The Pakistani State need not retreat --- as in the past.
Does the secret agreement between the Federal Government and Tehreek-e-Labbaik-e-Pakistan (TLP) and the initiation of talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) represent two more steps back by the State of Pakistan in the face of violent religious extremists? Is this tendency to cede ground to fanatics a relatively recent post-Ziaul Haq era (1977-1988) trend?
Fortunately, history offers instances where the State has stood firm against armed bigots. In 1953 when a few thousand zealots threatened Qadianis with death in Lahore and attempted to bring the city to a halt, then-Major General Azam Khan took determined military action to crush the threat. He even went to the extent of imposing martial law in particular areas --- without the prior approval of the then-Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin in Karachi. For several years thereafter the example set by Azam Khan became a reference point. In his Report on that episode, Justice Munir condemned the failure of the local civil administration to act promptly which would have effectively stalled defiance on a small scale well before it spread to larger areas that then required military force.
Despite the contrast between civil ineptitude and military competence, the State asserted and established its credibility and capacity to reject threats from extremists. In the early 1960s, ignoring and facing down religious orthodoxy, President Ayub Khan introduced the Family Law Ordinance which made it mandatory for a married man to obtain the written consent of his first wife before he could enter into a second marriage. Without the issue stirring violence, the clear signal given out by the State to enforce women’s rights was sufficient to prevent obscurantists from blocking social advancement.
Notwithstanding the belated, clumsily-conceived and yet effective action against the extremists in Lal Masjid, Islamabad in 2007, the State once again showed the ability to take required measures. Similarly, but on a far larger scale, and once again belatedly rather than on a timely basis, when the TTP had terrorised Swat and was threatening to move towards the Federal capital, military action forced the extremists to flee to then-FATA and across the border to Afghanistan from where, with continued covert support from India, they maintained their anti-state activities. In erstwhile FATA, once the decision was taken to prevent the country’s territory from being used as a haven for attacks on Afghan and NATO forces across the border, most of the region was cleared of the bases of extremist operations.
Joining the civil and military segment in their periodic demonstration of will, the superior Judiciary upheld the death sentence against Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer in January 2011 and ensured that the killer was executed --- even as thousands marched to protest and to demand his release by ludicrously elevating him to the status of a holy ghazi who slew an alleged blasphemer. In the related context, the Judiciary also declined to be cowed down by extremists when the Supreme Court overturned the guilty sentence against Asiya Bibi for allegedly committing blasphemy. This enabled that poor Christian woman to obtain refuge and citizenship in Canada. This last fact shames us for allowing bigots to create conditions in our country where a daughter of the soil feels so unsafe in her own home that she has to seek permanent asylum thousands of miles away in another continent and culture.