After Pakistan’s Law Minister allegedly changed a reference to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that the Pakistani oath lawmakers must take, something he claims to be a clerical mistake, he was declared by the mobs as being guilty of blasphemy. As protests erupted in Islamabad last weekend, killing 2 and injuring over 250, incited by none other than the Tehreek-e Laibbaik Pakistan. The group formed after a man shot a Punjabi governor over his criticisms of Pakistan’s vague blasphemy laws, essentially laws that make it illegal to insult Islam (but in reality, these laws do far more than that, as the definition of ‘insult’ is vaguely interpreted). The group has blocked a highway in the capital of Islamabad and is conducting protests throughout the country that are quickly turning violent.
Reuters reported the following: “Activists from Tehreek-e-Labaik have blocked the main road into the capital for the past two weeks in protest after blaming the law minister Zahid Hamid for changing the wording in an electoral oath proclaiming Mohammad to be the last prophet of Islam from “I solemnly swear” to “I believe,” a change the party says amounts to blasphemy.”
While the minister has apologized for the clerical error and changed the wording back, the protestors persist. According to The Washington Post, “The demonstrators had initially called for a federal minister to be fired over a religious controversy, but by midday, many protesters were demanding that entire government step down.” Many have also claimed that the change was made to appease the Ahmadi minority sect, whom the law claims to be heretics.
Tehreek-e Laibbaik, officially known as Tehreek-e Laibbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) is an Islamist Political Party in Pakistan that has been growing in the past couple of years, their main focus being blasphemy laws. This growth is deeply concerning for religious minorities in Pakistan that are often arbitrarily accused of blasphemy, as well as anti-blasphemy activists who see the laws as oppressive.
The eventual Pakistani deployment of the military came a little too late and without an apparent plan. While tensions have been brewing for the last 3 weeks there was no preventative effort, and once the military had been deployed it was clear they had no actual plan on how to de-escalate the situation. Instead, they resorted to controversial actions such as blocking social media, news channels, and YouTube throughout the region. The eventual resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamidi, giving in to the demands of the protestors, is a troubling precedent to set.
The protests come lined with political tensions, whether indirectly or directly responsible for this incitement. The impeachment of the Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, a few months back amid charges of corruption, cannot be said to not play a role. BBC News reported: “Since Mr. Sharif's party, PMLN, has considerable standing with right-wing religious voters in Punjab province, many believe the protest by the ultra-right-wing Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasool-ul-Lah (TLYRA) is aimed at attracting some of that support towards itself.” There is also much speculation that Nawaz Sharif will once again emerge the victor of next year's election in Pakistan, an equally if not more troubling predicament. These events breed an uncertainty about the political future of Pakistan.