NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 15

Rising terrorism and extremism

Pakistan is facing the fire of extremism, terrorism, corruption, political instability, and a weak economy. The government and state institutions are helpless to create peace, economic prosperity and political stability in the country. A sense of gloom and hopelessness has engulfed the people of Pakistan, who are seeing the country rapidly drifting towards utter collapse and failure.

After killing over 84 people and injuring around 200 in the Peshawar police line mosque attack, terrorists attacked the Karachi Police Office on February 17. In this audacious attack, five people were martyred and 18 injured. All three terrorists belonging to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were also killed.

These new terror attacks clearly show that terrorists have re-started a war against Pakistan with a new force and strategy. These attacks also highlight serious security lapses in the strategy. “The KPO is not a soft target,” said Sharufddin Memon, former chief of the Citizen-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) and consultant to the Sindh Home department.

“This is a kind of message from the terrorists: ‘we are that close’. It’s a serious security lapse. It’s not a routine terrorist activity. It cannot be ignored. So, I think many things need to be revisited. From the security of our facilities to anti-terror to training of our law enforcement agencies — everything must be rechecked,” he said.

Every effort should be made to improve the security strategy for crushing terrorism across the country. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s politicians and security establishment are not giving due attention to this menace and flawed security strategy. They are also oblivious to the rising extremism among the people, as many incidents of mob lynching are occurring frequently in the country.

On February 11, 2023, a mob lynched a man accused of committing blasphemy in Nankana Sahib. According to reports, the mob stormed the police station, snatched Muhammad Waris, who was in police custody for allegedly desecrating pages of the holy Qur’an, and lynched him.

“The angry mob stormed the police station using a wooden ladder, dragged him out and beat him to death,” Waqas Khalid, a police spokesperson, told the Guardian. “After lynching, they were still not satisfied and tried to burn his body,” he added.

Many young people surrounded the police station in a video of the incident that was shared on social media. In the video, it can be seen that a large number of people were stripping a man bare, dragging him down the street while they beat him with metal rods and clubs.

On February 12, 2022, a mentally disturbed man, Mushtaq Rajput, was stoned to death in Mian Channu, Khanewal, for the alleged sacrilege of the Holy Quran after a crowd snatched him from a police station. And just a few weeks prior to that occurrence, a Sri Lankan manufacturing manager, Priyantha Kumara, had been brutally lynched in Sialkot by a hysterical mob that had accused the foreigner of blasphemy. This litany of victims — both Muslims and non-Muslims — killed on the mere suspicion of blasphemy appears to have no end in sight. Unfortunately, the fanatical mindset that motivated the act can be found everywhere, including in Pakistan’s academic institutions, as manifested in Mashal Khan’s case in April 2017. Even the former prime minister, Imran Khan, had a narrow escape from assassination in November 2022 by an extremist attacker. However, PTI chairman Imran Khan claimed that the attacker who tried to assassinate him in the Wazirabad attack was a “trained shooter” and not a “religious fanatic.” Moreover, according to reports, Wikipedia was blocked in February because of its sacrilegious content.

Keeping in view the rising extremism in the country, the occurrence of such incidents is terrible but also expected. Blasphemy offences are punishable by death in Pakistan. Up to 89 people have been killed since January 2022 because of these charges, while from 1947 to 2021, 71 men and 18 women were executed extrajudicially over accusations.

In a paper titled “A Breach of Faith: Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2021–22”, published in February, the HRCP expressed concern about the growing blasphemy issues. According to the report, Pakistan’s police have reported at least 585 blasphemy cases, the majority of which are in Punjab province. It is difficult to describe these instances of intense mob violence since they highlight the fact that an insufficient effort has been made to address the issue.

Many politicians, clergy members and human rights activists have condemned the incident. After condemning the incident, Shehbaz Sharif, the prime minister, questioned, “Why didn’t the police stop the violent mob? He ordered an investigation and said the rule of law should be ensured. Two police officers have been suspended. History shows that these hollow words and minor actions will not help stop more terrifying incidents in the future. In fact, politicians, feudal lords and religious leaders abuse the blasphemy law for their own nefarious purposes. Due to this reason, they are not taking any serious action to prevent the misuse of the blasphemy law. It is also a fact that the state has also spread extremism in the country to win the Afghanistan war against the USSR. The state should abandon this policy and take drastic steps to counter extremism. It should prevent mob ‘justice’ by implementing the rule of law. The law enforcement agencies should be seen as protectors of citizens’ lives and property, not as weak and helpless observers. The blasphemy laws should be reviewed.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has aptly suggested “The threshold of evidence regarding blasphemy accusations must be raised in the country. It must be ensured that the laws in question are not weaponised by people to settle personal vendettas, as is so often the case”.

Extremist groups and individuals that incite prejudice and hatred towards those who hold different beliefs should be dealt with harshly. The state and government must not put the problem on hold, not even in these difficult economic times.