VIEW POINT: Whither Pakistan?

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ARTICLE :In a statement he recorded on Monday before an assistant commissioner, Mumtaz Qadri, the man who pumped 27 bullets into Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, said that he was influenced by what he heard two clerics saying at a religious congregation four days prior to the commission of his despicable act.

The decision, though was his alone, he said to kill the governor because I considered him a blasphemer, and that no group or individual was behind it. The two clerics and the person, who filmed the congregation, fearful of the consequences of instigating murder, are absconding.

But the cast of accomplices and instigators is much wider. Those who supported and promoted an untruth include all those who whipped up religious passions, misleading people like Qadri into believing the governor had committed blasphemy. In fact, they have been condoning the act of murder, calling it a reaction to Taseer s alleged careless manner of defending Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy.

The PPP, the party he belonged to and forcefully defended in
Punjab, left Taseer standing alone by my conscience . When he was killed, the party chose to evade rather than confront the issue calling it a political assassination. An apologetic Rehman Malik even indirectly condoned the murder, saying if he finds anyone insulting the Holy Prophet (PBUH) he would himself shoot such a person dead. In other words, Qadri was right in taking the law into his own hands.

A section of the media had its own negative contribution to make to the sordid affair, providing substantial space and airtime to uninformed opinion on the subject, also showing the assassin being showered with rose petals during his court appearance. Equally dangerous, some hosted discussion programmes on the society s purported division on the issue, thereby lending legitimacy of sorts to religious extremists argument.

Salmaan Taseer s views were grossly misrepresented. He never said anything that should have hurt religious sentiments. He did call the present Blasphemy Laws, introduced by the Zia regime, as black law. He said so because they are man-made and, through the years, have been used by unscrupulous individuals to sort out personal rivalries or for property grabs.

Not a single accused was ever found guilty of the offence by the higher judiciary. Yet those implicated suffered long years of imprisonment, and their families of harassment. Upon release, they could not go back to their homes to live a normal life. About thirty accused were murdered by religious zealots without allowing them a chance of fair hearing. It is not without significance that before these laws came into being in the 1980s, there were no reported cases of anyone insulting Islam.

The religious parties say they will continue with their street agitation until they are satisfied the laws will stay in their existing form. This despite the fact that the Religious Affairs Minister held a special press conference two days before the commencement of the agitation programme to announce that the government had no intention to amend the laws; others, including the Prime Minister, have been iterating that position.

The religious parties/groups leaders are expected to know: a) that the present blasphemy laws are man-made and hence likely to contain flaws; and b) and that their representatives in Parliament can engage in rational, knowledge-based debate and reject what they deem as objectionable clauses of the bill. Instead they have chosen to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

As a prominent religious scholar, Javed Ghamdi - who unfortunately had to flee the country for offering learned interpretations of Islam - explained in a TV discussion via telephonic link, the laws in question come neither from the Holy Quran nor Hadith. And that the blasphemy issue finds mention in the works of Imam Abu Hanifa, the founder of Sunni Hanafi school of fiqh - followed by 90 percent of Pakistani Muslims. And Abu Hanifa, according to Ghamdi, held that anyone accused of blasphemy should be provided a chance to clarify his/her position. If such a person denies having made any irreverent remarks, he/she can go free.

In case the person insists on remaining disrespectful, he/she should be detained for three days (or is it four days?) to think and retract. If still unrepentant, he/she deserves the punishment of an apostate. The Imam s interpretation is way too liberal, than what people like Taseer had been advocating. From the manner in which the religious leaders are acting, it seems that they trust General Zia s understanding of Islam more than that of a religious figure of Imam Abu Hanifa s standing. For it helps them gain political mileage, just like Zia.

The amendment bill Sherry Rehman introduced in the National Assembly only seeks to stop abuse of the laws. Basically, it asks for removing immunity for false accusers and malafide intent by adding clauses that penalise all false accusations, remove death penalty (added to Zia s laws later by Nawaz Sharif s government). It further seeks to make amendments in the Pakistan Penal Code, and Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), as the bills initiator put it, to rationalise the punishments and to ensure that all such cases are taken cognisance of by the session s courts from where they are moved to the high courts for trial. The high courts, she points out, are under much higher public scrutiny than lower courts, hence miscarriage of justice can be avoided.

In its 63 turbulent years of existence,
Pakistan s inept, corrupt and self-seeking rulers have brought it to many a critical juncture. But, perhaps, this one is most critical. Obscurantist religious parties, who opposed the creation of Pakistan, arguing that religion cannot be confined within the boundaries of a nation-state, are claiming to be the guardians of its political, social and religious conscience. And the means they want to employ for the purpose are violent. Our national poet Iqbal s view that Deen-e-Mullah fi sabil Allah fasaad (Mullah s brand of religion is creating strife in Allah s name) rings so true today.

The PPP is the aggrieved party and also in position of power. It has a special responsibility to do all it takes to end the fear that keeps people from speaking the truth. Other mainstream parties, particularly the PML-N, have a duty too to take a firm stand against retrogressive forces, who want to use the controversial blasphemy laws for political ends. The true heirs of this country s founders need to join hands to work towards making this society tolerant, pluralistic and progressive, as envisioned by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.


Courtesy: Business Recorder

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