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Pakistani media criticises govt for caving in to radical protesters

Pakistan government gave in to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik’s demand that law minister Zahid Hamid should quit over a change in an electoral oath that the hardline group considered blasphemous.

world Updated: Nov 28, 2017 12:48 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Pakistan,Islamic radicals,Tehreek-e-Labbaik
Supporters of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan Islamist political party listen to their leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi (not pictured) as he speaks with the media at their protest site at Faizabad junction in Islamabad, Pakistan on November 27, 2017.(Reuters Photo)

The deal struck by the Pakistan government with Islamic radicals who paralysed the national capital for three weeks reflects the “disastrous” handling of events by the ruling PML-N party and the surrender of state institutions, the Pakistani media said on Tuesday.

Editorials in the main English newspapers were scathingly critical of the government, which signed the deal with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan that was brokered by the army.

The agreement followed a failed police operation over the weekend to disperse protesters who had occupied a key traffic intersection at Faizabad on the outskirts of Islamabad. Seven people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes between security forces and the protesters as the powerful army refused to intervene in the matter.

The government gave in to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik’s demand that law minister Zahid Hamid should quit over a change in an electoral oath that the hardline group considered blasphemous.

In an editorial titled “Capitulation”, the influential Dawn newspaper said: “It is a surrender so abject that the mind is numb and the heart sinks. The deal negotiated between the state, both civilian and military facets of it, and the Faizabad protesters is a devastating blow to the legitimacy and moral standing of the government and all state institutions.”

The Express Tribune, in an editorial titled “Time for running repairs”, said, “To say that this has not been the government’s finest hour is a considerable understatement, and virtually all commentators have agreed that the PML-N government handling of events has been nothing short of disastrous.”

“Never before in the political history of Pakistan has the state succumbed so completely to the vandalism, abuse and commands of an extra-parliamentary group, like it has done in Faizabad,” The Nation said in its editorial “Death of a dream”.

It added, “We must be clear: This was no negotiation, it was an unconditional surrender. And let there be no doubt, Pakistan will face the repercussions of this precedent in the years to come.”

The News, in its editorial “Divided we fall”, too described the agreement between the government and the protesters as a capitulation. It noted that the government had caved in while arrested protesters were released without being charged despite resorting to violence.

“Everything about this sorry episode, from the way this dharna sprung up to its eventual ‘resolution’ reinforces every fear we – and the rest of the world – had about the Pakistani state and its resolve in the fight against extremism. The message sent out by this debacle is that protestations by the government that all state institutions are working in harmony cannot be taken at face value,” The News said.

Pakistanis used social media platforms to criticise the government for giving in to Tehreek-e-Labbaik leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who reportedly gained several concessions, such as the inclusion of members of radical groups in boards that decide school curricula and guarantees that the state would not obstruct the filing of blasphemy complaints.

Many on social media also shared a video of a senior officer of the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers handing out envelopes containing Rs 1000 to protesters as they dispersed from the venue of the sit-in in Islamabad.

The Dawn editorial said: “Whether a decision made out of desperation or fear, the upshot is that the state has accepted that mobs and zealots have a right to issue religious edicts that can endanger lives and upend public order.”

It blamed the PML-N government, the opposition and the military for the profound change whose “reverberations will be felt for a long time”. It noted, “The government has been humiliated and the military leadership has further improved its standing with sections of the public for helping end the protests — but at what cost to the country and its people?”

The News noted the speculation that the army had chosen not to get involved in an operation against the protesters and said, “There was…consternation in some quarters about a moral equivalence being drawn between an elected government and two thousand violent extremists.”

The government’s surrender to the radicals is a huge hit for the PML-N months ahead of Pakistan’s next general election, scheduled for mid-2018. The party’s chief, Nawaz Sharif, was recently ousted by the Supreme Court over graft charges and doubts remain whether he will be able to lead the PML-N in the election campaign.

First Published: Nov 28, 2017 12:21 IST