PML-N leader’s remarks

Updated 16 Jul 2020

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WHILE mudslinging and point-scoring may be part and parcel of politics, certain issues should not be exploited by opponents just to get back at rivals. For example, when questions of religion are dragged into political debates, this can have dangerous consequences in a society like Pakistan, as we have witnessed in the past.

PML-N leader Khawaja Asif has been under fire, particularly from religious parties, after comments he made in the National Assembly last week. On Tuesday, Mr Asif had to clarify his remarks, saying that “misinterpreting” his statements was “extremely irresponsible and wrong”.

The former federal minister had said that “no religion is superior” under the Constitution, apparently speaking in reference to a social media campaign targeting Pakistan’s minority citizens. Religious parties had leapt at the remarks, in reaction to which Khawaja Asif had to reiterate his belief in Islam and its tenets in the house.

The fact is that a great fuss is being created out of a non-issue. From his remarks, it appears as if Mr Asif was reiterating his belief in the fact that all citizens are supposed to be constitutionally equal, regardless of caste and creed, in Pakistan. Unfortunately, obscurantist elements treat any statement in support of minority rights as an attack on Islam.

Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed a major campaign against the building of a Hindu temple in Islamabad, as well as religious parties targeting academics in Sindh for making ‘controversial’ remarks. These incidents show that there is still quite a way to go where the goal of achieving a moderate and tolerant society is concerned.

However, in matters of political debate especially, politicians and lawmakers should refrain from loosely terming remarks ‘blasphemous’, due to the consequences such dangerous accusations entail. Lawmakers should in fact be setting examples for the public by creating an atmosphere that encourages debate and tolerance of opposing viewpoints, instead of unleashing abuse upon rivals simply to score a few cheap points, and potentially putting lives in danger.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2020