Of inaction and misplaced priorities
“Nisar needs to stop paying attention to non-issues and work on forming a plan to deal with the growing intolerance and extremism”, he said
The political leadership’s inaction following the lynching of university student Mashal Khan in Mardan over blasphemy accusations is disappointing, but not at all surprising. A lot has been said and written on the urgent need to introduce reforms to the blasphemy law in order to prevent its misuse, but the government doesn’t seem to have a will to make any efforts in this regard. Blasphemy-related violence has been going on for years and, as a matter of fact, police have always played the role of silent spectator in almost all cases of mob justice.
Pakistan’s leadership agreed to chalk out a strategy to deal with extremism following an attack on Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar and formed a unanimous National Action Plan but the government has so far done little to ensure its implementation. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar is the one responsible to oversee the implementation of NAP and work on providing a counter-narrative to the narrative the Taliban created over the years, but he seems least interested in his job. The minister is nowhere to be seen when there is an incident of terrorism in the country, but was rather quick to tell the Islamabad High Court that the government would ban social media if the sites refuse to remove ‘blasphemous content’.
Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, while hearing a petition against social media sites hosting ‘blasphemous’ content, remarked blasphemers are no less than terrorists, and the interior minister vowed to hunt them down. No one has ever heard the interior minister speak against the Lal Masjid cleric Abdul Aziz who has challenged the writ of the state multiple times by pleading allegiance to global terror group Islamic State (IS) and inviting it to Pakistan.
The interior minister is often criticised for his apparent soft corner for the extremist groups, but the critics seem to ignore the fact that he is a representative of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Some political analysts these days seem to suggest that PM Nawaz has abandoned the right wing approach and is transforming into a liberal because of his recent appearances at functions of Holi, Diwali and Christmas. If that is true, the PM needs to have a word with his interior minister and tell him that he needs to set his priorities right and focus on war against terror and security of the country instead of worrying about the content on social media.
The political leadership only condemned the Mashal Khan lynching incident and that too two days after the incident. They need to do more and make people understand that this (violence) is not Islam”, said civil society activist Jibran Nasir.
Jibran was of the opinion that a debate on the origination of blasphemy law needs to be started so people are told that it was introduced with an intention to target the minority communities and weaker groups of the country, and does not have anything to do with Islam.
“Certain media persons incited violence and practiced hate speech in the wake of abduction of five bloggers by accusing them of blasphemy. They are also responsible for what happened in Mardan”, he said.
Jibran said the FIA’s public message asking people to report blasphemous content online created an impression that the government is telling people the country is full of blasphemers who need to be targeted.
“The leadership of the country does not have the will to amend the blasphemy law. They won’t even redefine the term ‘blasphemy’ let alone reform the law”, said political analyst Ayaz Amir.
While commenting on the Mardan incident, Ayaz said this was not the first time police failed to save a blasphemy accused from a mob. “We saw the same in Kot Radha Kishan where a couple was burnt to death over blasphemy accusations and the police failed to stop the mob”, he said.
Ayaz criticsed the interior minister and said he has failed to deliver.
“Nisar needs to stop paying attention to non-issues and work on forming a plan to deal with the growing intolerance and extremism”, he said.
Debates and discussions on blasphemy law are now imminent. The government needs to come forward and start educating the people that it is a man-made law, which like all other laws, can be reformed when needed. The public should also be taught that nothing justifies mob violence and that taking law into one’s own hands is a punishable crime. Once the narrative is built, the authorities should wait no more and amend the law to introduce penalties for those making a false accusation so the misuse can be stopped.