IN something of a climbdown from his customary hardline position, Maulana Fazlur Rehman said with reference to the blasphemy laws on Friday that “if a law is being misused against minorities, we are ready to discuss this [matter]”. Such is the grimness of the situation Pakistan is facing vis-à-vis extremism that even this small concession must be greeted with relief. There can be little doubt that the minorities’ affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who was gunned down on Wednesday, died because of his views on how the country’s blasphemy laws lend themselves to misuse. Punjab governor Salman Taseer was killed for the same reason — his murderer has proudly confessed to this motive. While Maulana Fazlur Rehman can now say that “such acts [of violence] amount to taking the law and constitution into one’s own hands”, the fact remains that religious and hardline political parties, such as his own JUI-F, have played an incendiary role in bringing matters to this pass. And this is true not only in terms of the recent furore over the proposal to bring the blasphemy laws under parliamentary review but also in a larger sense — over the decades the mindset that produced extremist and dangerous groups has been steadily nurtured.
Yet, however unwittingly, the JUI-F leader has also provided the key to the only conceivable way out of this frightening situation. The clear and present danger of extremism can only be countered if all parties, particularly those whose focus is spreading religious ideology, work together on a consensus that taking the law into one’s own hands, regardless of the issue at stake, is unacceptable. For too long have Pakistan’s right-wing parties and alliances been soft on the issue of extremism and the ensuing spilling of blood. In terms of the blasphemy laws in particular, there is an urgent need for all political actors to agree that laws that are accused of lending themselves to misuse must be brought under review. If the politico-religious alliance helps in this, there may yet be a way forward. If it does not, the battle may already have been lost.