An senior air warrior and political observer who has the pulse of the region and can sense a change when it comes.
On December 3, 2021, a Sri Lanka national Priyantha Kumara, working as a manager in a garment factory in Sialkot was attacked by a horde of 'believers' and beaten to death, every bone in his body broken and then burnt on a public road. The crowd believed that the man had committed blasphemy and hence must be punished; this is something that doesn't happen in civilized nations and as the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan admitted that the incident was a matter of national shame.
Put in bare words the killing was an act of cold-blooded murder. It brought home to the nation that in case no remedial measures are taken Pakistan could very well turn into another state where there is no rule of law and anarchy prevails.
A bit of history will not be out of place. The Pakistan Penal Code which is derived from the British Indian Penal Code of 1860 is a monumental document. Section 295 of the original code dealt with blasphemy and carried a sentence of two years imprisonment, In 1956 Pakistan declared itself the Islamic Republic and a few years later the slide began. General Zia-ul Haq known as the 'mullah general' instituted a mandatory death sentence in place of the two-year sentence. The general who had no popular support had taken the steps to appease the hardline Islamic fundamentalists so that he can continue in power. He also brought in the Hooded ordinance( which is still not repealed) which put crimes against women like rape under the sharia by taking them away from the Pakistan Penal Code. These had great repercussions on Pakistan society and what Mohammed Ali Jinnah wanted as articulated in his famous speech in 1947 when he had stated that religion has nothing to do with the state and everybody was free to practice his religion whether he was a Hindu, a Christian, or Sikh, in Pakistan was completely negated.
A disconcerting fact which Pakistanis would like to hide under the carpet is that out of 100 people on death row for blasphemy in the world 85 are from Pakistan and the majority of them are from the minorities.
The recent cold-blooded killing has potentially revived the public debate on blasphemy in Pakistan. The debate in the Pakistan media centers around two points these days. Firstly it focuses on the rise of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and secondly the inability of the government to either rebuild or amend the blasphemy laws.
The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan is the real problem. It came to prominence just about half a dozen years back after the killer Mumtaz Qadri had gunned down the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer by pumping 26 bullets into him in January 2011. Worse he was a member of the elite commando force detailed to protect the Punjab governor. The reason he killed the governor which came out in the interrogation was that Kadri felt that Salman Taseer by his campaign to amend the blasphemy law did not deserve to live.
The atmosphere was so polluted that the killer was given the hallo off a martyr after he was hanged in 2014 and a mosque has been built in memory of him and hundreds go to pray there. The TLP took inspiration from this and very soon became a big factor in Pakistan politics. The killing of Salman Taseer had another effect and all Pakistan politicians began to sing a different tune, so much so that even Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in a speech in 2018 said that the death sentence was required for any act of blasphemy. During the election campaign, he came out in full-throated support of the blasphemy laws(https://www.juancole.com/2018/07/blasphemy-pakistan-election.html)
What does this mean? it means that the extremist elements in Pakistan are now coming into the forefront and the Imran Khan government is unable to counter them. The Pakistan government is negotiating with this very group which has been demanding the expulsion of the French Ambassador as well. What has surprised observers is that out of 56 Muslim nations, Pakistan is the only nation which is indulging in such activities.
Pakistan inherited the blasphemy laws from the British but it is on record that from 1947 to 1977 only 10 cases came up before the High Court in Pakistan but after General Zia came to power, there has been a deluge, and as it stands nearly 85 persons are on death row for blasphemy. The problem is not just the death punishment but the extrajudicial killings which take place. To date more than 70 persons have been killed either in the courts or outside for the simple reason that they were accused of blasphemy. The atmosphere is so vitiated, that when a Christian woman Asia Bibi was acquitted by the Pakistan Supreme Court after 10 years of incarceration on a false charge of blasphemy, violent demonstrations broke out all over the country and it was with great difficulty she was transported to Canada.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asia_Bibi_blasphemy_case)
The blasphemy law under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code is a hark back to medieval times and a prime example of a modern nation imposing a savage law on its citizens albeit the minorities with legal sanction. The blasphemy laws are just a symptom not the disease because there is an element in Pakistan led by the Pakistan Taliban which would like Pakistan to become a pristine Islamic state and follow the sharia in toto like it is now being enforced in Afghanistan.
We are aware that the Taliban government has now banned woman from traveling alone out of the house and forbidden them from attending school and the Pakistan Taliban has the same aim. It had a cease-fire with the Pakistan government which has now been rescinded and they have begun their attacks.
In retrospect I can see that coming to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan is actually a. great disaster for Pakistan. The recent border problem with the Taliban on the Durand Line is a pointer to the way things are going to work out. Elements in Pakistan want sharia to be enforced in the country. It has to be seen how the Pakistan think tank tackle this problem but I am very clear that a person like Imran Khan is not the right man to lead Pakistan at the moment. For all his faults General Ayub Khan who took power in a coup in 1958 should be the guiding line, but both the present army commander who controls the country general Bajwa and his sidekick Imran Khan are likely to sink Pakistan.
We must remember that the French revolution was inspired by Voltaire and other writers and it is important for writers all over the world to fight the ills of society whether it be the caste system, the color bar, or the blasphemy laws. There are elements in Pakistan who are opposed to this Talibanization of the country and it is important they realize that they have support.
1. Essay Politics of blasphemy and lynching. https://www.dawn.com/news/1664535/essay-the-politics-of-blasphemy-and-lynching
2. The untold story of Pakistan's blasphemy laws. https://www.dawn.com/news/1149558
3.The Blasphemy law in Pakistan https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_Pakistan
4. Guilty unless proven innocent; the sacrilegious nature of the blasphemy laws https://www.efsas.org/publications/study-papers/guilty-until-proven-innocent-the-sacrilegious-nature-of-blasphemy-laws-in-pakistan/
© 2021 MG Singh emge