A heretofore little-known religious organization, the Tehreek-i-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLRAP), has besieged federal capital Islamabad with approximately 3,000 rustic-looking followers threatening to do violence and kidnapping if some members of the ruling party are not arrested and brought to trial for alleged blasphemy. Instead of tackling the fanatics, the administration has reacted by blocking all roads inside the city, severely disrupting the daily traffic of 500,000 vehicles into Islamabad on 16 entry points from Rawalpindi.
This latest crisis has precedence. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) attained national stature through “street power” after having almost deposed an elected government barely a year into its term. The TLRAP leaders—all holy-looking but totally unknown in public—have cleverly made their bid to become national figures overnight by reviving the blasphemy issue already successfully exploited last year by the Sunni Tehreek of Maulana Sarwat Qadri of Karachi. The Islamabad police are unlikely to take action against the protesters because of the ongoing controversy over police action against PAT rioters in Lahore in 2014.
Pakistan has been an unstable state throughout its 70 years, which has resulted in a general international disenchantment with it as a state. The last four-and-a-half years have highlighted this trait to the entire world with Imran Khan’s PTI sapping all state institutions of the resolve to act under law. The courts are flouted and the police are defied. More and more political and clerical leaders want to exploit this moment of state weakness—often seen springing from disagreement between the Army and the elected government—to dominate the political scene. The latest threat will soon come from the revived Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a religious alliance of mutually quarrelling clerics, which ruled the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in the 1990s and destabilized the country by violating the Constitution through its Sharia-based governance.