Reports are that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is giving in to the dictates of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan in the country . The group had demanded that the government lift ban on it, release its leader Saad Rizvi, charged under Pakistan’s so-called Anti-Terrorism Act, and other activists from prison, unfreeze its bank accounts and expel the French ambassador to Pakistan for the publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a Paris-based magazine in 2015 . The government has conceded all its demands, except the one seeking to expel the ambassador.
Observers say the government’s decision is hardly surprising. The TLP, a self -styled defender of Islam/ the Prophet Mohammed, has a considerable following in the country today . As in the case of many politicians in the world today, the politics of vote bank guides Khan. Even otherwise, he seeks to appease the populist religious sentiments across the country. He has taken several steps to Islamicize society. His government has developed a new curriculum with mandatory religion classes in the country’s university education. He has also established a body to monitor the social media against any content that might appear to be "blasphemous".
Radical Islamist forces are on the rise in Pakistan. The conservative Deobandi brand of Islam has a developed a considerable clout over the years in the country. In the late 1970s, over 70 per cent of mosques in Pakistan belonged to the relatively moderate Barelvi stream of Islam. Today over 55 per cent of them identify themselves as Deobandi.
These radical Islamist forces have made a person like Mumtaz Qadri a hero after he was convicted to death and executed in 2016 for the killing of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, in 2011 . They have made Qadri’s grave in Bhara Kahu, on the outskirts of Islamabad, a pilgrimage site .
Besides, radical Islamists in Pakistan seem to be highly emboldened in the wake of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan. The Khan government is all out to accommodate them . It has recently negotiated with the Tehrik-e-Pakistan / the Pakistani Taliban which seeks to introduce Islamic law in Pakistani tribal areas. The government used Sirajuddin Haqqani, the current Afghan Taliban interior minister, to mediate the talks between the two sides .
Needless to mention , the Khan government has been so much interested in cultivating the Pakistan Taliban that it has overlooked that the United States, Islamabad’s one-time friend, has designated the Haqqani network as a terrorist organization and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation declared its leader Haqqani as one of its most-wanted people.
Most importantly, the Pakistan Army has over the years turned much closer to the ultra-conservatives in the country. In Pakistan in the late 1970s, over 90 per cent of the military mosques aligned themselves with the Barelvis. Today over 85 per cent of them adhere to Deobandism . The Pakistan Army virtually controls the government in Islamabad . The latter cannot dare to hurt the former’s linkage with any entity .
The observers suggest New Delhi must keep a close watch on the increasing influence of Deobandi Islamists in Pakistan and take all appropriate measures to checkmate their historical designs against modern secular India . The Deobandi, like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Salafism, has come out of Wahhabism . Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami founder Maulana Sayyid Abdul Ala Maududi was greatly influenced by the doctrines of Shah Walilullah of the Mogul India and Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab of Ottoman Arabia. Maududi is long dead. But his followers continue to have their eyes on India.
In their fanatic obsession to annihilate and Islamize secular India, the radical Islamists might turn more adventurous in future. In this, an alliance between Wahabism and Khomenism cannot be ruled out. It is well documented that Maududi had a close relationship with Khomeini since 1963 when they met during Haj. Founder of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Hassan al- Banna and Ayatollah Khomeini advocated an alliance between the two main branches of Islam.
( The author is a Delhi-based journalist )