ON 17 August, just 3 days after its independence celebrations, in Pakistan, violent and hateful videos of Bible desecration, vandalism of churches and baton-wielding mobs chanting TLP’s signature slogans surfaced on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. In the video, it can be clearly seen that the police stand by as silent spectators while the miscreants descend on the church premises and Christian cemetery. This was not an isolated incident but rather a link in a long chain of lynching of citizens that has now become an important part of the societal structure, where the judiciary, law enforcement and the government’s writ have all eroded. Religiously motivated vandalism or public lynching has increased dramatically over the past eight years since the rise of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). However, this is not the sole reason; the decades-long Islamicized foreign policy of the country had already garnered fertile grounds for the TLP’s extremist version of Islam.
A deeper analysis will evince that the state’s decades-long project of national brainwashing has spawned a radical generation that is at the centre of this turmoil. Religion has become so ingrained in public life that Pakistani society resembles the turmoil and religious conflicts of Europe’s dark ages. A particular segment of society chooses its preferred religious interpretation and utilizes it as evidence to issue verdicts on the spot with impunity, scraping the state writ and superseding a proper trial. In Pakistan, the unbroken chain of public lynching-cum-desecration of worshipping shelters of minorities appears to be the new normal in society. The government has failed to devise a proper mechanism to put a stop to such unfortunate incidents.
On May 7, in the Mardan district, a local cleric, was lynched on blasphemy charges. This was done without fulfilling Islamic prerequisites or secular law’s essence. Hardly three months ago, in February this year, social media in Pakistan was rife with sensitive content about an enraged mob scaling the walls of the Warburton Police Station to lynch Muhammad Warris, who was held by police for allegedly being accused of sullying the Quran. In the same month of February, the students of the Peshawar Model Degree College—a well-known education system in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan and one is maintained on liberal norms—violently protested against their teacher for allegedly defiling the revered personality of the second caliph of Islam, Umar ibn al-Kha??âb (Red). In another blasphemy case in February 2022, Mushtaq Ahmed was snatched from police custody and hung after the local cleric accused him of profaning the Quran.
None of the other cases grabbed the media’s attention as much as the lynching of Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana, a Sri Lankan citizen who had worked in Pakistan for eleven years. In December 2021, in Sialkot, he was beaten, lynched and then his corpse was set on fire for allegedly removing a poster with religious content. In his case, six people were sentenced to death by the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC). In November 2020, in Khushab district of Punjab province, Pakistan’s National Bank manager was falsely accused and killed by the bank security guard. The lynching of Mashal Khan was another high profile case that stung the Pakistani media. The 23-year-old Mashal Khan was vocal about the malpractices of his parent university, Abdul Wali Khan University which was later confirmed in investigation.
Later, in his investigation, the Inspector General of Police of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (IG KPK) found him innocent of the accusation of blasphemy and blamed the university administration for inciting the violent mob against Mashal Khan.No one from the university administration responsible for the incitation of violence was trialed. In each of the preceding cases, the mob took the law into their own hands and executed the accused without any substantial evidence or a trial. Almost all of them were later proven to be fabricated or based on personal grudges against the accused. Yet the victim never found true justice, nor did the government come up with a lasting solution to deter the berserk mobs from such brutalities in the name of religion.
Since 1947, different phases of Pakistan’s history have found themselves exposed to different forms of radical interpretation of Islam. Initially, it served as a tool for separation before 1947; after its independence in 1947, it dominated the foreign policy front and eventually seeped into society and domestic politics. There are several factors, but the decade-long radical foreign policy has contributed a lot to the crumbling societal fabric of Pakistan. The perpetual bellicosity with India, the denial of Israel and anti-American sentiments largely contribute to the evolution of Pakistan’s radical society.
During Zia ul Haq’s regime, the geopolitical realities of the Cold War were translated into religious terms and a national curriculum soaked in religious fervour and the mushroom growth of unregulated Madaris were witnessed. In the early 1970s, Afghanistan’s nationalistic assertion of Pushtunistan was responded to by patronizing the religious factions in Afghanistan. Radical interpretation of Islam, as the most important tool in Pakistan’s foreign policy toolbox, has overtaken the contours of domestic politics. Soon, political parties also realized the importance of religion for their vote bank and started to exploit all of these sentiments by championing Islamic-coloured foreign policy in public to boost their vote banks in times of need. Despite the fact that its leaders are mostly educated in the West, the PTI could not avoid incorporating Islam into its political discourse and the concept of Riyasat e Madina that it has chosen to propound as the governance framework. Additionally, even the moderate missionary organizations’ activities increased the rate of receptivity in youth for radical tendencies.
The enormous task is to decouple religion from foreign policy and let temporal logic replace dogmatic interpretation of religion in quotidian life. Pakistan has never had a serious foreign policy debate in order to develop an inclusive policy doctrine. But now time demands for giving more space to rational intellectuals to spark a constructive foreign policy debate. The list for reform is unending, but suffice it to say that no proper regulatory mechanisms exist to maintain day-to-day affairs. Numerous witty and sarcastic jokes depicting lawlessness and poor administration of the country conclude, “Allah runs Pakistan.”
—The writer is PHD Scholar at the Area Study Centre, Peshawar University.
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