The ‘Defence’ of Pakistan
- By Sahiba Trivedi
By all indications, the recently formed Difa-e-Pakistan (Defence of Pakistan) Council likely has some friends in high places. The success of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council’s (DPC) rallies across Pakistan, and brazen announcements of forthcoming rallies and attendees, many of whom belong to ‘defunct’ or banned organizations, lend credence to the theory that the DPC has the backing of powerful forces in Pakistan.
The Difa-e-Pakistan Council is a collection of over 40 religious groups, political parties and banned militant organizations. It has a 10-point agenda and one of its main rallying points has been to pressurize the civilian government to not restore NATO supply routes. Other goals include breaking off US-Pakistan ties, forcing the government to revoke the Most Favoured Nation status granted to India and to back the Taliban.
The rise of DPC has generated concerns, both within Pakistan and abroad, that it may soon be strong enough to enter Pakistan’s political arena; if it does, what would it mean for the future of democracy in Pakistan and the future of Pakistan itself. There are also concerns, especially outside of Pakistan, that in the eventuality of the DPC coming to power, what would become of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. In reality, the most pertinent and imminent threat regarding the Difa-e-Pakistan Council is actually the influence it currently wields and future implications for the society within Pakistan.
Since the DPC has come into existence, it has been carrying out huge rallies all across Pakistan – in Lahore, in Karachi, in Rawalpindi, in Quetta and in Islamabad. These would have required, apart from millions in finances, the administration’s support. For a collection of 40-odd religious organizations and banned outfits with different philosophies and ideologies, to come together on one forum, and to collect the financing required from its supporters, as the DPC claims, seems improbable. Chances are that the DPC has received funds from some ‘patron’ that believes in using the power of a platform like DPC in Pakistan. The Difa-e-Pakistan Council’s rallies have consistently had a huge turnout of people, which also means that the administration has been cooperating with the Council - in terms of providing venues, security arrangements and even sealing off roads leading to the venue. Despite the UNSC ban on the primary member organizations of DPC, no action has been taken against any of the banned organizations, its leaders or its activists that form the DPC.
The government has not moved against DPC’s leaders, even though DPC has been announcing its next venue days in advance. Instead, the government has chosen to blame the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)-led Punjab government for letting Punjab-based groups like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (a primary member of the DPC and a front for the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba) get out of hand. The only time there was a certain modicum of the government trying to rein in these groups was when 3 DPC leaders, Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat’s (previously known as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan) Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi and Dr Khadim Hussain Dhillon, were barred from taking part in the DPC rally in Islamabad. Despite a ban on their entry, the three managed to enter Islamabad, although they did not take part in the rally.
Many believe that the emergence of the DPC has been backed by Pakistan’s powerful security establishment and that the ‘mullah-military nexus’, used frequently by the powerful intelligence agencies in the past, was being deliberately revived. Founders of DPC include an ex-ISI Director General, a Member of the National Assembly and members of UN-declared terrorist outfits, some of which have had tacit or overt support from the establishment in the past. The DPC came into being when Pakistan had stopped NATO supply routes in the aftermath of the attack on the Salala check-post in the Mohmand Agency. During that period, relations between the civilian government and the military had deteriorated due to the Memogate scandal. Rumours abounded about the possibility of the military disposing of the civilian government to take over the country, which the military was quick to deny. The military had gauged the mood of the nation and realized that another coup would not go down well anywhere, internally as well as externally. The rise of DPC has been viewed as one of the mediums through which the security establishment has tried to rein in the civilian government. The security establishment has been also been backing the rise of Imran Khan to counter the power of the two main national parties – the ruling, Pakistan People’s Party and the opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).
There is evidence to suggest that the DPC is acting as the establishment’s mouthpiece. For the civilian government, the DPC has been used by the establishment to remind them to tone down their eagerness for improving ties with India and also to reassert their authority over the civilian government. The DPC is also necessary as a bargaining point when it comes to relations with the US – to show them the ‘mood of the nation’. And for the citizens of the country, the DPC is being used to whip up anti-US and anti-India rhetoric under the guise of ‘defence’ of the nation. The anti-American sentiment is particularly high in Pakistan at present; even school children from Rawalpindi attended the DPC rally in Islamabad purely because they thought the rally was being held to ‘destroy the US’.
The DPC has, on several occasions, declared that it doesn’t have political ambitions. Out of the DPC’s two main political parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl), only the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) is currently represented in the National Assembly. Historically, religious parties in Pakistan have not performed well in democratic elections; the next general elections may not be such a deviation from past. Hence, the Difa-e-Pakistan Council does not pose an impending threat for democracy in Pakistan at present.
Looking at the kind of influence that the Difa-e-Pakistan Council wields at the moment, it is easy to say that in the future, if the DPC keeps getting support from powerful institutions, its influence on the society is likely to increase manifold. The actual threat, then, lies in the future. And it is mainly inwardly-directed.
The economy of Pakistan today is unable to provide its bulging youth population with opportunities to better their standard of life; rampant inflation, corruption, unemployment and electricity load-shedding have left the common public frustrated. In such an environment, the rise of a front that promises the ‘defence of Pakistan’s ideological and geographical boundaries’ may prove to be a recruitment campaign for many of its member banned militant outfits. The future, then, could be a whole generation of disgruntled youth, fed on extremist and fundamentalist ideas of hyper-nationalism. Besides, since the DPC rallies have also been used as a forum for anti-minority activities, it could also mean a catalyst to the culture of sectarianism and fundamentalism. By the next decade, all this could be a threat for democracy in Pakistan as well as a threat for other countries in the region.