Lesson to be learnt from D-Chowk?

Ali Ashraf Khan

AFTER three days’ several rounds of negotiations through two well-wishers of Nawaz government Molana Owais Noorani and Mr. Pardesi and the deployment of thousands of security personnel in the heart of the Capital, the D-Chowk sit-in finally ended on Wednesday night without a showdown. It had developed out of the chehlum gathering for Mumtaz Qadri, the executed killer of former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Reportedly on his utterances that his government is working to change the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, thousands had assembled in Liaquat Bagh with prior consent of Punjab government, who were later prompted to reach Islamabad. The demand of the people gathered in D-chowk was that Qadri be acknowledged as a ‘Shaheed’, one who sacrificed his life for Islam.
The renewed blocking of D-Chowk by an unruly crowd without the permission of the authorities in Islamabad has at least two implications. The first is about the law and order situation in the capital of Pakistan, which was once known as city of baboos, later a symbol of peace and security when senior bureaucrats V. A. Jafferey and Roedad Khan tried to mobolize a strong civil society to protect peaceful environment. Islamabad has been growing out of bounds and without any planning due to corrupt administration; even at normal times without special trouble or reason, traffic is choking the city and everyday ride to the school, office or university is a problem.
In addition, there has developed a habit of blocking roads and cell phone signals every now and then on occasions like 23rd March, 14th August and any security alert that might come. That makes the lives of the people in Islamabad miserable. The fact that the Capital Police and other law enforcement agencies are unable to prevent such additional upheavals like the one that ended in D-Chowk, add to the problem. Again, like we still remember the mess that the dharna by Tahirul Qadari and Imran Khan had created and ultimately an agreement was reached two years ago, an unruly mob was given a free hand and allowed to occupy public space, shitting and spitting and littering for four full days thus disturbing the life in an anyway disturbed city. The announcement of Minister Dar that this would not be allowed in future leaves one doubtful; if that was the case why did they allow it this time?
But the second problem is even more serious. The public sympathy expressed for Mumtaz Qadri by millions of Pakistanis even if they didn’t take part in the sit-in shows that there is a serious gap between the state, its institutions like government, judiciary and others on the one hand and the people on the other. The Islamic character of the Pakistani state even though it has never been fully determined and implemented is something that sits at the base of public understanding of what a state is. But the kind of state we are trying to run – a representative democracy on British lines – is unable to adjust the Islamic part with its institutions. That is why the Qadri case is not coming to an end and the government fails to understand it. Blasphemy is impossible to be condoned in a state with such a large Muslim population like Pakistan, while the fact is that even the Christians did not tolerate blasphemy against Christianity and from 16th century to mid-19th century blasphemy was held as an offence against Common Law.
Blasphemy was also used as a legal instrument to persecute atheists, Unitarians, and others. The Church of England first coined the Law of Blasphemy in 1676 after the famous Taylor’s case under the common law offence of blasphemy. When all blasphemies against God, including denying His being or Providence, all contumelious reproaches of Jesus Christ, all profane scoffing at the Holy Scriptures and exposing any part thereof to contempt or ridicule, were punishable by the temporal courts with death, imprisonment, corporal punishment and fine.
Pakistan should not be allowed to be exploited by any segment of society including the ruling elite which is trying to establish its liberal posture in the West and as reported especially before US visit. The nation is confused about the agenda of our present government, that is supposed to first protect the safety and security of every citizen of Pakistan according to the laws of the land and not play to win support of foreign rulers; Pakistan first and Pakistan last should be our only agenda. That is why all allegations of blasphemy have to be taken seriously and have to be investigated. As past practice has shown the blasphemy law of Pakistan – a product not of divine ordinance but of failed human action – is quite unable to deal with the matter appropriately. Due to politicization in police and administration, unfortunately this law also offers too many loopholes that can be used to falsely accuse someone of this horrible crime. That means that the man-made text of the law has to be improved in such a way as to better fit the spirit of the Islamic injunction of blasphemy and prevent as much as possible misuse of the law.
Secondly, the blasphemy accusation against Salman Taseer should have been investigated properly by the government and the courts. Given the situation in Pakistan anybody accused of blasphemy finds himself in a life-threatening situation and he or she should be most interested in getting the accusation investigated and possibly cleared. Taseer should have known it and the government should have known it. Only Taseer’s clearance from the accusation could have saved his life. What about Mumtaz Qadri and all those fierce Muslims who think that they can judge on their own if a person is a blasphemer or not? Qadri killed Taseer on the allegation of blasphemy only and if Taseer was not found a blasphemer on the Day of Judgement Qadri will also meet his own end as every one of us has to.
Hurt by emotions, he was taking a chance that, may be, he should not have taken. That shows us that the Qadri case has some lessons to be learnt: Blasphemy is an issue that needs to be treated by state and society carefully and not pushed under the carpet; secondly, the man-made text of the law on blasphemy needs improvement and if the government has given guaranties not to touch the wording, it has made sure that soon we will have the next such case of killing. And thirdly we need a procedure to deal with the issue of blasphemy as a society and a kind of consensus has to be reached on how that could be done properly.
Absence of tolerance is the major flaw that has engulfed Pakistani society to fall prey to foreign agents to divide and disturb the peace of the country through RAW and CIA operatives playing wild against our citizens in the streets and parks of Pakistan and then disappearing like Raymond Davis from Lahore, when his travel documents were in custody. Pakistan needs to return to its original path for which it was created in 1947 when the founder had said “Today we seize to be Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi and Sikhs; from today onward we are and will be Pakistani and Pakistani alone” Only then a repetition of the Taseer-Qadri case can be prevented. God Bless Pakistan and Humanity.
—The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.

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