“If Pakistan is to develop as a democratic and progressive state, sectarian activities must be put down with firmness; otherwise Pakistan will become a mediaeval and reactionary state.”— Punjab DIG, CID, 1952
LAST Saturday’s sack of a Christian settlement in Lahore has again laid bare the rot that today defines the Pakistani people’s mindset and which has paralysed the vital organs of the state.
The incident was no sudden attack by a suicide bomber, nor an ambush by an extremist militia; it was homemade mischief that was allowed to brew for three days. What reportedly began as a quarrel between two young men soon became known to neighbours and the police, and both could have prevented the orgy of violence, arson and plunder that followed.
A man was accused of committing blasphemy. The sole witness was the complainant who had turned against his friend. The accused was arrested, apparently without the mandatory inquiry. By then the state had become seized of the matter. Yet it was possible for a mob of several thousand people to burn and ransack scores of houses and shops, including a church. The attack was a sustained and well-planned operation aimed at not only punishing the innocent population without cause but also rendering their houses unfit for habitation.
This act of sheer barbarism has thrown up quite a few questions that wise heads must face.
Once again an opportunity has presented itself for an appraisal of the various forms in which the Pakistan Penal Code provisions about offences relating to religion are liable to abuse. Such abuse can be seen in treating all sections in the Penal Code chapter XV as blasphemy provisions while only one section — 295-C — can be taken as the blasphemy law.
The fact that this law has often been invoked by land-grabbers, business rivals or professional complaint-writers is widely known. Also well-known are instances of failure of investigation and prosecution agencies to protect the innocent, including the mentally challenged.
Even the holy brigade in politics has off and on conceded the need to stop the misuse of belief-based laws. Each government since 1988 has talked about amending the law to prevent its abuse only to beat a hasty retreat. The crux of the problem is the state’s failure to stand up to the perpetrators of violence, preachers of intolerance and hate speech, and killers of innocent citizens, and all this as self-appointed executioners of the Divine Will.
The writing on the wall is clear. The abuse of law and the exploitation of people’s belief for the purposes of committing murder and arson will continue because of the arrangement to ensure that the young ones are more intolerant of religious diversity than their elders were, not only in madressahs but also in public schools.
The second, and a more critical, issue is the consistent disinclination of the state authorities and the popes of the ideological caucuses to go to the root cause of the disorder.
Each time there is an outrage the question mostly asked is about the failure of the police to prevent or control the incident or the incompetence of the politicians if they are not in one’s good books. Is it any secret that the police have never taken on a mob incited by clerics and no political outfit has challenged religious groups for their attacks on minorities?
The issue is not simply why the police or the provincial authority failed to do their duty in Quetta or Karachi or Lahore; the issue is the environment in which the police, political authorities and even oversight bodies become parties to promotion of hatred for and intolerance of minorities.
The essential questions are what made Salmaan Taseer’s murderer change his concept of duty — from protecting the governor to killing him. What made men of law garland him? What makes prison staff hail sectarian killers as heroes?
Only a little reflection will be enough to realise that the state has been sowing the seeds of violence in the name of belief by blinking at the organised exploitation of religion for narrow personal/group interests and by becoming and remaining a hostage to the dark forces of religiosity and hypocrisy.
The state did not heed the words of caution it received in the early 1950s nor during the subsequent five decades. It does not seem to have awakened to the crisis it is fuelling these days. Many a time it has been told not to divide the citizens on the grounds of belief with the argument that eventually the Muslims would be divided on the basis of sect, and sects would be divided by various interpretations of religion. All this to no avail.
It is difficult to recall any state in modern history that can match Pakistan’s record of self-annihilation.
The fault does not lie in this policeman or that, nor in one politician or another, the fatal disorder lies in all those who sanction the use of law or force — both equally bad — to impose on the normal people of Pakistan so abnormal a polity as theocracy always is.
Let anyone who cares for justice, human dignity and Islam’s pristine principles go for those who swear by the Quaid’s principles only to flout them and denounce the secular ideals of Pakistan without bothering to understand them. The fact is that in the hearts of most people who matter reside monsters that persuade them to blink at atrocities targeted at non-Muslims, Shias, women and the poor, even if they themselves do not join the bands of killers and robbers.
Those who cannot see in the Badami Bagh blaze the whole country on fire will not need any outsider to destroy them. Nor will they find anyone to cry for them.