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Hafiz Saeed in political arena

Asha'ar Rehman |

The road to normality is paved with sighs and grimaces. A Lahore in hectic mode today is a testament to this truth. There is an election to be taken care of. At the same time, a cricket series has to be dealt with. It has to be organised smoothly, no hiccups and no bumps, for the sake of our return to ‘normal’ times.

Cricket is an additional burden, even a distraction for those not enthralled by all English inventions. There was already quite a lot of activity here on account of politics, not to forget all the development work that Lahore must undertake around times of rain each year. This could have added a few decibels to the protest against attempts at revival and restoration. But above all, it is ‘worth keeping in mind’ that the trends which are now being tackled with the motto of revival have left people in a sour state.

They are in a situation where anger gets the better of them at the slightest pretext, even if the cause is not easy to explain. The city is in the middle of an election which simultaneously brings the aspects of rehabilitation, revival, survival and change to the fore. It is a huge test for PML-N which is trying vociferously to retain the city.

The revival part casts PPP in a very important role. The party has set its own targets for its candidate in the race to achieve just as PTI goes about playing the real opposition to PML-N, also as an agent of change. This is not all. There are yet others in the contest fighting for their own redemption. The list of aspiring candidates will be far from complete if we don’t acknowledge the presence of yet another, by no means small, player in the arena.

The Milli Muslim League is no bystander here. The party is making all efforts to be recognised as a political group out and about in the mainstream. MML is a Hafiz Saeed offshoot. It has been on the cards ever since the Pakistani political right wing collected on The Mall in Lahore a few years ago to stand shoulder to shoulder with Saeed. It was a declaration that the old Dawa infrastructure was now being readied to provide the wherewithal for a political party.

Since then, the profile of the party in the making has grown under the umbrella of Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation, an organisation that has been in the forefront of the relief work in times of emergencies such as floods. The party is yet to be formally launched. Therefore, it has adopted a candidate for the by-election. More accurately, the candidate cannot contest on the party symbol or go around openly as an MML nominee since the party is yet to be registered.

This has not in the least detracted from the value and intensity of the MML challenge which by all indications hints at a sustained, meaningful presence in the country’s politics in times to come. The prospect has upset many. There have been loud calls for restraining MML and Hafiz Saeed. The Jamaatud- Dawa and Lashkar-iJhangvi links are just too much for some of us to ignore and harsh questions are being asked about allowing ‘pro-violence’ outfits to operate, without hindrance, in the Pakistani mainstream.

There is even a move to remove Hafiz Saeed images from the posters of the ‘informal’ MML candidate. Obviously, it was not for nothing that Hafiz Saeed allowed his picture to be shown in public after refusing to be seen around for decades.

The change where his photographs were now available, even if in limited numbers, was a clue to a future of greater open public interaction. The Dawa founder has on occasions complained of lately being limited to a low-profile existence. It was only a matter of time before he expressed himself from the stage set up on a thoroughfare. There’s a kind of inevitability to the emergence of MML which is slowly seeking recognition in the various newsrooms of Lahore.

The rehabilitation had to happen, even if a certain number of people were opposed to the idea. It has been said before and will be repeated every time reconstruction is undertaken by a country following turmoil. There will be old elements with a record to answer for, not always everyone’s favourites, who will be drafted in and rehabilitated under various heads, as an advertisement for the others to give up old habits and choose the new alternative. The suspicions about the state’s objectives cannot be easily dispelled.

As appearances go, perhaps a more realistic demand would be that those who now commit to being a part of the democratic process agree to work by existing rules rather than try to amend them to their own advantage in the name of religion and patriotism or for any other reason. They must resolve to not use coercive tactics and fear and intimidation as part of their political strategy. If they care, the government and those in charge must avoid being seen as promoters of hate-based politics. These are conditions which may or may not be adhered to but the people will have to bear with the process in any case.

They had little choice in the matter when those who are being rehabilitated packed up and set out for the patriotic missions they are both credited with and blamed for. They have little say in the scheme now. Rescue, revival and rehabilitation. These are sensitive matters that cannot be fully grasped by the motley crowd.