Imran Khan may claim that his three years in power have raised Pakistan’s global profile, but the last few years have been some of Pakistan’s worst ever in history. The country founded as a haven for South Asia’s Muslims has seen a worrying rise in radicalism and extremism to the extent that this may end up consuming society from within.
There has long been talk of revamping Pakistan’s criminal justice system. Last week PTI leader Dr Babar Awan tabled a resolution in the National Assembly for holding a debate on the Sialkot tragedy in which Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara was lynched by a mob for allegedly committing blasphemy.
However, as an editorial in Dawn notes, “extremism in the country has gone well beyond a law and order problem. The poison of divisive rhetoric has percolated into the warp and weft of society. Its triumphalist mindset manifests itself in myriad ways, some of them seemingly innocuous, while others are more overt. But they all add up to an environment where matters of faith can provide a spark for a conflagration that does not spare even the mentally handicapped.”
Further, “a week before Mr Kumara’s murder, between 4,000-5,000 people attacked a police station in Charsadda, KP, demanding that the cops hand over a mentally unstable man taken into protective custody when he was accused of committing blasphemy. When Asiya Bibi was acquitted of the crime by the Supreme Court after having spent eight years on death row, riots led by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan broke out across the country in protest against the verdict.”
The Pakistani state “is entirely to blame. It deliberately steered society onto a right-wing trajectory for its own ends, turned a blind eye to those that incited violence against fellow Pakistanis, and extended kid glove treatment to individuals who acted on extremist beliefs. Even now, eight years after the APS Peshawar massacre led to the National Action Plan being devised to counter violent extremism, but which was hardly acted upon, the government is engaged in talks with the TTP, the very group that perpetrated that atrocity. Now and then, banned groups surface to hold press conferences/rallies against women’s rights, etc; hundreds of individuals affiliated with proscribed extremist groups stood as candidates in the 2018 election. Politicians of all shades, including otherwise progressive ones, have used accusations of blasphemy to intimidate rivals — the ultimate trump card in a reactionary society.”
The Dawn editorial concludes, “Extremism has been mainstreamed and normalised. Until this mindset changes, there will inevitably be more Priyantha Kumaras.”