The aftermath of the brutal murder of Mashal Khan at the hands of fellow students on a Mardan campus has been one of mixed responses, as is usually the case. There are, however, some heartening aspects to the response, as soon from various quarters.
The first point to be noted is that despite the clouds of doubt around the role of the university administration, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, for his part, came out explicitly stating that there has been no evidence of the young man having committed blasphemy. This should help counter the speculation and propaganda by malicious elements who seek to justify the brutal murder. While there are those who justifiably find it tragic that the views and actions of a young man are called into scrutiny after his murder at the hands of a crazed lynch mob, the ground realities in Pakistan must be borne in mind. Past experience teaches us that such murders usually generate a furious storm of anger from the religious right-wing against anyone who questions the flimsy and spurious accusations against the victim. This time, however, it would appear that things are a bit different. Some have broken silence, and others have gone against established habits.
In Karachi, prominent madrassah cleric Mufti Naeem came out openly to say that the slain Mashal is shaheed (martyr) — thus clearly condemning the murderers. Certain TV anchors, who have in the past done their utmost to whip up lynch-mobs and defend their actions, have this time taken a similar stance to Mufti Naeem. This is not to commend such TV anchors as having turned over a new leaf, but to point out that even the usual trouble-makers appear somewhat hesitant to stoke the madness.
One could argue, with the most cautious optimism that there is some realization in both state and society that such horrific madness cannot be condoned or encouraged.
The larger problem, of course, still remains. There are the procedural and legal problems in the Blasphemy Laws. And above all, there is the highly toxic discourse around alleged ‘blasphemy’, which is peddled by religious elements looking to do politics on the cheap. And then there is the attitude of the state, which has ranged from abject helplessness to criminal support for such dark forces — up to the very recent past, as seen in the case of the missing bloggers.
But perhaps most heartening is the response of the people in Mashal’s village, who took to open and well-attended protests, in defence of their unjustly slain son. They did so, even defying the village mullah who had chosen the usual slander and maligning of the victim.
“Mashal is innocent, Mashal is a martyr!” they chanted earlier in the streets where the young man came from. May their clarity and courage represent a turning-point in Pakistan’s struggle against its own dark, obscurantist, extremist under-belly.