Last week, when Imran Khan left Islamabad for one of his most important and officially the first visit to China as prime minister, very disturbing news were emanating from Pakistan.
Highly-charged activists of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, hardly two-year old religious outfit, had blocked the main roads leading to and from capital Islamabad as well as some other major cities following a decision from the Supreme Court acquitting Asia Bibi from blasphemy charges.
Before leaving for Beijing, Khan gave a stern warning to the protestors in his televised address to the nation that writ of the state would be established at all costs, winning praise for a cross-section of the society over his “bold” stance.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry described the protest as an attempt to sabotage the prime minister visit.
While he was still in China, the protests were called after his religious affairs minister Noorul Haq signed an agreement with the leaders of the Tehreek.
Though the prime minister’s visit went ahead as scheduled, the high drama at home, undoubtedly, overshadowed the visit aimed at seeking Chinese financial help as well as investment for the country at the time when in the words of the prime minister it is passing through a low point.
Unfortunately, on the day when prime minister was meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping, Maulana Sami ul Haq, an octogenarian head of a religio-political party, was brutally murdered at his home in Rawalpindi.
The news of protest and assassination made the headlines of the news bulletins while those about prime minister’s activities in China got secondary treatment and were pushed to the back pages of the mainstream newspapers.
At the time when Imran Khan is making frantic efforts to steer the country out of the economic crisis, the news of violence and turmoil are all the more disturbing.
After a decade and half of persistent violence following the 9/11 attacks, there has been a relative calm in the country in the wake of a string of military operations carried out under the banner of Zarb-e-Azb operations.
Violence has largely ebbed in Karachi, the financial nerve centre of the country, where ethnic, political and religious violence had become a norm of the day for decades.
There has been significantly very less number of terror acts in the country over the past couple of years yet situation is far from being called satisfactory.
The Tehreek-e-Labbaik held Islamabad hostage for nearly three weeks last year through protests over a controversy over the change in the wordings of oath of a lawmaker that should make it clear that he believes that Prophet Mohammad (Peace be Upon Him) is the last prophet of God. The original wordings of the oath as put in the constitution were restored but the Tehreek wanted those tried change should be brought to book. Resultantly, the then law minister had to step down.
Though prime minister’s efforts to fix economic woes of the country are laudable yet he needs to give attention to these critical issues too which pose grave challenge to the economic development of the country.
At a time the government is trying hard to bring foreign investment to Pakistan to reduce its reliance on foreign aid, how come foreign investors would be willing to bring in their money to Pakistan when daily life of its people are crippled by protests and disturbances so frequently?
Terrorism may have ebbed significantly in Pakistan but extremism still poses serious challenge to the political and economic stability of the country.
After horrific terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014, a National Action Plan was drawn up through the consensus of all political parties and stakeholders which was aimed at curbing extremism in the country.
The previous PML-N government did not give serious attention to the implementation of this plan and it appears that it does not figure high in the priorities of the current government too.
It is high time for the government to take concrete steps for the implementation of this plan in order to check the overbearing threat of extremism failing which its dream of turning Pakistan into an economic tiger would never materialize.
China, a time-tested friend of Pakistan, has never interfered in the internal affairs of Pakistan but in the past had conveyed its concerns to Islamabad about the security of its nationals particularly workers at the development projects in the country.
A special security force was to be raised for the protection of Chinese workers engaged in projects relating to CPEC. Several Chinese workers are killed in attacks in the south and north of the country in the past.
Though involvement of foreign hand in such violence can’t be ruled out, provision of security to foreign workers ultimately is the responsibility of the host country and our government needs to fulfil its responsibility in this regard.
It is not known whether Chinese leaders raised the issue with Prime Minister Imran Khan during his visit but Pakistani authorities need to address this matter on priority and on permanent basis.
Unfortunately, successive governments have taken fire-fighting measures to address issues like sit-ins by extremist groups which ultimately resulted in the weakening of the writ of the state.
Like previous year, an agreement was struck with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik to end its blockade of Islamabad but neither any penalty was imposed nor its leadership was held accountable for their illegal protests and making life of the common people miserable.
Such moves embolden extremists and miscreants who do not hesitate to take law into their hands at the time of their choice and then dictate their terms to end their blackmailing tactics.
Stability is a must for the economic progress of a country. The government must ensure that writ of the state is established and must not be eroded.
The government can’t achieve this objective on its own. It needs to take all stakeholders on board and reach out to the political parties of all hues to arrive at a broad consensus to achieve this goal.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad