only request the government rejected was for Pakistan to expel the French ambassador because of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in 2015 by a satirical magazine based in Paris. Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad has said the government will bring the issue to parliament, but has yet to do so.

Activists attacked the magazine at the time and killed 12 of its employees. The Pakistani online edition of Saudi News from Saudi Arabia last week appeared to try to calm Pakistani spirits by reporting that French companies wanted to invest in Pakistani tourism infrastructure despite volatility in the country.

The TLP is a political expression of the Barelvi mainstream of Sunni Islam which has long been considered more moderate than Deobandism, the other major wing of the faith in Pakistan.

Barelvi’s recent activism is a testament to the deep roots that ultra-conservatism has struck in Pakistan. Decades of various government policies that have contributed to Islamization, coupled with massive Saudi public and private funding in the past for militant religious seminars or madrasas and militant groups, have helped weave ultra-conservatism into the fabric. of Pakistani society.

Syed Badiuddin Soharwardy, a 66-year-old Pakistani-Canadian Imam, observed how Saudi Arabian-funded religious ultra-conservatism was instrumentalized by the Pakistani armed forces in his dispute with India over Kashmir and Afghanistan, starting with the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s. He also recorded how ultra-conservatism changed the demographics of the military.

The son of a prayer leader and teacher, Mr. Soharwardy recalls accompanying his father to mosques on bases across the country by the Pakistani Air Force and Navy to celebrate the anniversary of the Prophet, a ritual frowned upon by ultra-conservatives. “My father participated in the celebration and the children sang nursery rhymes praising the Prophet,” Mr. Soharwardy said.

Mr. Sohawardy calculated on the basis of an analysis of sectarian affiliation of Pakistani mosques that while 70% of mosques were Barelvi in ​​the late 1970s, that number had increased over 30 years later to 55%. identifying as Deobandi. The change in the affiliation of military mosques was even more dramatic with 85 percent currently adhering to Deobandism compared to 90 percent in the 1970s aligning with the Barelvis.

Barelvis was not immune to the tentacles of ultra-conservatism. The Khatm-e-Nubawwat Lawyers Forum, a network of 800 lawyers with close ties to law enforcement, has spurred an increase in blasphemy prosecutions that began when the TLP was founded in 2015. Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan.

The forum is associated with the Assembly to Protect the End of Prophecy or Majlis-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatm-e Nabuwwat founded in 1950 as a Barelvie organization. The organization has worked to prevent Ahmadis from identifying themselves as Muslims.

Mainstream Muslims accuse Ahmadis of blasphemy because they refuse to recognize Muhammad as the last prophet. The founder of the Ahmadis, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, proclaimed himself a Muslim prophet at the end of the 19th century.

“Whoever does this (blasphemy), the punishment is death. There is no alternative, ”said forum manager Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry.

Mr. Chaudry was the defense attorney for Mumtaz Qadri, who became a hero after being sentenced to death and executed in 2016 for the 2011 murder of Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab and outspoken critic of Pakistan’s draconian law on blasphemy.

Mr. Qadri’s grave in Bhara Kahu on the outskirts of Islamabad, a 25-minute drive from where he murdered Mr. Taseer, has become a place of pilgrimage that attracts dozens of visitors. Graffiti celebrates Mr. Qadri on the road to his grave. Nearby stores sell flowers and pictures of the assassin.

Critics of the government accuse the government’s agreement with the TLP of undermining its authority and of being a further step towards asserting a greater role for religion in the life of the country.

Mr. Khan’s government has sought to Islamize Pakistani education with the development of a new national curriculum and compulsory religion classes as part of university education. It also recently set up a body to monitor the program, programs and social media for “blasphemous” content.

“The state’s mandate has once again collapsed in the face of violent extremism,” columnist Zahid Hussain said. The “agreement with the TLP has worsened the internal security situation due to the rise of sectarian extremism”.

Saad Hafiz, another columnist, argued that the appeasement of militant religious groups like the TLP explains Pakistan’s favorable reception of the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan. He warned that their influence was shaping Pakistani foreign policy and restricting the South Asian nation’s ability to meet its geopolitical goals.

Pakistan’s perceived embrace of the Taliban, even though it has refrained from acknowledging the group’s government, has fueled anti-Pakistan sentiment in Washington. US President Joe Biden has still not called Mr. Khan since he took office in January.

“The collective triumphalism in Pakistan over the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was not well received in Washington,” Hafiz said. “The street power of radical Islam has limited international options. These factors have caused disarray and excesses in foreign policy that the country can hardly afford. The net result is fewer allies, limited diplomatic space, and strategic mobility. “

(Disclaimer: The views of the author do not represent those of WION or ZMCL. WION or ZMCL also do not endorse the views of the author.)


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