Khadim Hussain and his zealots held the federal capital at siege for almost three weeks before the government decided to use force to disperse the protesters. The government played smart by not using force earlier because it understands that the real issue is not the couple of thousands of miscreants blocking the road, it is the widespread tacit support they have from a substantial portion of the society. Most people may not have joined the sit-ins yet, but they sympathise with Khadim Hussain’s cause and could have caused trouble if pressure mounted on him. The state of democracy in Pakistan is so fragile these days that one spark could not only derail the system, but threaten the country’s stability for many decades to come. Khadim Hussain’s true strength lies in our decadent state infrastructure which serves as a tool for socio-economic injustice against the masses. The humiliation faced by vulnerable populations at the hands of police, lower judiciary, and local administration generates an aversion toward the state. While dilapidated public education system and poor labour laws keep the working masses indentured to their powerful patrons, weak local governments ensure that votes do not make a worthwhile impact on the local power scene. The oppressed masses might feel too powerless to stand up for their rights, but small injustices accumulate over years and sometimes erupt at a given opportunity. Regular voting cycles are supposed to provide a vent for their anger every 5 years, where the masses can hold their representatives accountable or vote rival local elites in power. Traditionally, the masses have voted for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and got benefits such as land allotments and government jobs. Since 2008 elections, however, the lower classes are finding themselves increasingly alienated. Although the PPP won those elections, it governed with legendary incompetence for the next five years. Zardari’s government struggled to grasp the changing needs of working class in Punjab, which was quickly losing employment opportunities due to electricity load shedding and weak economic policies. As a result, the masses got disillusioned and a substantial portion of traditional PPP supporters either abstained from voting, or switched their allegiances to PML-N or PTI. It is now up to the establishment to either continue using religious bigotry as a tool against elected governments, or dismantle its polarising mindset for the greater good of the country. The rise of Khadim Hussain could weaken the state to a point of no return Both these parties failed the masses in their own ways as well. Instead of cashing on its new-found popularity, the PTI continued to focus on its middle and upper-middle class agenda of corruption and anti-Nawaz politics. It wasted a golden opportunity by focusing energies on negative dharna politics instead of strengthening the party’s grassroot organisation. The PML-N, on the other hand, refused to devolve power to local governments. Shahbaz Sharif’s obsessive control over all aspects of public service delivery meant that local governments remained powerless. Although this method of governance produced commendable public service improvements in Punjab, the masses were deprived of their rights to have their elected counsellors and Mayors make local decisions. Such centralised control might have worked in the past, but now the masses are too aware to watch as by standers while the elite enjoys its control over power. In Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging, the masses have found a reason to unite against an extractive state. Khadim Hussain emerged as the most radical and charismatic of the leaders in the movement, and now enjoys substantial support throughout the country. He uses the vernacular Punjabi in his speeches instead of the polished Urdu used by the elite politicians of Punjab. Khadim Hussain’s Punjabi is littered with profanities, which allows him foster better connection with the masses. The topics discussed during the sit-ins might sound appalling or comical to the educated urban professional, but they correspond well with the values and ethos of the masses. The fact of the matter is that the masses have chosen religious bigotry to unite for collective action following the example set by the deep-state. Over the last four-five decades, the establishment has actively used religious extremism as a tool to meet its external and internal strategic objectives. Its support for people like Hafiz Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar, and the Haqqanis has not only weakened the state machinery, but also legitimised the use of religion to achieve political goals in the society. Even today, as these protesters are turning into the PML-N government’s worst nightmare, some sections of the establishment must be rejoicing or even supporting Tehreek-e-Labbaik as the latest tool in their quest to weaken democracy. The PML-N government fears that the establishment will quickly take advantage of the situation by flaring anti-Nawaz sentiments throughout Punjab through its influence in media and the opposition parties. As a result, its candidates will face a tough challenge in the 2018 elections and lose voters to Tehreek-e-Labbaik, which would benefit the pro-establishment PTI. This scenario might corner the PML-N to take a more hardline against the Ahmedis than Khadim Hussain. The party will be compelled to bring Captain Safdar in as its chief campaigner, mostly targeting Ahmedis in the establishment to counter the deep-state’s propaganda. The last time Captain Safdar spewed venom in the National Assembly, he silenced the pro-establishment voices accusing the PML-N leadership for blasphemy, but this move took the country one step closer toward chaos. It is now up to the establishment to either continue using religious bigotry as a tool against elected governments, or dismantle its polarising mindset for the greater good of the country. The rise of Khadim Hussain could weaken the state to a point of no return. The writer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Cleveland State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His twitter handle is @RamblingSufi Published in Daily Times, November 27th 2017.