The extraordinary events of the last two weeks have evoked shock and fear. “The state capitulated humiliatingly before a group of religious extremists”, wrote one anguished analyst, “the state has been compromised, it wasn’t just appeasement, it was surrender”. The federal law minister was forced to resign against the will of the government; the six point “agreement” to call off the dharna was negotiated by the military’s intel agencies rather than the government and the federal interior minister was ordered to sign the document. The DG Rangers distributed cheques to the protestors as if rewarding them for being good boys. Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of the Tehreek-i-Labaiq Ya Rasool Allah which was protesting, said all was done at the behest of the military. During the protest, Mr Rizvi had publicly advised his followers not to worry about any operation against them by the army because “the army is with us”. As the elected government grappled with options to disperse the mob, the spokesman of the military tweeted: “COAS telephoned PM. Suggested to handle Isb Dharna peacefully avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest & cohesion.”
Not everyone, however, is convinced that it was capitulation rather than orchestration by the state within the state. Nawaz Sharif, for one, wants to know “who was behind the dharna, who settled the terms of the accord?” He has blasted his own prime minister and interior minister for mishandling the matter and allowing decision-making to be usurped by the military. Notwithstanding his suspicions, many questions remain unanswered.
How did TLYRA suddenly spring to life in the Punjab during the bye-election in NA-120 a couple of months ago and dilute the PMLN’s popularity by about 10,000 votes? Why did it now make such a big issue of the matter of an affidavit-oath before the Election Commission of Pakistan affirming the finality of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) and declaring the Ahmedi Community to be non-Muslim when this was not an issue long after the Ahmedis had been declared non-Muslim in 1974? Why were the protestors allowed to travel across the Punjab in small groups and congregate at Faizabad Chowk for their ominous sit-in? Why did the Islamabad High Court order the government to disperse the crowd but ban it from using force to establish its writ? Why did the Supreme Court follow suit when neither court had issued any such order during the more aggressive four-month long dharna by Imran Khan last year? Why did a spokesman of the Punjab government specifically aver that the Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, had played a significant role in persuading the federal law minister to resign, reaffirming his policy of non-confrontation with the Miltablishment?
The orchestration theory posits that the Miltablishment has determined to get rid of Nawaz Sharif and replace him with Shahbaz Sharif because the former challenges the military’s political hegemony while the latter is willing to concede it to get on with governance. It says the Miltablishment first egged on Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri to try and push Nawaz out; when they failed, it seized on Panamaleaks to nail him via the JIT. When the JIT failed to get him quickly, Nawaz was hung out to dry on the twig of Iqama. Still, Nawaz refused to be rubbed out, hoping the Senate elections next March would deliver the upper house to the PMLN and enable it to capture the National Assembly in the general elections, paving the way for a constitutional amendment to reverse his disqualification. This nightmare scenario for the Miltablishment necessitated another effort to knock out his government before the Senate elections. Therefore, the PPP was threatened and blackmailed to desist from bailing him out; Imran was told to focus on getting voters out in the next general elections; Maulana Sami ul Haq was nudged into an alliance with Imran to strengthen his prospects at the expense of the PMLN; and Mr Rizvi was encouraged to wield muscle on the street to destabilise the PMLN government. In the latest twist, the Pirs of Sial Sharif have been roped in to slice off a section of PMLN MNAs and to target the Miltablishment’s bete noir, and Nawaz Sharif’s loyalist, in the Punjab, Rana Sanaullah.
In this theory, the state within the state has orchestrated the surrender of the government’s writ and its capitulation to the extremists. In other words, far from being weak and helpless before extremism, the man on horseback is firmly in the saddle.
The truth, however, may lie somewhere in-between a full-fledged Mltablishment conspiracy to knock out Nawaz Sharif and the PMLN’s own fumbling, stumbling ways. The greater truth is that the mullahs are increasing in power day by day and the time is not far when they will, like the Taliban before them, genuinely rise to confront the very state within the state that has nurtured them. That is when all hell will break loose in Pakistan.