State’s Role In Vigilante Killing

Another video has leaked showing armed police including ATS standing guard as vigilantes search cars for the body of murdered student Mashal Khan.

Sadly, this is not a surprise. Even after police cleared the victim from any allegations, still there are countless who support his killers including many officers from law enforcement agencies. This is not an accusation, it is a fact stated by police themselves.

We are all familiar with reports that University administrators pressurized students to accuse Mashal. And we have seen the report of PTI councillor Arif Mardan warning students not to name the killers. We know the dramatic statements of PM Nawaz Sharif and IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui against blasphemy. All of these add up to state’s role in whipping up the religious sentiments and making a very dangerous environment. However there is another way that the state is responsible for these lynch mobs.

Whole society may be sensitive to blasphemy issue, but this is not enough to explain vigilantism and lynch mobs. If students and administrators truly believed that someone has committed blasphemy, why won’t they report to authorities? Why won’t we accept the legal process to determine guilt and innocence? I believe the reason is that we have not actual legal system in this country, and I will now provide evidence.

When Rangers pick up people and torture them to death, when state agencies kidnap bloggers, when supporters of killers openly defy government orders with no consequences, when militant leaders declare that they are unmoved by government bans, when Army denies foreigners consular access before sentencing them to death in secret trials, when hardened terrorists are killed in ‘police encounters‘ and even those who are captured are tried and convicted in secret military courts, the message is given very clearly that there is no actual law and order but only the law of the jungle. If even our own law enforcement agencies act as vigilantes, how can we expect anyone else to act differently?

Parliamentarians condemn lynching and declare that law of the jungle cannot prevail, but they are empty words for show only. Which lawmaker will reign in out of control agencies? Which lawmaker will change laws that affect religious sensitivities?

Speaking about why police did not stop the mob that killed Mashal Khan, a police officer said “There are hundreds of sympathisers in my force and if I take too much interest in the case I might be killed too.”

Police know that the reality is that the law of the state is the law of the jungle.

And privately, in our own hearts, we know it too.

When do ‘turning points’ become a death spiral?

Mashal Khan

I have been hesitant to write anything about Mashal Khan lynching. What can be said that has not already? Not only this time, but the time before? And the time before that?

Some are expressing a ‘cautious optimism‘ that the strong reaction against Mashal Khan’s murder coming from certain quarters of society points to a ‘turning point’. But three years ago, we were told that the bloody APS massacre was a ‘turning point‘. Since then, we have witnessed many ‘turning points’. Sabeen Mahmud murder was a ‘turning point’. Safoora Chowk bus attack was a ‘turning point’. Sehwan blast was a ‘turning point’. Lahore Easter blast was a ‘turning point’. These are just a few examples.

With due respect to these courageous voices, I cannot help but have the exact same thought as blogger Dan Qayyum

The problem is so deeply rooted in society that even the defences of Mashan Khan cannot challenge it. So many are arguing that he did not ‘deserve’ lynching, but inside this defence is the acceptance that someone does deserve it. That the violence and hatred is not the problem, only the problem is that the wrong person was targeted. Zarrar Khuro describes this cancer perfectly.

We have nurtured our own disease, have fed this cancer of the soul, this cancer which has a mind of its own; this cancer with purpose. The fault lies with a society that sups on hate and willingly butchers its own children at the devil’s altar, mutilating their bodies and crushing their skulls like some kind of ritual sacrifice.

And so here we stand, bending over backwards to ‘prove’ that he was not a blasphemer, that he was a ‘good’ Muslim and did not deserve the fate that should, by implication, be reserved only for the not-so-good. But none of that matters either, because evidence is accusation, is a death sentence to be carried by public acclamation in some dark, murderous perversion of democracy.

Our dilemma can also be found in our debates about blasphemy laws themselves. Over and over again we see cases where innocents are tortured and killed due to blasphemy accusations. Most often these are not tried, sentenced, and executed by the state. They are accused and lynched. Yet the debate is always about how to ‘prevent misuse of blasphemy laws‘. But what law is it that was misused in lynching of Mashal Khan? What law was misused in the lynching of Shama and Shezad? What law was misused in murder of Salmaan Taseer or Sabeen Mahmud or Rashid Rehman or any of the others who have been killed not by any law but by lawlessness?

State institutions have been strongly pushing the fight against blasphemy. From government to judiciary to even ISI, all institutions have been promoting the narrative that blasphemy is a major problem of Pakistan. Political leaders tell us that the offence of blasphemy is ‘unpardonable‘ while Mullahs threaten ‘dire consequences‘ if anyone dares try to reform the laws. What did they think was going to happen?

The solution, we are told, is to also give death penalty to those who misuse blasphemy and take the law into their own hands. But in the most famous case fake blasphemy killing, the killer was given death penalty and hung. It did not make him a warning for our society.

It made him a hero.

Qadri Janaza

 

Arrest Militants Not Scholars

Protest release Dr Riaz AhmedIn January, several bloggers including Professor Salman Haider mysteriously disappeared. After initial outcry about the fate of the disappeared persons, soon they were facing allegations of blasphemy. Soon later, the missing were returned just as mysteriously as they disappeared. There has been no official report of what happened to these bloggers and activists, but according to Ahmad Waqass Goraya there is no question that he was picked up and tortured by state agencies. The state has never admitted any involvement in the incidents, however even after the international embarrassment the Islamabad High Court has now instructed FIA to investigate the victims further and if possible bring them back to Pakistan to prosecute them under laws. While the entire nation was distracted by this case of kidnapping and torture of liberal activists, terrorists carried out a bomb attack that killed 25 and injured almost 100 innocents.

In February, terrorists struck again, this time killing at least 99 people including innocent women and children in a week of bloody attacks across the country.

Week of deadly attacks

Soon after these attacks, Defence Minister demanded a Parliamentary Commission to investigate an article by Husain Haqqani, and Pakistan Rangers arrested two Karachi University professors who were preparing to give a press conference. One professor Dr Riaz Ahmed has been remanded to jail on accusation of supposedly possessing an unlicensed weapon but the real issue was mentioned by SI Shahid Pervez Khan who told the Court that the professor was advocating on Facebook for the release of so-called ‘blasphemous’ bloggers even though the bloggers have faced no charges and no evidence has been given against them. So why security agencies are arresting these scholars?

There have been at least 17 terrorist attacks already so far this year, over double the number during same period last year. Civil and military leaders are on the same page and both claim that terrorists have been defeated even though they are ramping up attacks. Worst, both civil and military leaders have shown more interest in harassing and targeting scholars than actual militants who are carrying out attacks and killing people. If terrorism is going to be defeated in reality and not just in slogans, state agencies will have to carry out operations against extremist militants, not scholars.

One month since Sehwan blast and already we have lost plot

Hundreds of innocents killed in a new wave of terrorist attacks, a new military operation announced, and within weeks we have already lost the plot. In just the past few days we have seen Islamabad High Court and Interior Ministry announce possible new social media ban to crack down on alleged problem of ‘blasphemous content’. This was followed by a petition against Zara Hut Kay for daring to question the IHC Judge.

Soon after, some of our so-called ‘journalists’ selectively read an article by former Ambassador Hussain Haqqani about American politicians meeting Russian diplomats and somehow managed to turn it into an admission that he helped capture Osama bin Laden. Only in Pakistan is helping capture the world’s most wanted terrorist considered treason, but this is our reality. However this interpretation doesn’t even match what is in the supposed confession. Haqqani says that he brought a request to Islamabad (which was his job) and that American intelligence agents were operating in Pakistan (this is no revelation or have we forgotten that ISI was working with CIA in Pakistan at the time?). The important line that nobody seems to have read is when Haqqani notes that “the United States kept us officially out of the loop about the operation”. Never mind the facts, though, as PPP grasped at the opportunity to disown their former Ambassador, something they do once a year as part of their desperate attempts to slow their slide into political irrelevance.

Meanwhile, COAS Bajwa has met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Army has announced new operations will defend Saudi Arabia from cross border attacks. This news has broken only two days after Chinese media reported that Pakistan Army Chief has also promised to protect Chinese workers and investments in Pakistan. It has not been clarified where Pakistani citizens come in the priority, but some are speculating that the current list is:

  1. Chinese investments
  2. Saudi Princes
  3. Kashmir-based ‘freedom fighters’
  4. Cricket tournaments
  5. VVIPs

Operation Raddul Fasaad was launched on 22 February. Less than four weeks later, we find our selves in essentially the same chaotic mess that we have remained leading many to ask if Raddul Fasaad and the national ‘unity’ is anything else but a facade.

Bhensa, Blasphemy, and the Role of the Court

After several liberal activists including a professor of Fatima Jinnah University mysteriously disappeared, state security agencies once again found themselves facing negative international attention. Critical statements from international human rights NGOs and foreign governments began pouring in. Then came the ultimate trump card. The ‘Ace of Spades’. Blasphemy allegations.

The allegations began from right-wing hyper-nationalist websites and social media accounts like so-called ‘Pakistan Defence’.

defence.pk postThere is no proof that any of these missing are responsible for any blasphemy. There is not even any proof that any of these activists is behind the ‘Bhensa’ account that is being accused! Actually, they were originally accused of being anti-Army, not anti-Islam. Now that the blasphemy accusation has been made, though, it has also been formalised under the law as application has been submitted to register blasphemy cases against the missing activists.

However, this could be a test case not only for the democracy but for blasphemy law as well. Civil Rights activist Jibran Nasir is calling for arrest of Pakistan Defence admins for inciting violence against the activists. At first it sounds like fantasy, but on second thought there may be something to his thinking. No less than Chairman Pakistan Ulema Council Tahir Ashrafi has called for extreme care in handling of blasphemy cases and has even called for death penalty for those leveling false allegations. I personally do not support death penalty, but Maulana Ashrafi’s view shows how serious the issue is. Therefore, everyone can agree that such cases should be decided in court based on all the evidences.

In order for a court to evaluate, both the accused and the accusers should be made to appear before the Court to be questioned. The disappeared activists must be produced and also the admins of Pakistan Defence and other social media accounts that are making such serious allegations should be produced before the Court also. Otherwise, isn’t it those leveling such allegations from behind anonymous accounts who are making a mockery of the Court as well as the blasphemy law?

Perhaps there is someone who has committed blasphemy. We cannot know unless the case is heard by an impartial Court. There is also the question whether someone has tried to misuse blasphemy allegations in order to distract attention and cover their tracks. This also cannot be known unless all the actors and evidences are examined by the Court.