It is now a well-established fact that the Pakistan Army calls the shots in Pakistan and not the elected civilian government. The Prime Minister has been reduced to a mere rubber stamp in matters of military and foreign policy.

It is almost cliched to say that most countries have an army, whereas the military has a government in Pakistan. Regimes come and go, but the clout of the Pakistan army remains undiminished. This was realized by Imran Khan the hard way.

He very reluctantly bowed down to the wishes of the Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and endorsed Lt General Nadeem Anjum as the new ISI chief. Imran Khan wanted the present ISI chief Lt General Faiz Hameed, to continue as ISI chief. Unfortunately, for Imran Khan, the military thought otherwise.

Ever since the Imran Khan government took over, even the veneer of democracy has been eroding in Pakistan. The Army has been asserting itself overtly even in domestic matters, which was the preserve of the civilian government.

This became quite apparent after the present government of Pakistan headed by Imran Khan succumbed to the tactics of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and agreed to release their imprisoned leader, Saad Rizvi, along with a few other activists of the same group. This entire episode looks like a scripted story playing out again and again, albeit with a different pretext.

The TLP was agitating on the streets of Lahore, asking for the French ambassador to Pakistan to be expelled from the country because of blasphemy committed by the French government.

The French President Emanuel Macron had asked certain cartoons of the prophet to be projected across the Eiffel tower as a tribute to French teacher Samuel Paty who was stabbed and killed by an Islamic extremist. Samuel Paty had apparently shown the cartoons to his students in his class.

The cartoons were first published by the French daily Charlie Hebdo. Following the publications of the comics, there was an attack on their office by Islamic extremists. The attack resulted in the death of a few employees. As per Islamic traditions and beliefs, he was painting a picture of the prophet amounts to blasphemy.

The TLP follows the Barelvi Sufi tradition of Islamic law. They first came into prominence after Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab province of Pakistan, was assassinated by his own bodyguard named Mumtaz Qadri, a follower of TLP.

Salman Taseer was killed because he came out in support of Asiya Bibi, a Christian woman who was charged with committing blasphemy. The TLP carried out a similar protest in defence of Mumtaz Qadri when he was being hanged for murdering Salman Taseer.

The Islamists adhering to the TLP are holding the country hostage. Protests have gone violent. Police personnel have been attacked, some of them very brutally, resulting in their death. These protesters have choked the roads leading out of the cities. The long march is heading towards the capital. Instead of cracking down on these radicals, the government is forced to negotiate with them.

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik has translated these protests into a fine art of blackmailing the government into submission. The government has no other option but to bend over backwards and accommodate these radicals. It is reported that the government of Pakistan has signed a secret agreement with the TLP.

The understanding was facilitated by the Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and some top businessmen of the country. People like Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed are admired and adored clergy members of Pakistan even though their names feature in the declared list of most wanted terrorists by the United Nations.

Pakistan is on a lethal cocktail of excessive military machismo and unbridled Islamic fundamentalism of the mullah. It is rumoured that the present unrest created by the TLP was engineered by former ISI chief Lt General Faiz Hameed.

It was his way of expressing unhappiness over being transferred to Peshawar as Core Commander. He enjoyed the clout of being the ISI chief and did not want to give it up. The protests are his way of showing dissent.

Like a pendulum, the polity in Pakistan has been swinging between the military and the mullah. On the one hand, it is the military that calls the shots, and on the other hand, it is the Muslim clergy that holds sway over people and brings the government to its knees.

As a result, the plight of ordinary Pakistani citizens is miserable. With spiralling inflation and high unemployment, the average Pakistani has lost all hope of a decent and dignified life in his country.

No wonder religious extremism is on the ascendant as it increasingly becomes the country’s choice of youth. For many Pakistani youths, the only way to survive is to become a terrorist.

This has geopolitical ramifications, especially for India. Ajmal Kasab, along with the other terrorists, agreed to come to Mumbai and inflict mayhem on the city because they were promised money for their low-income families and martyrdom for themselves.

This could have triggered a war between India and Pakistan, but fortunately, good sense prevailed, and things did not escalate. This may not be so the next time a terrorist incident takes place on Indian soil that can be traced back to Pakistan.

It happened in the case of Uri and Pulwama, which was followed by airstrikes by the Indian Air Force at Balakot. The stakes are high. Pakistan must undertake a course correction as far as its political structure is concerned.

Otherwise, the subcontinent may have to pay a heavy price for the political impasse in Pakistan as both India and Pakistan are declared nuclear-weapon states.


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