The origins of the phrase ‘the lunatics have taken over the asylum’ probably lie in the American film industry and Charlie Chaplin signing the deal that created the United Artists group in 1926. That said, the tale goes back further and an Edgar Allen Poe short story written in 1850 tells of a situation in which people are put in charge of a set of responsibilities which they are unqualified to handle – how prescient is that.
For much of the last week the country has been paralysed by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) as they protest at the verdict of the Supreme Court which acquitted Aasia Bibi, a woman whom the court ruled was wrongfully accused and spent eight years on death row as a result. Great cities have been brought to a standstill; people have been terrorised as they tried to move from place to place, cellular services have been interdicted, reporting of the many disturbances large and small have been restricted. The government appeared at first to vacillate, then there was a strong speech by the Prime Minister about the importance of upholding the rule of law which was backed up by similar statements the following day by the apex judiciary. A committee of five was formed to negotiate with the TLP, and late in the evening of the 2nd November 2018 the rotten fruit of that negotiation was revealed.
There can be few more craven and cowardly documents to have come into the public domain for decades, and the government accession to the five demands of the TLP speaks volumes about who really is in the driving seat, and Pakistan now has documentary and conclusive evidence that the days of moderation are over, and extremism, indeed terrorism, rules the land. The government has agreed to five points – it is to initiate the process to put Aasia Bibi name on the Exit Control List (ECL), it will not oppose the review petition filed in the Supreme Court against the acquittal, it will take appropriate legal action to redress any deaths that may have occurred during the protests since they started and it will release all those detained in the course of those protests. For its part the TLP has apologized if it ‘hurt the sentiments or inconvenienced anyone without reason.’
The rule of law has been consigned to the dustbin of history and thuggery has erased the last vestiges of statesmanship that were around the shoulders of the government representatives. Simply put – they caved. Folded. Surrendered and allowed the victors to dictate the terms of the peace agreement. Thus has been set a precedent that is going to echo down the weeks and months to come. A political party that is founded on a single premise – to pursue any and all that are alleged to have committed a blasphemy whether that be proven or not – has gripped the national throat and choked it off. The 3rd November is going to see a new dawn. Dark, bitter, and violent. Truly a day of infamy. Shame on this government, Pakistan deserves better, so much better, than this scabrous farrago.