A few short days ago 86 Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) workers were each handed 55 year long sentences by an anti-terrorism court for rioting and resisting the police. The verdict was celebrated across the country; finally the group gets what it deserves, a just punishment for taking the law into their own hand and blackmailing the government based on their own hardline interpretation of Islam. Yet, that watershed moment shone brightly for a few days only; the TLP is back to strong-arming the government, and more disappointingly, the government is all too willing to surrender without a fight.

The saga surrounding the release of the Pakistani movie “Zindagi Tamasha” is a dismal display of how weak this government has become. It starts form the beginning; the director of the film, Sarmad Khoosat, starts receiving threatening calls and messages from the TLP to pull the film from cinemas. The government instead of investigating and arresting the perpetrators of a clear crime of blackmail, decided to halt the release of the film for “reconsideration”. Why reconsider when the film has already been approved by all censor boards in Pakistan? Why can’t the government follow its own laws? More fundamental is the question who is the TLP to “raise concerns” about the release of a film that does not concern them. Why are such a small group of people afforded such enormous importance, more importance than the government’s own institutions.

After bending over backwards so far that their backs must certainly be broken, the PTI’s solution is more slavish pliancy. Instead of sticking with the opinion of the censor boards specifically designed for the purpose the government decides to arbitrarily form a new committee to review the film; comprised of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). Some reports suggest that TLP members might be part of this new Frankenstein’s monster of a film review board.

Why must the CII be dragged into this? The constitution gives the body only one role, give advisories on legislation, no more. The government cannot make up powers on the spot. Since when has the CII been competent enough to pass judgment on the suitability of films? Will everything in this country be approved by a council of clerics from now on? Can no discussion be had – in film or otherwise – about the role religion plays in our society without hardline fanatics descending upon the conversation? The government needs to answer. The government’s shameless surrender to political forces wielding the name of religion is a travesty. The PTI and the PPP – which has banned the film in Sindh - must be condemned.