The Defining Moment

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has acquitted Asia Bibi in the blasphemy case. She lost eight years of her life for a crime that she did not commit and no one can return those years to her and her life remains under threat. The country has been brought to a virtual standstill by the right-wing religious parties and some individuals, who have levelled serious allegations against the State institutions and the leaders within those institutions. The Prime Minister in a televised address has categorically stated that Pakistan was created on the basis of Islam, that the acquittal decision by the Supreme Court was taken after following due judicial process, and that the unruly and misguided behaviour of the demonstrators would be dealt with stern action by the State. For now, the country is under a virtual shut down and being held hostage by the religious zealots who are protesting against the decision. It is a defining moment for Pakistan, which could very well determine the future direction of a precariously poised country.

As if that was not enough, the government has instituted a price increase for petroleum products, which is likely to add to the already rising inflationary pressures in the country. In the parliament Asif Zardari has delivered a reconciliatory address in which he has suddenly realized all that ails Pakistan and suggested solutions for those problems. Some elements within the opposition are trying to clobber together an alliance against the government. The educational institutions across the country have been closed, with little concern for the students or their studies. Amidst all this the life of the working people in Pakistan continues to be disrupted and made even more difficult with the recent uncalled for demonstrations. A handful of hooligans have banded together and Pakistanis appear to be watching helplessly as the country potentially descends into chaos, at a time when the focus needs to be squarely on the revival of a precariously placed economy.

It was not too long ago when the current government, prior to assuming the reins of power, led a prolonged demonstration and sit-in in Islamabad, that included storming of the Pakistan Television premises. At the time an important visit by the Chinese Premier had to be cancelled and businesses and the people suffered heavily on account of the disruptive nature of the protests. In 2017 daily life in Islamabad was once again disrupted for 20 days by protesters belonging to religious parties, including the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY), the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST). They occupied the Faizabad Interchange and were protesting against the passage of Elections Act 2017, when the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath was deliberately modified. Both the protests were dispersed through the intervention and negotiations by the Military. This time around, some elements within the right wing religious parties have directly accused the Judiciary and the Military leadership, leaving little ground for negotiations.

While the Prime Minister has categorically stated that the State would initiate stern action against those involved, it remains to be seen how the government actually reacts and deals with the miscreants. It could very well be the defining moment for Pakistan and the direction it is likely to take in the future. One path leads to moderation and the rule of Law; while the other path leads to extremism and potential chaos. The World is watching as Pakistan once again grapples with its internal demons trying to find a path towards stability and prosperity. For now, the Prime Minister’s address has been timely and balanced and the judgement by the Superior Court is worthy of praise. It is imperative to build on these narratives and ensure that the marginalized voices of the misguided and politically motivated right-wing religious parties are quashed. Pakistan needs to move forward as a progressive and moderate State, and it is essential that at this moment the right decisions are firmly taken to ensure we follow the path towards sanity.

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