The Mashal Khan Incident in Pakistan: A Short Analysis

Mashal Khan’s facebook page

On April 13, 2017, a mob at Mardan University in KPK tortured two students one of whom was lynched to death over rumors of blasphemy allegations. It was reported that a FIR (First Incident Report) had been registered against several suspects allegedly involved in the killing of Mashal Khan, a resident of Swabi and a student at Abdul Wali Khan University where he was studying in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. It is alleged that he was shot by some of his fellow students and his body beaten with sticks, the reason for this being that he is accused of having committed blasphemy. There are reports that most of the suspects have been identified and eight have been taken into custody. The university management had decided to close the institution for an indefinite period. Later, more arrests were made by the police regarding the murder of Mashal Khan. According to the Inspector General of Police, (IGP), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the total number of arrested has gone up to 22.[1]

The killing had shocked Pakistanis and sparked an intense soul searching in the nation. The incident was a thumping testament to the way vigilantes quickly hound, torture, and kill people. In the wake of the attack Imran Khan, whose PTI heads the KP government, decried the attack and the entire notion of mob justice. Pervaiz Khattak, the chief minister of the province, vowed that action would be taken to make sure atrocities of this kind were never repeated. However, it is impossible not to wonder if these men realize how hollow their words sound. After all, Khattak was quick to clarify that action needed to be taken since no evidence had been found to suggest Mashal Khan committed blasphemy, thereby implying that had such evidence been found, the subsequent lynching would have been perfectly understandable, if not acceptable.[2] Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on April 15, 2017, issued a strong-worded condemnation of the lynching of a university student in Mardan over allegations of blasphemy and said that: [3]

I am shocked and saddened by the senseless display of mob justice that resulted in the murder of a young student. The state would never tolerate those who take the law into their hands…No father should have to send his child off to be educated with the fear of having him returned in a coffin…the nation should stand united to condemn this crime and to promote tolerance and the rule of law in society.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan expressed disappointment over the “cold-blooded murder” of Mashal Khan, saying it was “unfortunate that people who are behind [his murder] are associating religion” with the act. Terming it as a “blatant murder,” the interior minister said that even if the accusations against someone were true, there was a process to pursue the case. “Islam is a model; it has a framework of justice,” Nisar said, adding that the religion did not “permit” any maltreatment of a “non-Muslim” or “even an atheist.” “I think the provincial government has taken the right decision to call a judicial inquiry,” the interior minister said, adding that it was an appropriate way to go about it.[4]

The Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nasir has taken Suo-moto notice of Mardan student lynching over charges of blasphemy. Chief Minister KPK Pervez Khattak signed a summary for the formation of a judicial commission to probe the incident. An Anti-Terrorism Court sent eight suspects who were allegedly involved in the murder into police custody for four days.[5] The brutal murder had shocked many liberals who believe that state policies are emboldening religious fanatics. Blasphemy was a sensitive topic in Pakistan. Human rights advocates had long been demanding a reform of the controversial blasphemy laws, which were introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. Activists have said the laws have little to do with blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas.[6] There are the procedural and legal problems in the Blasphemy Laws. Most importantly, was perhaps the highly toxic discourse around alleged ‘blasphemy,’ which was abused by religious elements for political purposes. The state itself had supported some Islamic elements for their purposes.

Syed Talat Hussain in his most thought-provoking article “Mashal’s murder” published in The News on April 17, 2017, argued that:[7]

Murder most foul carried out in a manner most beastly and barbaric. That it happened at a supposed seat of learning makes it even more despicable than it would have been an act done in caves away from the reach of civilization. That it was done by urban, educated and seemingly better-off young men of the digital age makes it harder to digest than it would have been if it were the deed of some bloodthirsty militant faction of a terrorist organization or a criminal gang…. What we have done so far is condemn it (there are some who have endorsed this murder). We have promised an inquiry. And of course, we have done the bravest thing no one has done before: tell everyone and ourselves that no one will be allowed to take the law into his hands. Yes, we have buried Mashal and have hospitalized his friend, who survived the lynch brigade and is still, in the eyes of the University administration, a suspect who might have committed blasphemy. And, yes, we have tweeted extensively on the subject…. We are now reaping what has sowed some years ago. Recall how this province was made an experiment lab of our most recent dictator – who is currently living an excellent life – Gen Pervez Musharraf. The killers of Mashal Khan were born and raised in the years when Musharraf’s pseudo-liberalism had installed a clergy-driven government in the province. He handed the reins of power to the very rightwing forces that he globally claimed to fight so that he could receive his yearly allowance from the Bush Bank of USA. Recall how in the then NWFP extreme public religiosity was imposed to the extent that public advertisements showing even the face of a woman were considered a sin and crime. Music in public transport was banned. Cultural activities were snuffed out. Musicians and artists were rendered jobless. Some were beaten out of the province. Cinemas were closed down. And a reign of strict self-serving puritanical morality was introduced in schools, colleges, and universities where every dissenting voice was dubbed as satanic. The Manufactured by Musharraf Administration (MMA) was at the helm for a full term and brought out that side of the national culture where tolerance of dissent is zero and co-existence with an alternative worldview next to impossible. The generation that is in university now was in school back then. Killing in the name of religion becomes easy if you are brought up in a particular way. If this sounds like a stretch, consider the statistics: the total number of lynching or extrajudicial killings in the name of religion between 1946 and the mid-80s of the Zia regime were two – yes, two. From the Zia years to 2014 these had risen to a harrowing 57 – yes, 57. Consider another set of hard data. The total number of blasphemy-related accusations between 1927 and the mid-80s (Zia years) were seven. From the mid-80s to 2014, the number rose to 1,335. Seeds of hatred and intolerance sprout late, but they surely do sprout. So Mashal Khan is a victim of the opportunistic politics of the Musharraf era, infamous for dollar deals with the US. But that alone isn’t sufficient as an explanation. The curse of the present times is an important part of the missing puzzle of the bestiality that became Mashal Khan’s tragic fate. Over the last few years, freedom of speech has become licentious. There are judgments all around. These are mostly about demeaning the other and defining people as enemies who deserve no sympathy. These judgments have gone beyond distributing degrees of patriotism; these are now religious decrees about others’ faith and about their qualification to be Muslim. The unbridled social media is picking up this trend. Commercialization of religion on TV channels has aggravated it further, with each in a rat race to establish that it has the best understanding of the code of Islam. Mostly this ‘best’ is all about calling the other the worst. Sectarianism is paraded as the diversity of opinion. Fatwas are delivered as analysis. Calling others kafirs, jahils, infidels, atheists (in the popularly misunderstood sense), non-believers, ‘murtads’, enemies of Islam, etc. is now a trend. With their little knowledge, Wikipedia information, inadequate lives, personal failures, short tempers and long tongues, these hatemongers are all over the place – infecting minds, poisoning hearts, darkening souls. As if this wasn’t bad enough, you have state institutions perceived to be patronizing these witch-hunters, who appear on television every night and spout hate laced with desperate threats. They incite the public, take names and openly declare groups (not just individuals) to be outside the circle of Islam, and therefore deserving of terrible death. The whole system knows what this is about. The judges know it. Pemra knows it. The prime minister knows it. The army chief knows it. And yet, there is nothing anyone can do about it because these witch-hunters are designated to issue black warrants on the media. The state loves them. They love themselves. It is demons like these that defile sanity. These are products that find ready replicas in universities, colleges, on the streets, and inside homes. These characters father fetishisation with violence and thrill to kill for causes that are not even remotely connected with the spirit or letter of religion. The state backs them. The state protects them and then when they (or those like them) drag a student’s body through the corridors of a university with the aim to burn it, the state goes into a state of hypocritical shock and remorse. Mashal Khan could not have been saved, not even by a hundred guards. He, after all, lived in the age of free fatwas available at a price.

The incident had rekindled the debate about the role of Islam in state and society of Pakistan in a way not seen before in Pakistan. Thanks to the electronic media and the social media videos of the incident were circulated which were graphic and shocking. Previously, the Human rights groups have expressed concern about mob vigilantism over blasphemy accusations. Activists say that in Pakistan it is easy to accuse anyone of committing blasphemy, which, according to the law, is punishable by death. Witnesses are usually not required to file a police case against the alleged blasphemer. In many situations in the past, those accused of insulting Islam or its Prophet Muhammad have been killed by angry crowds.

Human Rights groups maintained that the government’s recent crackdown on alleged blasphemers was a major reason behind Mashal Khan’s murder as such measures are emboldening religious fanatics in the country. The Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) had urged that all those involved in the lynching be brought to justice. “The state’s abject failure to protect Mashal Khan’s right to life has created great panic and horror among students and academia. Unless all those who played any part in Mashal’s brutal murder are brought to justice, such barbarity will only spread,” it said. [8]

The state’s abject failure to protect Mashal Khan’s right to life has created great panic and horror among students and academia. Unless all those who played any part in Khan’s brutal murder are brought to justice, such barbarity will only spread,” the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said in a statement on April 14, 2017. “The malaise that manifested itself in Mardan will not vanish with brief shuttering of the University. All those who believe in positive human values must speak out and suggest ways to prevent vigilantes causing mayhem by using the name of religion. Staying quiet in the face of such barbarism will condemn us all as accomplices,” said HRCP.[9] Pakistan has witnessed an unprecedented surge in Islamic extremism and religious fanaticism in the past decade. Islamist groups, including the Taliban, have repeatedly targeted religious minorities in the country to impose their strict Shariah law on people. According to the HRCP, 2013 was one of the worst years for religious minorities in the country. Several people were charged with blasphemy, many places of worship were burned down, and houses were looted all over the country.[10] At least 65 people have been murdered in Pakistan after being accused of blasphemy since 1990, a recent think tank report said.[11]

Many people had b been killed before. In the past, eight people, including a child, were burned alive in Gojra in 2009 on allegations of blasphemy. Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by his security guard in 2011 for coming to the defense of a blasphemy accused. Lawyer Rashid Rehman, killed in May 2014 for defending a blasphemy suspect. Also, brick kiln workers Shama and Shahzad were burned alive by a mob in November 2014 on allegations of blasphemy. And this was but a partial list[12]

Ghazi Salahuddin, in his very hard-hitting article “Portrait of Pakistan” published in the News on April 16, 2017, stated: [13]

Apparently, it is the mob that defines the current narrative of Pakistan – a story that is nurtured by our rulers. We have been placed under the virtual siege of these mobs that are injected with primitive passions. And irrespective of how they deal with the lynching of Mashal Khan on Abdul Wali Khan University campus in Mardan on Thursday, there is little hope that any serious attempt will now be made to understand the present drift of Pakistani society. An incident of unbearable bestiality can only be a brief distraction when the nation is breathless with excitement over politics…. For once, this senseless abuse of the blasphemy laws has prompted some action on the part of the authorities…. our society, as I see it, is continuing to deteriorate. Again, I find evidence of this decline in what I read and what I see and what I learn through conversations with influential people. Ideally, the media and the institutes of higher learning should be exploring this territory in a problem-solving mode. We know that this is not happening…While a heinous crime like the lynching of Mashal Khan remains exceptional, mob violence is not that infrequent. Leaving aside some major attacks on minority communities on allegations of blasphemy, mob violence is not that rare. Vehicles involved in fatal accidents are almost ritually set on fire. So much more disturbing are incidents when alleged robbers, seized by a mob, are brutally beaten, sometimes to death. I may also refer to the video of those two brothers who have lynched in Sialkot some years ago…In my view, the state of our society is amply reflected in our collective behavior. Traffic provides a great mirror of our societal disequilibrium…. What we have is a picture of a gradual breakdown regarding what ordinary citizens have to suffer and how they behave themselves. There are various facts that are relevant when we paint a portrait of Pakistani society. For instance, last week the Pakistan Medical Society said that depression in the country was much higher than the world average while its incidence was alarmingly greater in urban areas. Professional assessments tell us that about 50 million people suffer from common mental disorders, but there are only 400 trained psychiatrists in the country. We also know that about half the children in the country are growing up with stunted minds because of lack of nutrition. The tally of such debilitating statistics can be long, indeed. However, I get more worried about our moral and intellectual deprivations. Within the confines of religious extremism, intolerance and orthodoxy that are enforced by some sections of the state, the human material that we have are losing its capacity to deal with the challenges that we confront as a society. So, what do our political leaders and rulers intend to do to make Pakistan a civilized country with a modern system of government? In the midst of all this gloom, I could refer to Malala Yousafzai. She was in the news this week, having been nominated as the youngest-ever United Nations’ Messenger of Peace and was so designated in a New York ceremony on Monday. This should make us happy but a vast number of people in Pakistan – those who invoke religion all the time – hate her. And this is one more measure of what we are.

On April 15, 2017, Zulfiquar Rao in his article published in Daily Times correctly argued that:[14]

What’s almost always missing is the impetus for proactive action to nab masterminds of sectarian hatred, arrest peddlers of takfiri fatwas (edits that proclaim someone to be a blasphemer or an apostate), curb misuse of the mosque pulpit for raising blasphemy allegations on mere hearsay, and follow provisions of criminal procedure codes without any pressure….These lawless elements in the guise of religious enthusiasts have managed to almost routing out, terrify, and kill the more prominent signs of religious and cultural diversity in the country. They now have started turning on to orthodox Muslims. We take immense pride in Islam being the religion of peace but sectarian and religious hatred spread by a minority of clergy poses an extraordinary challenge to the dignity of Islam and peace in Pakistan. It is the fundamental duty of the government, enlightened scholars, and jurists to sit together and pave the way for legal, political and social codes of conduct against the chaos and anarchy unleashed in the name of religion

The Dawn editorial “The darkness within” appearing in Dawn on April 15, 2017, summed the matter up very neatly. It reads:[15]

A medieval brutality, a real cancer of the soul, has permeated this society. Not only has it pervaded the hinterland, but it has also spread to places where minds are supposed to be enlightened by knowledge and learning…The culpability of the state — particularly some elements of it — in bringing matters to such a pass is undeniable. For even while spewing platitudes in the name of anti-extremism, it has fed the fires of intolerance and unreason, deliberately creating an environment where mere allegations of blasphemy trigger vigilante ‘justice’ and where appeals to moderation are conflated with defending blasphemy itself. This is a Damocles’ sword that can conveniently be used to silence anyone professing views that question or contradict the state-approved narrative. And if innocents must die in the process, then so be it. However, while the law should take its course in punishing those guilty of Mashal Khan’s murder, voices of sanity must speak up in the face of such cynical manipulation of religious sentiment. Imran Khan, whose party heads the KP government, has rightly condemned Mashal Khan’s lynching, vowing to resist “the law of the jungle.” He is, shamefully enough, so far among the few politicians to have taken such a clear stance. Even most of the electronic media, otherwise so loquacious, has only covered Mashal Khan’s murder in a superficial manner, carefully avoiding the real issues that underpin the tragedy. Until these are debated, and the contradictions in society acknowledged, our descent into a dystopian nightmare will continue.

The editorial “The Mardan incident” published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2017 maintained that: [16]

Some university campuses nationally have become more radical and home to extremist views in the last two years. Foreign media suffer no similar constraints, and the story has been covered globally, with none of that coverage to the benefit of the nation. It is by the actions of the people of Pakistan that the wider world shapes its perceptions of and attitudes to — Pakistan…The rule of law has to be paramount, and it is for the institutions of the state, including the forces of law and order, to ensure that the rule of law prevails and not the law of the jungle. If barbarism is shown to be both endemic and ascendant whether on campus or elsewhere it must be countered, and it must never be allowed to prevail.

An editorial entitled “Crimes Without Punishment” published in The Nation on April 16, 2017, said that:[17]

Offenses relating to blasphemy are a serious offense in the country, and penalties range from small fines to the death sentence. Crimes of false accusations and mob brutality should also be punishable in the same way.

It is a failure of our state and society that we refuse to believe people are innocent until proven guilty, and this must be rectified by the public condemnation of the brutal murder of Mashal Khan, and legal action to change our archaic penal codes. While most mainstream political parties have condemned the violence in Mardan, prominent religious leaders are silent on the matter – and their voices are the ones that matter when it comes to the de-radicalization of the Pakistani populace. Mashal Khan was not a “liberal,” was not from a religious minority, and was not from an ethnic minority. He was a moderate Muslim; whose only crime was that he was studious and critical. The societal witchhunt is not just against those who hold alternative views, but against the intellectuals and moderates in it – no one is safe unless they are silent. Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pervez Khattak, has announced a judicial inquiry to find out how the incident unfolded and said that there is no evidence of blasphemy committed by Mashal Khan. The KP government must not be allowed to backtrack on this claim. It is under this government that first curriculums came under the purview of religious organizations with dangerous leanings and funds were allocated to Darul-Uloom Haqqania rather than to state schools and hospitals. It has to rectify this tilt. While the KP government may have presided over the radicalization of its people, the Federal Government is no different. From the murder of Salman Taseer to the open celebration of his killer Mumtaz Qadri as a martyr by hordes of extremists, administrations and legislators have been either scared or asleep. In Mardan, the Abdul Wali Khan University itself may have been complicit in the murder, as it has been alleged that the university itself issued a notification of five students being watched for blasphemy, effectively painting a target on their backs. The inquiry must hold the university administration accountable for such a controversial accusation. The judicial inquiry will only find what we already know – that an innocent young man was murdered. The real task is to punish the perpetrators and set an example. These are dark times, and debate on the controversial blasphemy law has to take place, even if it offends people. The common man is in no position to do this, as he will be murdered by ruthless mobs, the political leadership must take the responsibility or see more hate and violence destroy more families.

Lal Khan, the editor of Asian Marxist Review, in his article “Challenging barbarity” published on April 16, 2017, argued that: [18]

The gruesome murder of Mashal Khan is yet another incident that illustrates that ours is a diseased society with elements of pre-medieval barbarism looming more viciously… This lynching also exposes social and ethical insanity that is taking the form of such fascist acts by sections of the youth immersed in religious and sectarian venom…. It seems that appeasement to Islamicist parties has become a cornerstone of the politics of mainstream parties like PML-N, PPP, PTI and ANP. The mullahs are the ones that reap most benefits from such a politics. Real burning issues of the masses continue to be ignored by the media, too, facilitates religiosity in mainstream debates… The mullahs of today are not those modest and poor village clerics of the yore. They are obscenely wealthy and involved in highly profitable and lucrative businesses mainly outside the domain of the formal economy. The usual differentiation among them between moderates and extremists is now a fragile and deceptive line…. There is not a glimmer of hope for the oppressed indicating any salvation in the present state and system. The inertia in society at the present moment in time has created a vacuum at the top that is filled by corrupt, and criminal political elites. These elites are backed by barons of black capital and imperialist powers in the region…In these conditions of misery, poverty, and seemingly endless exploitation, despair creates a situation of political indifference among the masses, who have been stung by betrayal and treachery of traditional parties and leaders….The present politics, state, and socio-economic system are not capable of preventing this situation of an obscurantist insanity from enacting the decline of civilization since the system is an accomplice to the degeneration that got us here. The neo-fascist menace of religious extremism is the distilled essence of capitalism in a terminal decay. However, if the political and the state superstructure cannot eradicate this peril, then who will?

Hassan Javid in his article “Breeding hatred and intolerance” published in The Nation, on April 16, 2017, stated[19]:

From all accounts, Mashal Khan was a bright young man with a promising future, possessing the kind of critical mind that has become an increasingly rare attribute in the Land of the Pure. His death is a crime and tragedy, and a damning indictment of the system hate and intolerance that has been cynically built and reinforced by the opportunists who hold power in this country. Reports of how he was killed, and video footage of the murder, shows hundreds of enraged students singling out and attacking Mashal Khan with complete and utter impunity in full view of police officers who refused to intervene in any meaningful way, either out of fear or, more chillingly, complicity. While some two dozen FIRs have reportedly been filed against the principal perpetrators of the attack, past precedent suggests that murder in the name of God will be met with the mercy of the state and its institutions. It also seems reasonable to assume that little or no action will be taken against the craven elements of the university administration and local police who refused to intervene in the matter when their actions could have saved Mashal Khan’s life.…Similarly, in the months leading up to Mashal Khan’s death, the PTI was at the forefront of attempts to ‘normalize’ and ‘mainstream’ the pernicious ideology of openly militant and sectarian ‘religious’ organizations by showering them with large sums of money (in the case of the Darul Aloom Haqqania) or ‘consulting’ them for input into the province’s education policy (as was the case when representatives of the PTI met with members of the ASWJ in 2015). Indeed, the PTI’s history of public pronouncements in support of some of Pakistan’s most dogmatic religious ideologues has been cemented by joint rallies and local electoral rallies with the ASWJ. Of course, it would be unfair to single the PTI out in this fashion. After all, the PML-N itself has fine form in this regard. Entering into seat-adjustment pacts with militant religious organizations has long been one of the main tools in the party’s electoral toolkit, and matters have certainly not been helped in the recent past by the Interior Minister’s frothy denunciations of blasphemy in society and on social media. In this, he has been joined by no less a personage than Justice Shaukat Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court, whose tearful speeches in support of the blasphemy law, and whose belief that ‘liberals’ are worse than terrorists, are not at all the product of cynical calculation and are instead borne out of a genuine desire to protect Islam from its enemies in a country where more than 95% of the population is Muslim and where religion plays a dominant and revered role in public life. To this list, we can also add television anchors like Amir Liaqat who have long championed the murder of blasphemers as a means through which to appeal to the baser instincts of their viewers. Finally, questions must also be asked of those elements of the military establishment who continue to believe that religious militancy must necessarily be preserved as a pillar of Pakistan’s security policy. All these actors are responsible for cultivating an environment in a which a murderous mob can kill an innocent man without any real fear of repercussions simply because they believe or allege, without a shred of evidence, that the victim committed blasphemy. It is the same factors that legitimize the frequent attacks on minorities that have become the norm in this country. While tall claims are often made about the success of the National Action Plan and successive military operations aimed at ending terrorism, the fact remains that much of the religious violence perpetrated against people in Pakistan is committed by average citizens fed a constant diet of dogma and paranoia. The politicians and leaders who continue to use religion as a means through which to manipulate their supporters, acquire legitimacy, and amass power, are presiding over the radicalization of tens of millions of people in this country. No military operation or National Action Plan will be able to contain the dangerous forces now being unleashed across Pakistan if urgent measures are not taken to end the constant appeasement of those who trade in hate and intolerance.

A chilling editorial “Murder-By-Mob in Mardan” published in the Newsweek Pakistan on April 14, 2017, claimed that:[20]

Even by Pakistan’s depressingly grim standards, Mashal Khan’s killing is jolting. The journalism student, a liberal progressive by all accounts, had an argument earlier on Thursday, April 13, with fellow students at the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, and had to be confined by university staff to his hostel room for safety. As a sop to the other raging students, the university reportedly suspended Khan and two others that same day and ordered a “probe into the matter of blasphemous activities.” But before Khan could leave, “hundreds of students,” says Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Police, broke down his door, shot him, stripped him, mutilated and pulped him, and threw him from the second floor. The mangled body was pelted with stones and sticks. The gleeful, unrepentant killers captured their evil on cellphone footage. (Some of these lynching clips are posted on this page. These are uncensored and unedited because readers need to see what happened in all its graphic horror.) Khan was murdered for being “secular” and not attending Friday prayers. This was considered “blasphemous.” The campus has been closed indefinitely, and a police case has been registered against 20 suspects for killing Khan and injuring his friend, who had tried to intercede. Between eight and 11 of the holy killers are under arrest.   Pakistan is back on terra familiar with the blasphemy laws, a British-era device given sharper teeth during the military rule of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. These manmade laws have steadily taken innocent lives—65 since 1990, according to one estimate—as “pious” or craven judges have bent at the knee to mobs that cloak their nefarious power plays and land grabs in “religion.” In 2011, after the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, governor of the Punjab, for defending a blasphemy-accused, Pakistan-watcher Stephen Cohen said: “These are symptoms of a deeper problem in Pakistan. The fundamentals of the state are either failing or questionable. Pakistan has lost a lot of its ‘stateness,’ that is, the qualities that make a modern government function effectively.” Taseer’s mother ship, the Pakistan Peoples Party, had publicly abandoned both him and a woman member of the National Assembly because they had each urged rationalization of the blasphemy laws—a call that former Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Imran Khan courageously echoed after the governor’s murder. In October 2015, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, finally freed from the poisonous ideology of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who had ordered reparations to the gun-toting vigilantes of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, actually stated that, “Any call for reforming the blasphemy laws ought to be understood as a call for introducing adequate safeguards against malicious application or use of that law by motivated persons.” But it was too late. The non-jihadist Barelvi had already begun to morph into a bigger menace. This January, they showed off their street power by blocking the roads of Lahore, led by the Sunni Tehreek and an alphabet soup of madrassah-fed organisms. They warned against changing the insult laws the Supreme Court thought could be reformed. Their new saint was Mumtaz Qadri, Governor Taseer’s assassin who was hanged last year and who has a shrine devoted to him at the outskirts of Islamabad. Notably, the federal government did not impede the mausoleum’s construction or the massive fundraising for it. The Mardan lynching tracks with the recent sorry happenings in Islamabad: the in-court outburst by a sobbing High Court judge offended by “blasphemy” on the Internet, a scared government in Islamabad taking out advertisements quoting Article 19 of the Constitution to swear it would get even with those “blaspheming” on social media, and a shaking-in-its-heels Parliament that passed a unanimous resolution against “blasphemy” to ward off personal danger….Yes, there are many who are complicit in this lynching—all political parties, the clerics, many journalists and talking heads, but particular scorn has to be reserved for the High Court and the existentially divided federal government. This and the killings that will follow are on all of you.

The anarchy unleashed by Islamic fundamentalist must be checked in Pakistan before it engulfs the whole region in further chaos. A lot of deliberations have led to several initiatives, but nothing remarkable has been reached so far. Pakistan response to terrorism lacks a comprehensive approach. There was too much emphasis on Army operations, and not enough was done at the critical civil administration, civil intelligence apparatuses, and local policing spheres. Resultantly, the country will continue to be challenged by terrorism, Islamic extremism and insurgencies for decades to come. There was no silver lining on the horizon, so to speak. That was Pakistan’s tragedy.

Concluding Remark

Pakistan desires peace in the region which is badly needed for its stability, progress, and economic development. However, it is hampered from achieving its desired goals by a corrupted political system and weak leadership. Bold leadership is missing in the country. The Army which still calls the shots in foreign and security policymaking is still myopic in its views and is obsessed with the enmity of India. Thus, Pakistan was moving closer to China and Russia as its mortal enemy- India – moved very close to the United States. For the military establishment in Pakistan ii appeared to be a zero-sum game.

Pakistan must make efforts for peace with its neighbors but is challenged to do so by its weak leadership at the helm of state affairs. However, with help from friends like the United States it can make a breakthrough. There are some indications that the new Trump Administration might be conducive to the idea. Without resolving the Kashmir lingering dispute peace in the region is impossible. Given the nature of the region’s history, a settlement of the Kashmir dispute is very difficult but not impossible. It was in every one’s interest that the Global War against Terrorism be ended immediately as the al Qaeda’s leadership has been crippled. Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omer were long dead. Previously, the US had accused Pakistan of supporting the Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani group and that of Mullah Omer. Things have changed now, and Pakistan wasn’t supporting the Haqqani group anymore. Previously, the Pakistan army is assisting some elements of the Afghan Taliban only because they are considered as strategies assets and future Afghan power holders. Pakistan must negotiate with the US an end of Indian interference in Baluchistan and most importantly, independence of Kashmir. Only the US has the prestige and status with India that can take our two countries towards an eventual solution. Pakistan needs to convince the US that it would be ready to suspend expansion of its nuclear arsenal once there is tangible progress towards a viable and permanent solution in Kashmir.

Pakistan and all neighbors desired regional peace, but that was only possible with the solution to the Kashmir dispute. Nothing else will convince the powerful Pakistan military establishment to suspend the further development of the nuclear arsenals. Remember the country with the most rapid expansion of nuclear weapons is Pakistan. This is indeed ironic because Pakistan is also a country imploding from within. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons cannot save it from this landslide. Bad governance and corruption are now endemic in the country. The Pakistan military leadership must realize that having such a large nuclear establishment is not helping matters at all. We are facing an unconventional war, and nuclear weapons are of no use here. The primary threat is from within, as rightly acknowledged by the Army brass recently. Pakistan had suffered from militancy more than any other country in the world. The Nawaz Government must concentrate on fighting those Islamic radicals who have established themselves for foreign jihad ventures thereby acting against the national interests of the Pakistani state. This is not a war but mainly a counter –terrorism problem much like what India has witnessed in the last few decades. Meaning that it must be taken as basically police operations only. No massive use of force is necessary here. Plus, the real battle is to win over the dissatisfied local populace through economic and social development. Only here can the battle be won. This was not a conventional war but an extraordinary, unconventional conflict which required the Nawaz government to use new weapons and tactics to fight and win. Pakistan’s leadership had to act smart and think out of the box. Things are very different than Pakistan’s experiences in previous wars with India.

Islamabad has been soaking up the benefits of its ever-growing relations with China for decades – arms sales, joint projects both military and economic, across-the-board diplomatic support, etc. But in recent years, their relations have been spurred by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a joint regional development project that has created numerous business and economic opportunities for the two allies and could significantly improve connectivity in the region.

In conclusion, Pakistan is in a mess. It was facing an acute image problem. Today Pakistan is misunderstood and is, therefore, being unfairly treated by the United States and other Western powers for its perceived connections to global terrorism. It was more complicated state of affairs now. However, there indeed a need for a foremost reappraisal of Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policies. Pakistan should strengthen its system of democracy because it was very deficient in countless ways and not functioning at all. The political paralysis was a result of these systematic faults. Islamic fundamentalist, poor governance, the absence of democratic norms, intolerance in society, and inertia was the principle cause of the situation. Lack pf political will to reform both state and society may be the single biggest reason for the mess. Examine the deeper problem of bolstering the deficient, undemocratic decision-making structures. Due to the disinterest towards institutionalized decision-making by Pakistan’s rulers, it was hardly surprising that policy and decision of national importance remained essentially personalized and incoherent. It was this very flaw that prevented the Government of Pakistan from conducting a truly national strategy. Until and unless there were an institutional decision-making process Pakistan would continue to have a lack of intellectual content the country would always be faced with the crisis. Pakistan faced much larger challenges because of this poor policymaking. The county’s past was haunting it now. Reckless decisions like the infamous U-turn of Genera Musharraf after 9/11 where Pakistan became an ally of the United States without weighing the full consequences of this abrupt departure of foreign policy. The Army’s continued support of Jihadist entities like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Haqqani network, and Quetta Shura. The main reason for this state of affairs was the personalist nature of rule in Pakistan. The civilian leaders don’t follow democratic norms of decision-making. This empowered the Army even more and provided further leverage to it to influence Pakistan’s decision-making. The Neither the Cabinet nor the Parliament are fulfilling their given roles assigned to them. Even the Judiciary is very deficient, especially at the lower levels.   The Parliament doesn’t properly fulfill its legislative and oversight Pakistan, as was the norm in the system of democracy. The Cabinet doesn’t deliberate as was needed for proper administration of the state institutions. The notion of national security was the primary driver of Pakistan’s national interest which had given significant leverage to the military. The military itself had a deficient national security paradigm and a very narrow focus of the regional situation, let alone the global one. It was obsessed with its enmity with India, the historic rival. This doesn’t condone Indian actions in any way. The point was that the military as an institution was necessarily focused on fighting wars and winning them and not working for peace. The United States and other Western powers continued to consider Pakistan through the Indian or Afghan lens. The erroneous view of Pakistan, in which security remained the paramount national interest for the United States and other powers, had exaggerated increased Pakistan’s domestic political problems. India was now employing territory in Afghanistan for deploying TTP and other dissident elements against Pakistan. In clear contrast, to the criticism of Pakistan’s support of some Jihadist entities who had an external focus, there wasn’t any disapproval by the United States and other Western powers regarding India’s its brutal repression of the Kashmiri independence movement and its policies towards Pakistan. Indian interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs and support of Baluch insurgents, MQM and TTP was well-documented but remained ignored by the United States and other Western powers. On the contrary, there were powerful voices in the United States that were coming up with legislation punishing Pakistan. The reason for this biased approach was obvious. The United States had tilted towards India in very significant manner because of perceived commercial gains and other economic interests. The two counties had grown remarkably closes in the last few years or so. The United States now considered India as a strategic partner and the nefarious role of India in destabilizing Pakistan was conveniently ignored. After all, the TTP and these ant-Pakistan groups based in Afghanistan and operating from Afghanistan’s territory weren’t a targeting the United States nor other Western powers. Hence, a blind eye to their nefarious activities. To expect Pakistan to turn direction at once was simply expecting too much. This wasn’t going to happen any time soon. However, a peace deal between India and Pakistan and a solution to the Kashmir dispute can turn things around in the desired direction. Here the United States can play a key role.

The CPEC is a game changer and opens trade between the Central Asia and the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Its major purpose is for China to increase its trade with these regions by improving and simplifying logistics and transportation. Currently, imports into Europe from China account for about $450 billion which has room to grow in a $7 trillion market. As trade increases along this corridor, it would be foolish if Pakistan did not develop its national strategy to cooperatively capitalize and cash in some of the economic opportunities presented. The CPEC provides an unprecedented opportunity to Pakistan as it fulfills its geostrategic potential as the gateway of trade between Central Asia to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. It is ideally situated to become the most significant maritime trade hub between the Europe and Asia. A regional hub provides many opportunities other than logistics and transportation including legal, financial,

The CPEC is a game-changing opportunity for Pakistan. Global pundits are looking at the multi-trillion dollar investments being made by China and saying that its effective utilization is key to the success of this vision. Similarly, for Pakistan, if we do not evolve a vision of how we use this improved infrastructure and realignment of global trade in this region for our benefit, and execute on it effectively we are in danger of being left behind. Indeed, it will be a shame if we do not rise to the opportunity and fashion national consensus on an inclusive strategy that leverages this project to propel a major part of our population, and not just a few families, into the economy of the 21st century. [21]

Meanwhile, purposeful and sustainable reform is badly needed in Pakistan. Pakistan can only come out of this vicious cycle through a major reappraisal of its domestic foreign and policies. An excellent advice was given in a very recent editorial in Newsweek Pakistan which had argued:[22]

Pakistan can yet do more to shift out of its frozen military strategy of hanging its entire foreign policy on hatred of India. It can break out of its current regional and global isolation by adopting the posture of its friend China and invite India to join the trading corridor China is building in the country. It can also revive the snagged gas pipeline project with Iran by inviting India back into it, also offering it the trade route India wants to Afghanistan and Central Asia through its territory.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan’s current policy of permanent Indian enmity and conflict was going nowhere. Pakistan was a security state because of this approach. The Pakistan military was adamant in confronting and was still supporting some jihadist elements like the LeT, HQN, and Quetta Shura for its purposes. Clearly, a change in direction was required now. Given the complexity of the regional situation, more robust diplomacy was urgent to get Pakistan out of the current morass and crisis. However, the Nawaz government wasn’t up to the task and was failing to protect Pakistan’s vital national interests. Plus, it faced an immense image problem because of the Panama Papers case pending in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Pakistan was faced with the horrendous situation inside the country as rapid population growth was fueling a massive rural to urban migration, the strain on the cities, and massive environmental degradation. People were suffering from a poor environment, lack of social services and neglect of state institutions to respond to the situation in any coherent manner. Bad governance was the norm, not the exception in state institutions. The poverty gap was striking and was widening in many areas of the country. Pakistan was deficient in governance matters as public services were inadequate and there was immense poverty in the country. The Human Development Index (HDI) was extremely low in Pakistan. The HDI was devised and launched in 1990 and was a statistic which ranked countries into four tiers of human development based on indicators like life expectancy, education and per-capita income. A higher lifespan, a higher level of education and higher GDP per capita results in a country scoring higher HDI.

Earlier, the 2015 Human Development Report (HDR), by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) declared that with a HDI value of 0.538, Pakistan ranks 147 out of 188 countries and territories. Pakistan ranks 121st out of 155 countries regarding its Gender Inequality Index: only 19.3 percent of women reach secondary education compared to 46.1 percent of men, while female participation in the labor market is 24.6 percent compared to 82.9 percent for men.[23] Pakistan ranked again at 147 among 188 countries on HDI in 2016 as released by the UNDP. [24]

In a scathing criticism of the country’s state of affairs in social welfare the Dawn editorial entitled “Human Development” published in Dawn, April 17, 2017

Claimed that over the last twenty years most of South Asia had witnessed progress in human development. More children are in school, people are living longer, and there is greater access to basic social services. That said, countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan rank low on human development indicators because of severe neglect of public health and education, according to Health in South Asia, a collection of analyses launched recently in Delhi. Examining rising infant mortality, vulnerability to infectious diseases and the poor capacity to respond to outbreaks, this research finds that the level of preparedness is inadequate to protect public health in South Asia — home to a quarter of the world’s population. The findings are no secret especially in countries where extreme poverty, child deaths, stunted development and limited future productivity have hampered progress. Noting that Afghanistan has the highest fertility rate followed by Pakistan, the work underscores the need for governments to invest in early childhood years through quality schooling, nutrition, and healthcare. In Pakistan alone, 800,000 children die annually, more than 35pc from malnutrition. Regrettably, even such grim statistics fail to jolt our government’s conscience. For starters, with the population growing at the annual rate of almost 2pc, the government must campaign for smaller families with greater vigor across the country, and invest in accelerated family planning and female literacy to lower the fertility rate. With its pulse on economic development policies, the PML-N surely realizes that investment and sound policies in health, education and good governance are the only way to create a quality workforce.

It was intolerable that, regionally, Pakistan had the highest rate of infant mortality when the government was obligated to implement policy changes having signed up to the SDGs. Moreover, the World Bank had declared that it would name and shame countries before potential investors for failing to tackle stunting. The death of children due to hunger and the absence of government action and outrage was a stain on Pakistan’s collective conscience. There were 400,000 starving children in Thar and despite international food fortification assistance of over $1m, malnutrition had deplorably increased in Pakistan.[25]

Democratic institutions are fragile and need to be strengthened through patient and sustained efforts. It was doable when there was the required political will. Essentially Pakistan’s overall governance form simply refutes democratic principles and practices. The personalized political system doesn’t allow the building of any workable democratic institutions. The prevailing norm of loyalty to the political leader had superseded the much-needed ethics of professionalism, merit, proper administration of governed funds, neutral bureaucracy, and focus on national socio-economic development. The only thing that matters in government is unconditional loyalty to the political leadership. Thus, the political leadership dispenses largesse and favors to the public instead of public rights and entitlements. The social contract has broken, and a patronage system has developed instead. The leadership gets elected to bestow favors to those who got them to their much-coveted positions. Elections have become a business and were also getting more and more expensive as the years go on. The whole atmosphere of governance had been corrupted as money made an enormous impact on election outcomes. The leadership that came out of the electoral system was mostly transactional minded. Meaning the elected leadership was only there to reap hay while the sun shines and pocket as much money as was possible under the circumstances. Notwithstanding some exceptions, the entire leadership of the country was now corrupted beyond imagination. Resultantly, new values had entered the governed system of Pakistan. Sycophancy and timid behavior of the rulering circles and the bureaucracy that served them had all but destroyed the integrity of the entire system. Policymaking is on whims and becomes ineffective as serious deliberations aren’t the norm any more. Mistakes result as the leadership couldn’t see the whole picture nor get professional advice speaking truth to power. Even figures are routinely fudged to present a better picture to the world. This sorry state of affairs was now a reality in Pakistan. How can Pakistan’s political leadership and military rulers turn the county into a modern civilized nation with a contemporary system of government? Clearly, Pakistan society was failing to confront the daunting challenges facing it. How can the state face these challenges when some sections of it were even supporting Islamic extremism? How can the Nawaz Government, media, enlightened scholars, and jurists unite to formulate the path for essential reform in the legal, political and social spheres? Why wasn’t enough voices of sanity speaking up now in the face of such cynical manipulation of Islamic sentiment? In any civilization, the rule of law must be the supreme principle, and all state institutions must to guaranteed that the principle exists and not the law of the jungle. It was a stark failure of both the Pakistani state and society, that the populace negated the belief that all people are innocent until proven guilty. Finally, questions must also be asked of Pakistan Army establishment which still considered some preservation of Islamic militancy as an essential and required element of country’s security policy. Though continuous military operations were designed to eradicate terrorism, the relentless flow of Islamic messaging of Jihad and the fear of India had now entered the very fabric of Pakistani society. The country’s political and military leadership used Islam to manipulate the people and to legitimize their power. Thus, society was being radicalized. If critical actions are not taken to finish the appeasement of Islamic extremism, no National Action Plan or military operation shall be adept to suppress the threatening forces of Islamic extremism that were now being let loose across the country. Pakistan had seen an unprecedented surge in Islamic extremism and fanaticism in the past decade. Islamist groups had constantly targeted religious minorities in Pakistan to impose their version of strict Islamic law on people. Pakistan is facing an existential challenge from within by Islamic fundamentalism which has taken deep roots in the country and cannot be easily uprooted. Given the weaknesses of the ruling establishment, both military and civilian, it will take decades to eradicate the menace from Pakistan’s state and society. The anarchy unleashed by Islamic fundamentalist must be checked in Pakistan before it engulfs the whole region in further chaos. A lot of deliberations have led to several initiatives, but nothing remarkable has been reached so far. Pakistan response to terrorism lacks a comprehensive approach. There was too much emphasis on Army operations, and not enough was done at the critical civil administration, civil intelligence apparatuses, and local policing spheres. Resultantly, the country will continue to be challenged by terrorism, Islamic extremism and insurgencies for decades to come. There was no silver lining on the horizon, so to speak. That was Pakistan’s tragedy.


[1] 22 suspects arrested in Mardan lynching case, DT, April 17, 2017,, accessed April 17, 2017

[2] Hassan Javid,  “Breeding hatred and intolerance” published in The Nation, on April 16, 2017 stated, accessed April 16, 2017

[3] EIGHT CHARGED OVER MASHAL KHAN’S MURDER, Newsweek Pakistan, April 15, 2017,, accessed April 15, 2017

PM urges nation to unite against Mardan lynching, DT, April 16, 2017,, accessed April 16, 2017

[4] PM urges nation to unite against Mardan lynching, DT, April 16, 2017,, accessed April 16, 2017

[5] CJP takes notice of Mardan student lynching

PT, April 16, 2017,, accessed April 16, 2017

[6] Pakistan journalism student latest victim of blasphemy vigilantes, DW, April 15, 2017., accessed April 16, 2017

[7] Syed Talat Hussain. “Mashal’s murder”, The News, April 17, 2017, accessed April 17, 2017

[8] Pakistan journalism student latest victim of blasphemy vigilantes, DW, April 15, 2017., accessed April 16, 2017Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Pakistan PM says he is shocked by blasphemy killing BBC news April 15, 2017,, accessed April 16, 2017

[12] See editorial “The darkness within”, Dawn, April 15, 2017,, accessed April 15, 2017

[13] Ghazi Salahuddin, in his article “Portrait of Pakistan” published in the News on April 16, 2017, accessed April 16, 2017

[14] Zulfiquar Rao, “Let us reclaim Pakistan from extremists”, Daily Times, April 15, 2017,, accessed April 15, 2017

[15] See editorial “The darkness within”, Dawn, April 15, 2017,, accessed April 15, 2017

[16] The editorial “The Mardan incident”, The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2017

[17] An editorial entitled “Crimes Without Punishment” published in The Nation on April 16, 2017 said that, accessed April 16, 2017

[18]  Lal Khan, “Challenging barbarity” DT, April 16, 2017,, accessed April 16, 2017

[19] Hassan Javid “Breeding hatred and intolerance” published in The Nation, on April 16, 2017 stated, accessed April 16, 2017

[20] An editorial “Murder-By-Mob in Mardan” published in the Newsweek Pakistan on April 14, 2017,, accessed April 16, 2017

[21] The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2017,, accessed March 31, 2017

[22] See editorial “TWEAKS REQUIRED”, March 22, 2017, Newsweek Pakistan,, accessed March 22, 2017

[23] Pakistan ranked 147th on HDI, UNDP report, The News, January 26, 2016,, accessed April 17, 2017

[24] India ranks 131 on Human Development Index, Business Recorder, March 22, 2017,, accessed April 17, 2017

[25] See EDITORIAL, “Human development”,  Dawn, April 17, 2017 accessed April 17, 2017