Imran Khan’s bold stance

Like other self-proclaimed custodians of our faith, Maulana Fazlur Rehman feels that he has a veto over anything to do with Islam. He has now stepped forth to say that no one would be allowed to reform the blasphemy laws in the Constitution of Pakistan as amended by General Zia. Shouldn’t we so much as insert a clause to punish those who make false accusations of blasphemy and those who rile up mobs to murder innocents? After all, Mashal Khan is not the first such innocent.

As it is, there is so much innocent blood on our hands, and so much more on the hands of our so-called leaders. These well-entrenched power-players have lorded over such barbaric incidents for decades. In some instances, entire villages and mohallas of minority communities were attacked on the basis of false accusations, but even such massive crimes failed to move them to action. Imran Khan’s bold stance on Mashal is a refreshing change. It has the power to change things.

Otherwise, every time a tragedy like this happened in the past, our well-entrenched leaders considered it enough to mouth hollow words and focus on fire-fighting. Take the case of the PML-N government in Punjab that has swallowed many such crimes without a burp. It has concentrated its efforts on hushing them up and brushing them under the carpet. In pursuit of its partisan politics, the government has actually ensured that the culprits go unpunished every time. Not so in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Imran Khan’s proactive position has not only mobilised the PTI-government in KP to pursue the matter with the right sense of purpose, but it has also triggered a positive chain reaction in the society. He visited Mashal’s family in Swabi and stood with them. He clearly articulated what was wrong with the mob-murder of their young and promising son. His promise to punish the perpetrators was not mere words. It has been followed by credible actions of the KP administration.

In the middle of our parliamentary circus, this sincere effort to lead the society in the true meaning of the word is commendable. Imran Khan and his PTI might have many shortcomings, but their response to what happened in Mardan must be appreciated. It calls for an apology from his hardline detractors who did not tire of painting him as Taliban Khan. He has created the hope that those who falsely accused Mashal of blasphemy and riled up a mob to cover their murder will be punished. Given our past record, that’s not a small thing.

Remember Kot Radha Kishan. Was the maulvi who incited a mob from the loudspeaker of a mosque to murder a young couple punished? Were those who led the mob that burned two innocents alive, and those who had put them up to it, made an example of? Were the land-grabbers behind the attack on the basti of St Joseph in Lahore, and the attackers on their payroll, exposed and made to pay the price? So many gory incidents involving false blasphemy accusations have taken place in Punjab. So many years have passed.

Is the PML-N a stakeholder in the blasphemy business then? What else could one deduce from how it has dealt with such incidents? Why is the Punjab government reluctant to punish the culprits? Why were the links between the sectarian party that was mobilised to attack St Joseph’s basti and a PML-N stalwart from the area not probed? Why does Rana Sanaullah make it a point to confuse such cases? The pattern is hard to ignore. The party’s record speaks for itself.

Imran Khan has said that the culprits will be punished even if they belonged to his party. In clear and simple words, he has described what was wrong with what happened in Mardan, and it is hard for anyone to refute his words. He has compelled the PML-N and other entrenched parties in the parliamentary circus to brush up their acts. Even the maulanas are coming forth to condemn the incident and concede that courts are the right forum to punish blasphemers.

Things are moving in a positive direction. The PTI-government in KP is pursuing the case with diligence. The Supreme Court has taken a suo-moto notice. The society is up in arms. Something good will come out of the tragic incident.

Important as it is, we don’t really need to amend our Constitution to punish those behind Mashal’s death. Because, even if the accusations of blasphemy were true, they could not have done what they did to him under existing laws.

An exemplary punishment to those who orchestrated Mashal’s murder is the necessary first step. Obviously, it will deter other devious-minded individuals from using false accusations of blasphemy to further their criminal objectives and to harm their victims.

Any headway in this direction would also make the environment ripe for reforming the blasphemy laws and providing equal punishment to those making false accusations of blasphemy against others. Public opinion in favour of stemming the barbaric trend is more charged now.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman talks about blasphemy laws as if they had been extracted straight out of Quran. At a time when we should be rewriting the entire Constitution, he would like us not to touch these man-made laws that have been used as a cover for mob-violence and intimidation as a rule.

He would like to freeze us in time and not learn from our mistakes. His other established colleagues in the parliamentary circus would like to do the same, milking the status quo for petty partisan gains even as innocents are murdered by mobs and peaceful bastis are torched in the name of God.

Our so-called leaders would ideally like to play their petty power games till the day they die, always at the cost of their duty to the citizens of Pakistan. It won’t be easy for them now, not on the blasphemy business at least.

Sometimes, even one sincere act on part of a leader is enough to mobilise the society in a positive direction. Imran Khan’s bold stance on Mashal is one such act.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be contacted at

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