After the tragic deaths in Rawalpindi, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed strong displeasure over the inactivity and lack of foresight displayed by the police officials. He correctly emphasized the need to execute a fair and neutral investigation of the incident in order to prevent any similar mishaps from occurring again. Further adding to his statement with the role played by the police, he said that the police should have taken preemptive action so that the attacks could have been forestalled. He expressed justified discontent with the laxity on behalf of the police officials in failing to curtail hate speech and stone pelting.
Freedom of expression is a contentious issue in Pakistan; it is a subject rife with contradictions, censure and reluctance but, above all, it yields and reveals some of the most glaring instances of hypocrisy. In the case of Rawalpindi, the same individuals who remain staunch proponents of the blasphemy law and would run campaigns in favor of its complete implementation without a tinge of critical thinking are somehow demanding impunity for inciting people to violence. The paradox is not a harmless one in this instance; lives have been harmed as a direct consequence of vitriolic hate speech.
The Prime Minister’s demand for police officials and other law governing bodies to invest themselves in investigating incendiary speech and action in public venues is the need of the hour, particularly in our society’s case where volatility is the norm and vengeance is, unfortunately, a commonly occurring phenomenon. Not only should police officers censor acerbic expression that leads to brutality, but also ordinary citizens ought to show civil responsibility when they see individuals issuing violent invectives against groups. This is a necessary step in holding hatemongers accountable for their actions.