This post was supposed to be on Baluchistan, and its overall importance to Pakistan. But a lot has happened since January 2nd – the blasphemy laws have taken centre stage, and the hypocrisy of religious parties are becoming increasingly clear for everyone to see. It is appalling, and of course reasonably concerning, to see that the ruling government is not taking a stronger stand. The death of Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was no doubt a huge shock to most in Pakistan, but what was more inexcusable was the government’s inability to take responsible control of the situation and clamp down on those in favour of the blasphemy law.
Instead, the popular Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is calling the assassination a dastard plot against their government. In classic conspiracy-style fashion, they claim that first it was Bhutto and now it is Taseer, further stating that this ‘political’ murder has nothing to do with religion. Even though Mumtaz Qadri has admitted that the actions taken were conceived by him alone (due to Taseer’s staunch opposition to the blasphemy laws), the PPP refuses to accept this fact. Instead of trying to solve the continually deteriorating situation, the government has opted to stay clear of this heated topic. Many see Qadri as a hero for what he did – he’s been commended by a wave of religious groups, some of which have even gone as far as stating that Taseer himself was responsible for his own murder! Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of one of the largest religious parties (the same party from which the minister in the Hajj scandel was kicked out of cabinet) declared that all people protesting in favour of the blasphemy laws should send a message to the government and anyone willing to change it – that signal being that they ‘would have to face the same fate (as Governor Taseer).’
Instead of condemning such violence, as one must in Islam, these religious leaders have been condoning these senseless acts, some even going as far as saying that anyone (and alarmingly everyone) is capable of and willing to become a Mumtaz Qadri (Taseer’s killer) in order to protect the faith. This is absolutely ridiculous, and unfortunately a clear repercussion of Zia’s days. The “Zia-ul-Haq generation” that was born and grew up in the 80s clearly has a different interpretation of Islam than previous generations did. The most shocking reality from this generation is the role of lawyers. These lawyers, some of whom played a fantastic and important role in ousting a dictator from power and ushering in much needed democracy, now seem to be defending murder!
There seems to be a disconnect between the true Islamic principles, and the extreme undertones that have seeped into the understanding of the general public. Murder can never be condoned, and it is unfortunate and shocking that even major political leaders shy away from condemning it.
An excellent example of the perplexing situation can be seen through the Interior Minister’s example, Rashid Malik. Malik, who instead of protecting all the citizens of the nation, instead decided to state that he ‘would shoot any blasphemer himself.’ Instead of standing up for what is right, these individuals have succumbed to the pressure put on them.
Malik went so far as to tell Sherry Rehman, a Karachi based PPP politician, that the government cannot guarantee her security and it is better that she leaves the country. Sherry had tabled an amendment to the Blasphemy law that would get rid of the death penalty for any blasphemer. Sadly the Interior Minister cannot protect his own civilians from the tyranny of the violent.
Pakistan’s government, and especially its military at this point, must decide how much longer it will allow these religious groups to not only advocate their own interests in the public sphere, but threaten Pakistani civilians, both Muslim and non-Muslim. The military, though much more powerful than these groups, must give its full backing to the government, and both must ensure that they terminate the use of militant groups that have been linked to these religious parties in the past. I have said in previous posts, and many more renowned experts on the issue have also noted that, in the long run these groups will only serve as a disadvantage to Pakistan. The blasphemy debate shows just that. It is about time the government grew some backbone and start bringing these groups to justice for their blunt threats and incitements against the opponents of this intolerable law.