The lynching of the 23 year old student Mashaal Khan over allegations of blasphemy by a raging and reckless mob at the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, in Pakistan on April 13 last week triggered an outpour of condemnation and protests, including protestations and warnings by the ruling elites – from the prime minister to the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Quite understandable.
Imran Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party, took the lead in the condemnation, saying “the law of the jungle can’t prevail.”
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif waited for over 36 hours before rejecting “the idea of self-imposed vigilantes and directed action against those found involved in the incident.” He ordered police to arrest all those who were responsible. “Let it be known to the perpetrators of this act that the state shall not tolerate citizens taking the law in their own hands,” he warned.
In a press statement, Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said such incidents in universities were a big threat to educational institutions and that the government should take adequate steps to check such incidents in future.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman was moved by Mashaal’s father’s speech on TV and questioned the federal government on maintaining silence over the incident. Bakhtawar Bhutto, daughter of PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, hoped that the accused are tried for murder, saying “no one has right to take a life. I hope the students & police that were involved are treated like the murderers they are.”
Some federal ministers including Nisar Ali Khan, Khurram Dastgir and Khaja Asif, too, denounced Mashaal’s lynching. As if not wanting to be left behind, Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, too joined the bandwagon 48 hours later and instructed the inspector general police of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to submit a report on the incident in the next 36 hours.
Mufti Naeem, head of Jamia Binoria, an international Deobandi Islamic educational institute located in Karachi, also stepped forward in urging the Muslim scholars (ulema) from all sects in the country to unanimously condemn acts of violence originating from the misuse of the blasphemy law. He urged religious scholars to declare “killing an individual over blasphemy allegations against the Shariah as well as the law of Pakistan”.
All this resonates sympathy and anger. But let us pause for a while. Isn’t this a moment of introspection for these elites?
Shouldn’t they hold themselves and their petty short political interests responsible for this abhorable act? Haven’t most of them been pandering to the religious right for their petty electoral interests?
They have, in fact, little to offer in defense of their political posturing.
If Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wants the people to believe in his aforementioned warning to the “perpetrators” then he himself should start applying the rule of law to his family and the party.
If the chief justice of Pakistan is interested in taking Mashaal’s killers’ task, he and his colleagues should ideally work to rid Pakistan of the obsolete and oppressive Pakistan Penal Code and Criminal Procedures Code to make justice delivery easy, inexpensive and quicker.
Through an urgent comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, the honourable judges will do the entire nation a big favour instead of fishing for individual cases such as the one under discussion.
They have to ensure quick justice delivery and the certainty of punishment if they want the bulging youth of Pakistan not to lose hope in the state and the promises coming from the ruling elites and the judiciary.
One would hope that these self-righteous and ever pontificating elites would heed to the passionate message by Iqbal Jan, the father of Mashal Khan.
“In every house, there is a mashal (torch) of education. We have to protect them against the poisonous elements that teach conflict…. this will have to be removed from [university] curriculum. We as Muslims should be respected and those who are not Muslims should also be respected. These are the things they should include in the curriculum” Jan said.
Unless our leading lights – the ruling elites – turn these words into a narrative by reforming governance, the criminal justice system, cleansing the curricula of hate materials, and until they commit to and work for protecting every single citizen of Pakistan, their lofty rhetoric will remain meaningless. And the directionless, disbelieving and frustrated youth will keep slipping into intolerance.
Also, the question remains: How many Mashaals does the state, and society, need to sacrifice to take concrete measures towards growing intolerance in the society?