Police detain a supporter of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) during a protest against the arrest of their leader. Photo: AFP

For an entire week, Pakistan has witnessed another spell of religious extremism as faith merchants create anarchy in the name of blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad.

Hundreds of police were brutally beaten by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) mob. Many from the ranks of TLP lost their lives or were injured.

The country was thrown into chaos only over a TLP demand to expel a French diplomat. Such was the situation that the French embassy in Pakistan had to warn its citizens to leave Pakistan as they were under enormous threat.

The TLP has long been demanding the expulsion and urging the masses to boycott French products after caricatures of Prophet Muhammad were published in a French publication.

One wonders why the TLP or any of its sympathizers did not protest or campaign for the return of thousands of Pakistanis living in France to seek a better life.

In any case, life is back to normal again in Pakistan as a massive crackdown was launched against the TLP and the government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has approved the summary to ban the extremist outfit of TLP.

In fact, TLP assets are also going to be frozen. On Thursday night, TLP chief Saad Hussain Rizvi shared a note from jail urging followers to stop the protest and leave the sit-ins.

A TLP supporter is arrested. A succession of political leaders have manipulated religious sentiment. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP

This is not the first time a religious outfit has choked the country over its demands. From Muhammad Tahir-Ul-Qadri to Khadim Hussain Rizvi and now his son Saad Rivi, all have exploited the religious sentiments of their cults in the near past and almost paralyzed governments.

Though there is no doubt that banning TLP is a good gesture, the question arises what Prime Minister Imran Khan and his PTI have learned from this debacle.

It is not long since Khan, in opposition, backed TLP against Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz ( PMLN).

PMLN legislators were held to be blasphemous for only changing one word with another in the electoral form. Whether Khan and his colleagues stop using religion for petty political gains remains to be seen.

The TLP created by the establishment will not be affected too much by the ban. It has a cult following, and in a country where critical thinking is considered a sin and where knowledge is referred to as blasphemy, there can never be a dearth of followers for the faith merchants.

Those who shape the foreign and political narratives on the basis of self-created religious interpretations are the main beneficiaries of religious exploitation.

Whenever religious extremism suits them, an outfit like TLP or Lashkar-e-Taiba is launched.  Enlightenment and modernism are introduced when religious doctrine does not serve their interests.

This demand-and-supply formula serves the interests of the establishment but not the country as a few individuals always shape the narratives with their own understanding of the world. It has been proven wrong on every occasion.

From Zia’s Islamisation to Musharraf’s fake liberalism, every doctrine brought more extremism and intolerance in the country. Not only the recent debacle of TLP but also the U-turn of the establishment on peaceful ties with India are examples.

When Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan needed to fix its own house first and tried to make friendly ties with India he was declared a traitor and pro-Indian through an organized propaganda campaign.

However the Jammu and Kashmir fiasco, when the world did not not buy Pakistan’s narrative, and changing realities in the proxy battlefield of Afghanistan forced the establishment to say what Sharif was called a traitor for saying.

Sharif, too, was accused of blasphemy and the same TLP was used against him.

This shows how the double standard is acceptable in the country and why there is no hope that the invisible quarters will learn from their mistakes.

The mullah and establishment alliance is deep-rooted and there is no way any political party can challenge this. Sharif and his party survived because Sharif is popular in Punjab and enjoys a good reputation among the few sects of Sunni Muslims.

Had it been any other political party or leader accused of treason and blasphemy, the individual would have been killed by an extremist or the party would have vanished from the political scene.

So, the problem remains even after the ban on an outfit like TLP. How will the dirty games of playing religious and treason cards be stopped?

Even the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) sword of blacklisting the country is not powerful enough to stop a few generals from playing these kinds of game.

Of course, the current TLP protests will not have gone unnoticed by the world and this will make it harder for Pakistan to get off the FATF grey list or move its perception that it is not a radical state.

Policemen help an injured colleague during a clash with supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). Photo: Arif Ali/AFP

But then, who here is actually thinking about the interests of the country?

Those in power define the rotten, stone-age narrative to control the population. The population, fed on fabricated religious and euphoric slogans of treason, is happy with the delusion.

There seems no way out of this situation, as those who create outfits like TLP and can accuse anyone of treason in a second have a monopoly over the controlled media and literature in the country.

The recent Forces law passed by the hybrid regime has barred journalists and common people from naming those responsible for economic, political and foreign failures.

Imagine a country where criticism of those responsible for shaping the narratives of a country can not be criticized and those criticizing can be held for two years, whereas religious fanatics are free to roam freely and choke the country at will.

This shows the priorities of those calling the shots. A mob of fanatics burning properties and creating chaos is acceptable to the deep state but journalists or dissenting intellectuals who want to highlight the roots of the problem are not acceptable.

The TLP ban won’t be effective unless the establishment and mullah alliance is brought to an end.

To move forward, the country needs a pluralistic society with freedom of expression and basic human rights, not the rhetoric of religious slogans and treason certificates.

The road to normalcy is long and far away. The TLP may have been used and ditched like other sects but the question is how long the country will remain in the hands of those who, through shaping the narratives, have brought ignorance and extremism.

The bigger question is how long and why the world will tolerate a society that has nothing but religious narratives from the past and an extremist mindset against people in the world who do not agree with their religious-cultural or nationalist views. 

The US dollar-sponsored proxy war era is gone and Riyadh is getting out of the mindset of nurturing the Islamist organization for the sake of its control.

Wars will be fought now between economies. The weapons will be knowledge, information technology, corporations, and the latest education.

When it comes to these fields Pakistan remains far behind and we have seen in the past four days, in the form of TLP fanatics choking the country, that we have only guns and an extremist mindset to compete in the age of knowledge-based economies.