SANER heads may yet prevail where the fallout in Pakistan from the Masjid-i-Nabwi incident some weeks ago is concerned. On Monday, participants at a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights slammed what they termed as the weaponisation of religion for political ends. Further, they counselled utmost care in handling blasphemy cases filed in the country against members of the PTI and its chairman, ousted premier Imran Khan, after some party supporters accosted government ministers at the holy site in Saudi Arabia and raised slogans against them. Senator Walid Iqbal, who chaired the meeting, pointed out the anomaly of filing charges in Pakistan for actions that had taken place in another country. A council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also condemned the blasphemy accusation and described it as among the first few instances of the law being used for political point-scoring.
It is reassuring that the top leadership of the two largest parties in the coalition government — the PML-N and the PPP — have unequivocally voiced their reservations over the manner in which the incident has been dealt with. The PPP’s Farhatullah Babar and Khursheed Shah as well as the PML-N’s Khawaja Asif and Javed Latif have all gone on record to oppose the filing of FIRs against the PTI leaders. Aside from the obviously problematic aspect of using religion for political vendetta in a country that needs to dial down such rhetoric rather than give it further oxygen, it also makes for poor strategy. As pointed out by several politicians, the move actually proved counterproductive for the government — that too, one trying not to lose public approval in challenging circumstances — by enabling the PTI to cast itself as a victim and blunt the widespread condemnation of its supporters’ behaviour at the holy site last month. At issue is something far bigger than political rivalry; it is about the very future of Pakistan. The political leadership on both sides of the aisle must chart a course away from the stormy seas of religious extremism that continues to threaten social cohesion. At the aforementioned Senate Standing Committee meeting, discussion also centred on how to prevent the misuse of the blasphemy law by making amendments to it. This is an important conversation that needs to be carried forward. Allegations of blasphemy must not be lightly made, given the terrible price they have exacted time and again.
Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2022