The Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) move to investigate Salman Haider and other missing social media activists for charges of blasphemy was met with censure by the public at large, and more recently, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar as well. While FIA has clarified a case has not been registered against any of those missing since January, – as the Interior Minister put it – “Who gave them the right to play with the emotions of the bloggers’ families? Without any proper investigation and proof how can they give such a statement?”
As the Minister stated, both the activists and their families have been through a lot in the past month.
In fact, some of the people FIA is looking to investigate have not yet returned; their families continue to suffer. Is the FIA seriously entertaining the wishes of the Shuhada Foundation on the complaint of one man, especially when there is very little proof that any of the activists committed blasphemy? The blasphemy allegations against the missing activists including Salman Haider were based on a malicious campaign on social media that began after their disappearance.
The government has called it out for what it is, and that makes it an open-and-shut case.
Even if we put the debate of the viability of the blasphemy law aside (a near impossible feat), FIA has often hesitated to investigate more prominent, high profile and even pressing cases; the hesitation with which all the accountability institutions of the country treated the Panama case is further proof that their priorities are woefully askew.
Additionally, what this indicates is that there are elements within FIA that are perfectly willing to allow extremist compulsions to be propagated in Pakistani society, and this must not be tolerated. The Interior Minister has taken notice of this incident, and it is hoped that the government moves beyond this and takes strict action.
However, Chaudhry Nisar’s swift reproach against reports of the FIA registering a case must also be commended.
The Interior Minister has faced a barrage of criticism in the past for the perceived inability to unequivocally treat all terrorists and extremists as enemies of the state. With the house arrest of Hafiz Saeed, and the Interior Minister looking to protect the activists, in the short term, Pakistan seems to be heading in the right direction with regards to its attitude on extremist thought. But all state institutions must be on the same page when it comes to dealing with cases that are sensitive to societal issues, particularly one as problematic as blasphemy.
Law enforcement agencies and accountability bodies must be strictly regulated, to ensure that our institutions remain immune to prevailing extremist mindsets.