Pakistan: government caves to Islamist protesters

Pakistan's government succeeded in persuading thousands of protesters occupying a key area of downtown Islamabad's high-security Red Zone to disperse before force is used—after several deadlines had been extended, four days into the occupation. The protesters are supporters of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri—recently executed as the assassin of a former governor who campaigned for reform of the country's blasphemy laws. The case revolves around Asia Bibi, a woman farmworker of Christian background convicted of blasphemy after being accused of dissing the Prophet in an argument over a drink of water while at work in the fields. Protesters demanded that Bibi be executed as well. This was, thankfully, not a part of the deal under which they agreed to stand down—but the government did pledge that there would be no reform of the blasphemy laws, which are enshrined in the Pakistani constitution's Article 295-C. The status of the protesters' other demands—including release of jihadist prisoners, and that Mumtaz Qadri be declared a "martyr"—remains unclear. (Express Tribune, The News, GeoTV, March 30; AP, March 28; Dawn, March 27)

So, how out of wack is this? Instead of protesting the oppressive conditions in the country's agricutural sector—such that an argument over a drink of water could thusly escalate—thousands of clerical reactionaries mobilize to demand that the oppressed farmhand be put to death! And if these protesters are so concerned with religious matters, you'd think they might have something to say about the jihadist terror attack on Christian families celebrating Easter in a park in Lahore that left 70 dead, including some 30 children. This happened right on the second day of their protest campaign—have they issued a syllable of outrage over it?

Once again, this makes the whole global dilemma crystal-clear. Endemic rage ultimately rooted in social iniquities is exploited by, or siphoned off into, ultra-reactionary anti-woman religious extremism. Yes, the real enemy is capitalism, but this cannot be opposed in Pakistan and the greater "Muslim world" without also opposing political Islam, which is fundamentally, if not always wittingly, its accomplice.