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Downfall Then and Now

by Newsweek Pakistan

Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Pakistan’s history is rife with government ousters in the name of religious cleansing

It all started with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif getting too chummy with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and Indian tycoon Sajjan Jindal. The crunch came when a report published by Dawn exposed a confrontation between the government and military in October 2016. Under pressure, the ruling PMLN government ousted information minister Pervez Rashid and adviser Tariq Fatemi as an act of penance, but it was clearly not enough.

The next salvo came from an “insult” to Islam’s Prophet that prompted the exit of the federal law minister. Earlier, the leverage of the 2015 long march by the PTI’s Imran Khan and Allama Tahirul Qadri was used to humble the government in power and, indirectly, sap the institutions of the state of their normal function. Now, in 2017, religion is being used, this time the Barelvi power coming from the inherited shrines of feudal Punjab. The mainstream political parties, who should normally disapprove, have joined the Khan-Qadri campaign to wipe out the PMLN while the “free” media succumbs to the carnal pleasures of manipulation.

The use of religion takes one back to 1978 when General Zia-ul-Haq overthrew Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto saying: “I have a mission, given by God, to bring Islamic order to Pakistan.” Pakistan was to reject the ungodly “Islamic socialism” of the 1973 Constitution while, on the ground, the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) “movement” against Bhutto was spearheaded by Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. The PNA was backed, furtively, by an entire capitalist class deprived of its assets by Bhutto’s nationalization. One of the deprived was the family of Nawaz Sharif, who supported the religious wave and nursed Barelvi preacher Tahirul Qadri to power on their estate.

This time the damage will be deep and terminal because of the dysfunction of the state through dharna and the indirection of intervention. Islam was less menacing in 1978 when General Zia became its champion; it is more nihilistic today as its internal contradictions increase at the global level.

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