Peace agreements narrow space for actual laws

According to credible reports, at least seven persons, including a policeman, were killed and 187 were injured during clashes between protesters of Tehrik e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) and the police on November 25th in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The government involved Pakistan Army in the conflict and struck a deal with the protestors. Punjab Rangers were deployed at Faizabad, after which the TLP Chief, Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi announced the end of the 21-day protest. A senior official of the rangers distributed money amongst the protestors for paying fare for travelling back home.

Most of the protesters were armed with batons and when police launched a crackdown against them, they retaliated. The police action was like tossing fuel on the fire as supporters of TLP and activists of other Brelvi groups blocked almost all major roads and highways, nearly crippling the entire country.

The situation did not end there. Things took a turn for the worst as the protesters attacked residences of various ministers and leaders of the ruling PML-N in their home towns, torched dozens of vehicles across Pakistan, and damaged public property.

The TLP Chief, Maulana Khadim Hussain Riviera, is included in the Fourth Schedule. The Fourth Schedule is a list, prepared under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). A person included in the Fourth Schedule by the federal or provincial government is kept under observation. A fourth scheduler needs to obtain permission before leaving their city of residence or else their National Identity Card is blocked.

After TLP’s violent protests, several questions arose. Why did Punjab Government allow Rizvi to lead a procession to Islamabad from Lahore? Why did the government bow down before the protestors by amending the Election Bill 2017 clause against which the TLP and other religious groups were protesting? If we proceed to list down all the pertinent questions, there will be no space left for the rest of the editorial, this signifying the magnitude of the situation. However, the answer is quite simple. The Government is afraid of religious groups in Pakistan as they protest for a religious cause. If a crime is committed under the banner of said cause, it is considered jihad, as opposed to criminal activity.

Ideally speaking, those who have violated law and incited people towards violence should have been treated according to law and the National Action Plan, which is meant to curb extremism in Pakistan. On the contrary, most of the participants have already been released and those who were not arrested were given monetary ‘compensation.’

The history of Pakistan narrates that whenever the state has struck a deal with extremist groups, the groups have always violated the deal and sought more concessions, thus narrowing the space for actual law. The state, in the past, had struck peace deals with militants like Shakai Peace Agreement with a Taliban Commander Nek Muhammad in 2004, Srarogha Peace Agreement with TTP Leader Baitullah Mehsud in 2005 and Swat Agreement with Sufi Muhammad and Present Chief of TTP Mullah Fazlullah in 2008. All the deals failed to contain them and they proceeded to demand more space.

The deal (agreement) with TLP is likely to face the same fate, as despite receiving several legal concessions, Rizvi has announced another march towards Islamabad on January 4th because he is dissatisfied with the agreement. His main demand to remove the law minister, Zahid Hamid has been met, with the minister resigning on November 26th. Most of his supporters have been released. The government is also willing to provide compensation to families of civilians who died during the clashes. In addition to all this, he wants more, and he will keep wanting more. This will keep happening in Pakistan unless the law takes its due course against those who violate it in the name of religion.

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