By giving in to demands of Barelvi zealots, Pakistan has set itself up for chaos

Sushant Sareen
Sushant SareenDec 08, 2017 | 09:11

By giving in to demands of Barelvi zealots, Pakistan has set itself up for chaos

The tempelate — marching on Islamabad and/or staging a prolonged sit-in disrupting normal life of ordinary citizens — adopted by the new Islamist kid on the block in Pakistan (the Barelvi Sunni Muslim political party/movement Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasul Allah Pakistan) for destabilising a government isn’t new; the abject capitulation of the Pakistani state in the face of street pressure mounted by the clerics is certainly stupefying.


The sight of the Pakistani state, whose security forces are renowned for their prowess in repeatedly conquering and brutally suppressing their own people and country, grovelling before a bunch of fulminating fanatics, was quite breathtaking. In fact, some Pakistani analysts have compared the surrender in Islamabad with the surrender in Dhaka nearly 50 years ago.

Of course, Pakistan government ministers defend themselves by saying that they capitulated because the alternative was a civil war, especially after widespread disturbances broke out all across Pakistan following the badly botched crackdown by the police and civilian paramilitary forces on the protesters blockading the main access road between the de facto capital (Rawalpindi) and de jure capital (Islamabad).

The sheer incompetence of the civilian law enforcement agencies asides, the street power of the mullahs, coupled with tacit backing they got from the military which defied orders of the government to crackdown on the demonstrators forced the government to throw in the towel.

By succumbing to the demands of the Barelvi zealots, the Pakistani state might have gotten over the immediate political and law and order crisis, but it has in the process sown the seeds and saplings for far greater virulence and violence in the future.

Indications that the Barelvis had transformed into a potent force in Pakistani power politics had become known even before their resounding victory in Islamabad. But the reverberations of the terms of surrender they forced on the government will be felt for years to come.

The government not only accepted responsibility for mishandling the clerics' protest but also agreed to pick up the bill for all the damage and loss caused to public and private property.

Apart from the mullahs forcing the ouster of the law minister in exchange for not passing any fatwa on him, they got the government to agree to the formation of a virtual "inquisition council" that will have a bunch of mullahs examine the "Muslim-ness" of a powerful Punjab minister, Rana Sanaullah.

The fear is that such "inquisition councils" could easily become the new normal for certifying the degree of "Muslim-ness" of any individual. After all, if someone as powerful and well-connected like Sanaullah can be forced to explain himself, who will be able to defy the mullahs and tell them to mind their own business?

This isn’t all. The Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasul Allah Pakistan (TLYRA) will now nominate two representatives who will recommend changes in school syllabus to ensure it is "Islamic". The government has also turned the clock back on the misuse of loudspeakers in mosques and given a free run to the clerics.



A few things are likely to happen in the weeks, months and years ahead. First, while sectarian conflicts between Shia and Sunni will continue, there is every possibility of greater intra-Sunni conflicts between the Barelvis, Deobandis and Wahabis. The Barelvi religio-political assertion is bound to be challenged and resisted by the Deobandis and Wahabis.

Despite being in minority, the Deobandis and Wahabis exercised much greater influence in religious and political matters than the Barelvis. They are unlikely to cede the space they have captured without a fight, and they have the guns and the jihadist cadre while the Barelvis have only the numbers.

Of course, if the "deep state" is now propping the Barelvis as a counter-weight to the other two, then that will give them a leg up. Conflict is inherent in this situation.

Second, the TLYRA has managed to create a climate of fear and trepidation. Everyone seems terrified to confront the mullahs lest they issue a fatwa of blasphemy or deviation or even defection from the rightful Islamic path. With the state seen as cringing and cowering before the clerics, the man on the street is hardly likely to pick up cudgels against the religious storm-troopers.

As it is, the slightest of criticism of the method of the mullahs doesn’t extend to questioning their madness. The media invariably prefixes its rather soft criticism by mouthing inanities like “me and my entire family, and future generations are ready to be sacrificed in defence of the Prophet”.


The police, according to a top cop in Punjab, feel burdened by religious sentiment to not act against the clerics. The army, which is quick to use disproportionate force against the Pakistani Taliban, doesn’t bat an eyelid before massacring Baloch freedom fighters or putting them in Pakistani Gulags, is loath to using force against the mullahs — “our own people”, as they call them. The politicians are terrified of both the personal and political damage that these extremists can cause. In short, there is an open field for the mullahs to peddle their poison.

Third, the mullahs have tasted the fruit of their street power and will now use it to gain political power or at least prominence. Their political prospects will have improved after this victory because they will be seen as players, not bystanders, much less supplicants.

Finally, the paring down of the state, coupled with the success of holding the Capital hostage, will now make it tempting for any Islamic group with a modicum of public support to replicate the TLYRA template.

The choice before the state at that stage will be: Either crush the protests (and set an example), or cave in yet again. The first will set off a spiral of violence and undermine the state; the second will anyway undermine the state.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Last updated: December 08, 2017 | 09:11
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