The recent Sialkot incident where an enraged mob brutally beat to death a Sri Lankan factory manager accusing him of blasphemy demonstrates the level of radical Islamist mind set of the entire Pakistani population. Radicalism and intolerance has crossed all limits. The incident is neither the first nor will it be the last. Many criminals involved in the incident will be arrested and they may even face harsh punishments. However, the burning question is: By punishing a handful of people, will the state be able to prevent such incidents in the future? Will the godfathers that promoted these extremist mind sets and empowered many organisations for personal gains be held responsible?
It is crystal clear that the state’s policies of the past are responsible for the current radicalization of masses. The Jihadi culture, Talibanization and weaponization of faith that the state promoted to achieve national interests sowed the seeds of extremism which have now grown into a tree that towers above us.
The Islamization project of military dictator General Ziaul Haq to gain mass support using a religion card was one of these seed. He empowered fundamentalist Deobandis to marginalize the Barelvis who constitutes more than 60 per cent of the country’s total population. Deobandi madrassa culture was promoted all across the country and the madrassa network proved to be a major recruitment centre of jihadis for a so-called Jihad against the Soviets. Later a similar “jihad” was conducted against the Pakistan Army and the state in the form of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). They murdered thousands of innocents all across the country.
Prime Minister Imran Khan often says that marginalization leads to radicalization. This proved to be true. Now we are witnessing the extremist version of the marginalized Barelvis in the shape of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). The evolution of peaceful Sufi followers into extremist ones killing people in the name of the Holy Prophet’s (SAW) honour is a matter that should force us to pause.
A month ago, a federal minister, Fawad Chaudhry while addressing a seminar organized by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies in Islamabad said that the Pakistani state and government are not ready to tackle the rising extremism in the country. This reveals the incapacity of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government. How can we expect the de-radicalization program from the same PTI, whose ministers openly supported Islamist fundamentalists like Mumtaz Qadri. After all, Qadri murdered the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who talked about reforms in Blasphemy laws.
Many Pakistanis also admired Khalid, a murderer who killed an Ahmadi in a legal court. Those who brutally killed Mashal Khan are considered the saviours of Islam. This is the mind set scores of Pakistanis have.
Shaikh Rasheed, the current interior minister, also behaves in a hypocritical manner. He had shown open support for the TLP when the TLP was protesting against Nawaz Sharif. PTI has not learnt any lessons from history. Prime Minister Imran Khan is still busy using religion in a disingenuous manner in the hope to gain popular support.
Other prominent figures of key political parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz also support fundamentalism for the sake of gaining political support. Rarely do they openly condemn TLP.
Pakistan is at a crossroads. The country can either become hostage to religious groups or it can take independent foreign policy decisions. The former seems more likely.
Recently, the TLP, a Barelvi religious group, challenged the state, hijacked the capital, murdered several law enforcement officials, and forced the state to remove the ban from TLP. Many experts believe the TLP might contest alongside the PTI in the upcoming election.
Simultaneously, the PTI government is also conducting talks with the TTP. This is the same TTP that killed thousands of Pakistani civilians and military personnel. How have we already forgotten the Army Public School incident? The policy of appeasement with terrorists will cause heavy damage to the country. It is as if the state’s message is that to hold negotiations you must bear arms and declare war against Pakistan.
We must revise our polices. The world is moving from religious fanaticism to scientific progress, but we are still debating who is a true Muslim. Even the hard-core fundamentalist Saudi Arabia is revising its policies to take Saudi Arabia into the modern times. Our political and military leadership believe that that economic progress is the only solution to the country’s many issues.
The state must work towards a mass de-radicalization program and it should work on narrative building. A moderate narrative can be spread across the country through textbooks and media. Textbook syllabi should be revised, and rational thinking should be encouraged in students.
We need to teach our children that instead of idealising war heroes, we should look up to teachers, scientists, and those who work for peace and the betterment of humanity. Scientists like Abdul Salam should be our inspiration, not imported Turkish and Arab’s war heroes.
We are well aware that blasphemy laws are often misused. We need to make reforms in such laws to end the misuse. We can amend the law to say that whoever is found guilty of misusing this laws for personal gains will face harsh punishments.
For those in power, maintaining power is the ultimate goal, no matter what happens to the country. The people of Pakistan are suffering. It is easy for politicians, judges, bureaucrats and generals to abandon us and move to some other country. It is the ordinary people who will have to clean up the mess.