Pakistan, since its inception, has faced numerous challenges that have shaken democracy to its core. In recent years, issues like extremism and religious intolerance have changed the fabric of politics in our country.
Somehow, the government does not seem to be responding to such threats unless it is in deep water. In the past, parties like Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) continued to violate their rights and duties but it is only now that the government decided to put a ban on their activities.
Read more: Why is government going to ban TLP?
On the 16th of April, all cellular services were suspended in Islamabad followed by temporary blocking of major social media platforms. Some might suggest that the suspension was done due to security concerns, however, in my opinion; it was done to halt the public’s right to information and to maintain public order.
Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 states that every citizen has a right to have access to information; however this right is prone to reasonable restriction and regulation imposed by law.
While it might be true that the right to information is one of the fundamental rights of every citizen in a democratic state, nevertheless, every right or freedom is to be regulated by some rule of law.
After all, a right to do something does not mean jeopardizing the right of others which is precisely what TLP is doing. From destroying public property to attacking policemen, the supporters of TLP have proven to be a risk for our country.
By hijacking the law and order situation in the country, the members and supporters of TLP have portrayed a negative image of Pakistan even on the international front. The French embassy in Pakistan has advised all of its nationals to temporarily leave the country until the situation will get better. During the past few days, four police officials have been killed and scores of people wounded.
Read more: Is TLP dictating the state?
A desperate need for practical measures
TLP, which is now Pakistan’s 5th largest political party, has not grown into power overnight. Its growth was nourished by sheer negligence and ignorance of the main stakeholders in the country. However, there are some lessons that we have learned from these violent and terrorizing protests by TLP.
Firstly, it shall be observed that such extremism and violence cannot be eradicated through the sole application of soft approaches or negotiations. Change must be brought at the grassroots. The state needs to implement a practical plan to bring 22 million out-of-school children back to schools and provide free and compulsory education under Article 25-A.
Our seminaries are ill-equipped. Children spend most of their time learning the Holy Quran with no exposure to modern subjects. What we need to make sure is that religion and modern paradigm shift shall go side-by-side.
Secondly, the right to access the information should have been regulated and reasonably restricted since the inception. It should not be only suspended when the state of events turns unfortunate and disorderly.
Thirdly, historically, Pakistan has a fell trap to short-term planning. This narrative needs to be changed into long-term goal setting. The government has always made an agreement with TLP or with other extremist groups. It sends a clear message that parliament has no authority and the hegemony of extremist religious forces can never be challenged.
With extremist and radical groups, the agreement is not the solution. Adopting a rational approach even when it requires projecting hard power is the ultimate resolution.
No more “talks”, just hard approaches
Fourthly, under the military rule of General Zia, the religious right gained authority and seized redundant power. There is no way that they will give up this power willingly. Besides, the state is least interested in re-imposing its writ and taking back the space it yielded to the religious right in 1977.
The government needs to realize that those who spur hatred, bigotry, and extremism through their sermons and misinterpreted religious scripts are as dangerous as those who pick up arms to enforce their ideas and worldview.
We have done a lot to eradicate terrorism, but so far very little has been done to control bigotry and hate speech in our country which poses a grave threat to our society.
Lastly, Pakistan is a country with one of the largest youth populations. Almost 63% of our population is aged between 15 and 33 (UN Population Fund Report 2017). These numbers, if not channelized and utilized successfully, can pose a daunting challenge to the social, economic, and political sectors of our state.
Lack of education and awareness can easily manipulate the youth to join such extremist and violent groups to project their frustration. Countries like Africa are the epitome of how youth can turn out to be violent and extremist, if not changed into a demographic dividend.
It is high time for our leaders to realize that “talks” is not the way to resolve the situation. The government needs to adopt a hard approach followed by banning TLP’s activities on social media. Likewise, sermons and the religious lessons taught at Madrassas shall be strictly regulated and there shall be the inclusion of modern subjects, too.
After all, to avoid further escalation in violence and extremism, lessons learned shall be put into practice and for that government needs to be strong-headed and exhibit willfulness to curb these challenges.
The author is a student of Masters in Development Studies at the National University of Science and Technology. Her stream of interest is in Peace, Conflict, and Development. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.