Nearly four weeks of my holidays in the village of my birth in the part of Pakistan held Kashmir, the weather has been expectedly fabulous with moderate sunshine and rain. The second week of my stay here in an environment full of natural beauty including a man-made lake was blessed with the company of my close friends and colleagues both locally and from Mirpur and Islamabad. The hide and seek game played by the unpredictable supply of electricity, in this part of the world, has been quite irksome and disturbing, but manageable.
In this age of highly advanced technology in global communication, it has been easy for me to keep myself abreast of some of the important issues and news of the world.
During the last four weeks, in Pakistan, the press and electronic media has been dominated with three main news. Firstly the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab in January 2011, produced massive reaction in all parts of the country. Although Qadri was convicted for murder and terrorism, his funeral was one of the largest ever held in Pakistan. Qadri was awarded the death sentence by an anti-terror court but the judge had to flee the country for the sake of his safety. However after long judicial process, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the lower court. Thus, Qadri was sent to the gallows. The timing of his hanging was decided by the government of Nawaz Sharif with some trepidation due to fear of the reaction the execution may unleash. However, while the media and the government played down with his hanging, his supporters and sympathisers were out to protest in almost all small and large towns and cities of the country. All the religious political parties and clergy closed their ranks and condoned his death and condoned his act of assassination unanimously. Qadri was hailed as a great hero and martyr and the government a stooge of the west. I believe the ideological opposition of Qadri to Salman Taseer’s statements on blasphemy law that prompted him to fire twenty shots to kill him, was the result of his fixed mind on some of his religious beliefs.
He was a product of steady growth of religious extremism and intolerance in Pakistani society over the last three decades.
In the third week of February, the Punjab Government took a bold decision and passed the Protection of Women Against Violence Bill in the Assembly. In the province of Punjab, where in the last five years according to the statistics available with the Punjab Police, a total of 1269 women became victims of “honour killing” and thousands were subjected to rape and domestic violence. In a misogynistic society like Pakistan, the majority of women are subject to retrogressive traditions and customs. The law has been challenged and furiously opposed and condemned by the religious leaders who are labelling the law as anti-Sharia.
The abhorrence of clergy and conservative segments of the country is a manifestation of their desire for the perpetuation of oppressive male domination, using religion as a cloak. The “Mullah Brigade” as usual is spitting venom on all those who are supporting this long overdue legislation to protect the most vulnerable women. The male supporters of the legislation in the Punjab Assembly are described as hen pecked husbands and liberal secular’s hell bent on destroying the fabric of society. The government have yielded to pressures from the religious right and have agreed to consider proposals from religious leadership for possible amendments. But their demand is for scraping the law altogether. Hence, the ball now is in the government’s court.
Nawaz Sharif, ironically, has been closely associated with some Islamist groups and enjoyed their electoral support from time to time in the past. Therefore, despite his bold decision to go ahead with this radical legislation, he is not regarded as the beacon for any real social change or enlightened policies.
The Musharraf saga ended on Friday the 18th of March with no surprises. He was allowed by the government, after his successful appeal to the Supreme Court, to leave Pakistan for medical treatment abroad. He is now in Dubai where he is resting with his family. Many observers believe that he will not return to Pakistan to face his trial on treason charges. But he has insisted that he will come back after few months when his health is fully restored.
The departure of Musharraf has created enormous embarrassment for Sharif’s government. The opposition parties are accusing him of surrendering to Musharraf and letting him go scot free. In the eyes of opposition, his acclaimed resolve for bringing the treason trial of the dictator to its conclusion for strengthening democracy in the country was nothing more than a rhetoric. I believe the decision to let Musharraf leave the country was made collaboratively by the army and Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf had now become a thorn in the back of the army as the possibilities for his conviction were becoming more convincing day by day. The verdict of guilty for Musharraf would have been not easy for the army to stomach and would have put them in the most uncomfortable and uncompromising position. Nawaz Sharif’s administration also realised this forthcoming crisis which perhaps they wanted to avoid at all cost.
Musharraf’s return to Pakistan will be a risky venture for him as long as Sharif is in power. On the other hand, if the establishment offers him a safe return, he may not resist the temptation.
In Pakistan, the action against extremism and terrorism since the devastating attack on an Army Public School in Peshawar, has intensified and things have moved forward in positive directions. But it is difficult to visualise the end result of this resolve of the army.
The government is faced with enormous opposition from religious outfits. They have unanimously ganged up against it. Their demand is for total withdrawal of the Woman Protection Act and apology for Qadri’s execution. These obscurantist groups are preparing themselves for a decisive encounter with Nawaz Sharif’s government. The question is, will the government be able to muster the courage of its conviction and face this challenge fearlessly or will it lose its nerve and submit to their whims?
All the available evidence suggests, however, that in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the religious right and puritans still possess the capacity to incite religious passions and mobilise street power to wreak havoc for any government.
The Panama Papers Leaks, whereas they have shaken many incumbent governments in the world, the Nawaz Sharif government also has been under extreme pressure from opposition parties. The revelations about the alleged investment by his two sons of ill-gotten wealth in the off shore companies abroad and his failure to declare it, have seriously on his moral authority. This has happened when his relationship with the establishment is at a very low ebb. His announcement for a judicial commission to probe the allegations of tax evasion and money laundering has been rejected by all opposition parties. His reluctance to take the parliament into confidence by declaring all of his and his family’s financial interests has made his opponents suspicious of his move for purposing the judicial commission. Mr Nawaz Sharif seems to be faced with a political quandary which he did not expect and now desperate to find safe exit. However, in view of the current politically intensely heated climate in the country, he is faced with two probable choices. Either to go for re-election or resign.