A Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) supporter holds a portrait of party leader Nawaz Sharif during a convention in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on March 11, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Faisal Mahmood

Pakistani Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal survived an assassination attempt on Sunday in his home town of Narowal. He suffered a bullet wound on his arm and narrowly escaped death.

The man in his early 20s who allegedly shot Iqbal was taken into police custody immediately, where he reportedly confessed that he attempted to murder Iqbal because of alleged blasphemy by the PML-N government.

The present government is being accused by the religious outfit Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan of trying to change the law related to the finality of prophethood in the guise of an election reform bill. Last November the extremist cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi led a sit-in at Faizabad, an entry point of the capital Islamabad, and virtually paralyzed the whole country. Eventually, the state surrendered to his demands and the law minister at the time, Zahid Hamid, was fired on the demand of Rizvi.

Every sane individual knows who was supporting the sit-in at Faizabad since the beginning; the use of proxies to get the desired result has actually brought us Pakistanis to a position where the whole world makes a mockery of us.

First Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was toppled by using the same proxy of religious clerics and by launching the famous Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) movement ultimately resulting in Bhutto’s ouster and hanging, but the cost we paid as a state and society for that adventure was too high.

Religious clerics brought in a culture of jihad and hatred against other sects and minorities in the country, resulting in the deadly bloodshed in the 1990s in the name of religion. It is Nawaz Sharif’s turn now and the religious card is being played again. The way things are going it seems that Sharif and his party will not even be able to run an election campaign amid more attacks from religious fanatics and banned outfits. Unfortunately, the cost of this adventure will be paid by generations to come in the form of more religious fundamentalism and violence.

Militants like Hafiz Saeed, Mullah Fazlullah and Omar Khalid Khorasani and many mullahs were patronized and perceived as strategic assets to counter enemies, but they actually became Frankenstein monsters and started killing their creators. Now history is being repeated again.

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik movement is playing the blasphemy card, and new strategic assets like Khadim Rizvi are being launched to counter political dissidents and progressive voices. Sadly, the establishment that controls and dictates the religious and defense narratives of the state is not willing to learn from past mistakes. It is also not willing to understand the simple point that the world is being ruled by logic and knowledge, not by weapons and religious beliefs.

In order to control and manipulate the state narratives, the mighty establishment has actually weakened the state itself by going against the basic ideologies of the founding father of the nation. The alliance of the establishment and mullahs has actually given birth to millions of potential extremists who are virtually ticking time bombs, it only being a matter of time before they explode and take everything down with them. We have seen it in the past – almost 70,000 people died in a decade as the result of this extreme mindset, and if we are still not ready to quit the habit of nurturing religious fanatics, then we will surely see many more dead bodies.

It is not the government or Sharif’s party that is losing, it is actually the state that is weakening. The fanatics, armed with sticks and stones and burning public property, attacking anyone who does not accept their narrative of religion and patriotism, are portraying an image of a failed state and society to the world

It is not the government or Sharif’s party that is losing, it is actually the state that is weakening. The fanatics, armed with sticks and stones and burning public property, attacking anyone who does not accept their narrative of religion and patriotism, are portraying an image of a failed state and society to the world.

Using religion to gain authority or to counter the enemy has actually buried the concept of a “social state” and resulted in a state that is only hallucinating with countering conspiracies and threats that are actually not there in reality. After all, a society busy with self-destruction does not need any external threat or enemy to diminish it.

Ahsan Iqbal is a vocal political leader who strongly advocates civilian authority and often criticizes the role of the judiciary and military in undermining Pakistan’s civilian governments. Meanwhile Nawaz Sharif recently launched his election campaign accusing the mighty military establishment of political engineering, declaring them “aliens,” and openly told his supporters in a public gathering that his contest is not against any political opponent but against these “aliens.”

Some fear that the weekend attack on Sharif’s close aide Iqbal was the result of the direct fight between Sharif and the establishment and was a message for Sharif and his party members not to cross the red line. Some also believe that this attack also means that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz will not be allowed to run its election campaign, paving the way for the electoral result desired by the establishment.

Alternatively, the general elections scheduled for July could be delayed by targeting a few more politicians citing law and order situations. In either scenario, it is the establishment that will benefit.

It may seem a temporary victory for the establishment, but this victory will have come at a very high price. The social fabric and structure of the Pakistani state is being destroyed in this fight. The trend of mob justice is being set and very soon establishment figures will understand that this trend will not even spare them.

The whole world is watching a nuclear state being held hostage to fanatics whose only motive in life is to kill others in the name of religion. After all, if the interior minister of the country is not safe from the wrath of fanatics, who can be?

The almighty establishment, in an effort to undermine the sitting government and Nawaz Sharif’s party, has actually undermined the state of Pakistan. Sharif’s electoral constituency has certainly been damaged and many PML-N candidates will not participate in elections on the party ticket, fearing attacks from fanatics on charges of blasphemy.

But getting this desired result has also resulted in losing the writ of the state. It will bring further chaos and extremism into Pakistani society, and extremists like Khadim Rizvi will continue to exploit millions of minds to gain their interests.

Unfortunately, this ugly blasphemy card has not only weakened Sharif’s party but has also undermined the state itself. It can be termed a lynching of a state by the deep state.

The fact that for the very first time masses of people in Pakistan are showing resistance against political engineering and refusing to bow down in front of establishment figures and fanatics is a good sign, but at the same time it could lead the country into a civil war at any time, as the bullet fired at a political leader actually was a bullet fired at the electorates.

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

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