The downfall of the Imran Khan government brings forth a narrative of patriotism, independence and self-respect that is hitting hard on the peoples’ minds and perceptions. The new allied government, led by Shehbaz Sharif, is in a fix on how to tackle the rising populism of Imran Khan.
Meanwhile, representatives of the allied government visited Saudi Arabia to hold bilateral talks with King Mohammad bin Salman’s regime and performed Umra. But unfortunately, an untoward incident happened when a mob of 100-150 people chanted slogans against the removal of Imran Khan’s government in Pakistan. It created a countrywide reaction to the incident, and political and religious actors started presenting varied narratives.
The sitting government has taken a strict stance against the incident. Cases against the top PTI leadership, including Imran Khan, have been registered under 295-A and 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code in a local police station in Faisalabad.
During a telephonic interview, Federal Minister for Interior Rana Sanullah ordered action against those whose names have been nominated in the FIR. Rashid Shafiq, a PTI MNA, was arrested while returning from Saudia Arabia after performing Umra. His arrest raised a storm on the social media, as the sitting government could next arrest Imran Khan and its close aides nominated in the FIR.
In a tweet, Fawad Chaudhary said, “Probably the first time in the history of Pakistan the government is using blasphemy laws against opposition. Earlier, private sects and extremists weaponised these sections to avenge personal vendetta but today law minister and interior minister triumphantly claimed victimisation as success @amnesty,”
The PTI has decided to raise the issue of misusing the blasphemy laws on global forums. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also issued a statement to condemn the use of 295-A against its political rivals, and called for immediate withdrawal of FIRs.
Fawad Chaudhary filed a writ petition in the Islamabad High Court pleading that the registration of blasphemy cases is illegal. The court admitted the petition and ordered the government to not arrest him.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) steering committee met under the chair of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and decided to celebrate May 6 as “Youm-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool”.
These events have sparked a new debate on the use of religion for political purposes. Even though, various political actors have used it before as well to victimize political opponents.
In a report issued by the Centre for Social Justice, almost 200 cases were registered in 2020, out of which 150 cases or at least 75 percent of the accusations were against Muslims. After the episode of Saudia Arabia, the media reported that more than 150 cases were registered against the PTI leadership, which is a record high number in any month in the last 20 years.
Pakistan inherited the blasphemy laws from the British, who introduced a set of rules in 1860 to control the Hindu-Muslim violence in the subcontinent. These laws were further strengthened in 1926 after an incident of blasphemy that led to the killing of a Hindu, who published a blasphemous pamphlet.
As per the Centre for Research and Security Research (CRSS) report, there were only seven blasphemy cases registered between 1860 and 1947. In another report by the International Commission of Jurists, there were only 10 judgments relating to offences against religion until 1977. General Ziaul Haq strengthened the laws further, and a surge in the blasphemy cases was seen between 1977 and 1986.
A similar trend was also observed during the 1990s, when the Islamic court imposed mandatory death penalty for the crime. Between 2011 and 2015, at least 1,296 blasphemy cases were registered in Pakistan. In a report issued by the Centre for Social Justice, almost 200 cases were registered in 2020, out of which 150 cases or at least 75 percent of the accusations were against Muslims. After the episode of Saudia Arabia, the media reported that more than 150 cases were registered against the PTI leadership, which is a record high number in any month in the last 20 years.
This is a dangerous trend rising in the society. Independent analysts term a majority of blasphemy cases is registered to settle personal scores. The members of the allied government also raised concerns over the registration of blasphemy cases against the political opponents.
People have also taken the blasphemy law into their hands, and have lynched people on blasphemy charges. Lynching of the Sri Lankan citizen is a classic example of how the mob used such accusations to justify his killing. In another case, a man was lynched by a mob on allegations of burning pages of the Quran.
After Imran Khan’s ouster, polarisation has deepened in the society. The social media is full of such discussions, where opponents use religion to support their political narratives. If the political parties do not tackle it wisely, it will have far-reaching effects on peoples’ lives.