Intolerance is taking lives
Reflections on the brutal murder of a young student, Mashal Khan, in Pakistan.
Ironically the site of the horrific blasphemy-linked murder, Abdul Wali Khan University, in Mardan, Pakistan, is named after the secular, democratic and progressive son of 'Frontier Gandhi' or Abdul Gaffar Khan. In his political journey, the proud Pathan had trodden a rare path of fighting for democracy, non-violence and fearlessly voicing his opinion against the scrooge of the region in the 90's, Taliban. He had left active politics of his Awami National Party (which stood for Peace, Democracy and Development) saying that he had no longer any relevance left, "when the mullahs and ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) decide our destiny and politics". It is a line of thinking that in an increasingly radicalised Pakistan, frequently earned him taunts of an 'anti-Pakistani'. This strain of puritanical, intolerant and violently-revisionist Islam that now haunts the Pakistani narrative, is especially potent in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region (formerly North West Frontier Province), where the tragedy occurred.
Pakistan's tryst with current day 'Islamization' was truly accelerated by President Zia-ul-Haq who committed himself to enforce the Nizam-e-Mustafa ("Rule of the Prophet" or Sharia laws). He had rapidly introduced ordinances in 1980, 1982 and 1986, which formally promulgated the infamous Blasphemy Laws, which are arguably the most stringent in the Islamic world. Amongst the most targeted and terrorised minorities to be subjected to the same since the Zia-ul-Haq era and ever since, have been the ultra-vulnerable, Ahmadi's (they were already declared to be 'non-Muslims' via a parliamentary decree in 1974). 'Ordinance XX' formalised the state sponsored tyranny by deliberately disempowering and de-privileging the Ahmadis of basic rights that virtually facilitated the modern-day vigilante culture that is frequently seen in charging the hapless Ahmadis for ostensibly, violating Blasphemy laws.
The Pakistani establishment's complicity in the public mainstreaming of intolerance against the Ahmadis came forth in a case in 1989 where the community was disallowed permission to celebrate their Ahmadi centenary. Herein, the Advocate General, representing the Government of Pakistan brazenly submitted before the court, "It is an offence for a Qadiani (Ahmadi) to impart the teaching of Qadianism to his own children" and that, "when a Qadiani repeats the writings of Mirza Qadiani (founder of the Ahmadi faith), it is an offence under Section 295-C, the penalty under which is death". The High Court, in this case, upheld the Government's banning orders! Over 65 people who were charged with Blasphemy laws since its inception have been murdered, even before the closure of their legal trials.
The hate of intolerance is so deeply entrenched in the societal psyche, that even prominent supporters of repealing the Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan have paid the ultimate price for expressing such thoughts. Former Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who was a liberal advocate against the discriminatory nature of the Blasphemy law, had publically sought pardon for Asia Bibi, a Christian charged under the same and sentenced to death by a local court. The former Governor was shot dead in 2011 by his own Police Commando, Mumtaz Qadri in broad daylight. The perpetrator of this heinous crime later justified his actions by saying that it was his 'religious duty' to kill the 'blasphemous' Governor. Similarly, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minority Rights and a known critic of the harsh Blasphemy law was assassinated in 2011. The combined air of religiosity and fear ensured that when the killer Mumtaz Qadri was brought before the courts he was welcomed with lawyers unconnected with the case showering him with rose petals, whereas the parallel ignominy of clerics refusing to lead prayers for the slain Governor Salman Taseer at his funeral, ensued.
Amidst this failing narrative of the state of Pakistan comes the latest victim of vigilante justice, Mashal Khan, a student in Abdul Wali Khan University accused of, "publishing blasphemous content online". That the police enquiry after the brutal murder did not find anything blasphemous as alluded, was an insignificant footnote in the saga of Blasphemy Law in the 'land of pure', i.e. Pakistan. Mashal Khan was suspected to be an Ahmadi believer, and that was good enough an accusation for the mob, to preclude any proof of his supposed blasphemous statements, for which he was apparently lynched. While rote condemnation followed from the political parties, it is said that the police on the campus did not intervene in the mob's murderous frenzy with some police personnel even making statements supporting the act. Even though Pakistan's famously unsafe child and Noble laureate, Malala Yousafzai said the obvious, "We are giving a bad name to our country" – the script remained essentially the same. No Imam was willing to lead the last rites of Mashal Khan, and the technician who did finally did so was hounded by people later. Tokenism and platitudes are insufficient governmental actions. The state of Pakistan is fundamentally paralysed and frozen in the face of its Frankenstein creation i.e. the terror industry, which thrives on the state patronage and beneficence, irrespective of the price that Pakistan routinely pays. The anarchic tendencies in Pakistani society are bubbling with impunity due to the tactical dalliances with extreme religious ideologies and their infrastructure. The chickens are coming home to roost from Karachi, Peshawar, to now also in Mardan.
Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician has his party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf ruling over the state of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. His comment that the "law of jungle can't prevail" was vitiated by an inappropriate comment by the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. "The entire Muslim Ummah must join hands to press upon social media service providers to ensure that effective measures are in place to filter and preclude uploading of such contents," the minister said. The patently half-baked sincerity of Pakistan in addressing the fundamental issue and disrespecting the poignancy of the moment continues unabated. The slide of Jinnah's 'secular' Pakistan into the abyss of madrasah-inspired 'Islamic state of Pakistan' was formally adopted and started in 1973.
Ahmadis like the Christians, Hindus or even the Shias in Pakistan are officially the lesser citizens. The absurdity of state-sponsored repression ensured that the first Pakistani Nobel laureate, Dr Abdus Salam for Physics had been disowned in the public conscience, simply because, he too like Mashal Khan was supposed to be an Ahmadi. Perhaps the greatest crime created by Mashal Khan, in the haunting lament of his father was that he was tolerant towards all religions – that is simply unacceptable in the age of majoritarianism that happily consumes its own. That along with the pictures of Che Guevara and Karl Marx, one of the writings on his wall read, "Allah is the Greatest and Prophet Muhammad is the messenger of God", meant nothing to his killers.
(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is the former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. Views expressed are strictly personal.)