NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 10

A day of shame for Pakistan

Pakistan has faced many tragic incidents in its history. But two incidents, the fall of East Pakistan and the APS tragedy, both occurred on 16th December, have cast indelible effects on Pakistan and its people. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s corrupt ruling elite has not learned any lesson from the two tragedies.

All the elements, fault lines and causes, like poverty, corruption, nepotism, feudalism, illiteracy, prejudice, provincialism, extremism, religious fanaticism, unemployment, intolerance, loans from the IMF, World Bank and other countries, a sense of exploitation and deprivation among the people, lack of justice and the rule of law, etc., which gave birth to the two tragedies, are still prevalent in the country. Shamelessly, our ruling elite, including politicians, bureaucrats, religious leaders and businesspeople, are doing nothing to solve these simmering problems, which could explode anytime with volcanic ferocity.

The current account deficit (CAD) has already hit $7 billion, or 5.3pc of the GDP, in just five months of the current fiscal year. The PTI government is forced to accept all hard conditions of the IMF for getting a loan to save the collapsing economy. Resultantly, in the coming days, the people of Pakistan would face more financial difficulties in the form of soaring prices.

Extremism and misuse of religion are also pushing the country towards utter failure and disaster. Entire society has become radicalised by the bad policies of our corrupt ruling elite. Last month, a most tragic incident occurred when Priyantha Kumara, 48, a Sri Lankan factory manager, was beaten to death and his body set alight by a mob for alleged blasphemy in Sialkot. Videos of the mob lynching can be seen on social media. They show that the incensed crowd is dragging Kumara from his workplace, beating him to death and then burning his body. Tragically, many people in the crowd were taking selfies with his body.

Extremism has increased so much among the people that the mob even did not try to hide their identity. They committed the barbaric act without feeling any guilt and fear of punishment.

The Sialkot assistant commissioner said: “Due to the renovation of the factory building, some posters were taken off from the wall. They may have desecrated posters. Maybe the manager was lynched because of it.” However, Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) President Mian Imran Akbar said a personal vendetta by labourers in the garb of an alleged religious tilt led to the heinous incident. “Studying the details of the case, it was found that Priyantha was a thorough professional known for his stern production standards,” he said in a statement.

The vicious and barbaric killing in the name of religion shocked the entire nation. Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the “horrific vigilante attack” and vowed that “all those responsible will be punished with the full severity of the law”. The civil and military leaders also termed the tragic incident “horrific,” “shameful” and “extra-judicial vigilantism”.

However, it is also a fact that many people have been killed for allegedly committing blasphemy in Pakistan. Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, was shot dead by his bodyguard for speaking out against the misuse of the laws in 2011. Mashal Khan, a university student, was dragged out of his university room by a crowd of hundreds of his fellow students in April 2017. He was beaten and shot dead. Later, his body was also mutilated.

BBC News writes: “In Pakistan, it can carry a potential death sentence for anyone who insults Islam. The country’s blasphemy law prohibits disturbing a religious assembly, trespassing on burial grounds, insulting religious beliefs or intentionally destroying or defiling a place or an object of worship. Making derogatory remarks against Islamic personages is an offense – and in 1982, a clause prescribing life imprisonment for “wilful” desecration of the Quran was added. In 1986, a separate clause was inserted to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the penalty recommended was “death, or imprisonment for life”. In Pakistan, even unfounded accusations can incite protests and mob violence against alleged perpetrators. Human rights critics have long argued that minorities are often the target of accusations.”

According to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, the horrific vigilante attack was a day of shame for Pakistan. But some critics linked the incident to a recent U-turn by the PTI government in its policy towards Pakistan’s hardline Islamic group, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). The TLP was banned by the government and declared a militant organisation. However, after its followers started a wave of deadly protests in Lahore in October, killing at least six police officers, the government agreed to lift the ban on the organisation. In one of the videos from the scene in Sialkot, two of the instigators of the violence refer to TLP’s slogans to justify their action.

Many fear that incidents of violence over alleged blasphemy cases and mob lynching are escalating as a result of recent policies. Last week, a police station in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was set on fire and police vehicles burned after the officers refused to hand over a person accused of blasphemy to the mob.

Experts question the policy to deal with rising religious extremism in the country. Recently, the government cut a deal with the TLP, which was responsible for killing policemen during violent protests. The rise of the TLP has normalised murder over blasphemy allegations. What were once random incidents are now becoming an epidemic, they argue.