All it needed was a pre-mediated murder most brutal. All it needed was a pre-mediated murder most brutal that was retrospectively “justified” with false allegations of blasphemy.
All it needed was this for the Pakistani political landscape, including prominent religious scholars, to come together. All it needed was this for our lawmakers to call for the existing blasphemy legislation to be amended, with a view to criminalising such fictitious and malicious claims. All it needed was this, many decades after these persecutory man-made laws came into being.
All it needed was the inhumane lynching of Mashal Khan for the political apparatus to move towards reclaiming its writ.
This may seem like too little too late. But this is Pakistan we are talking about. Where the religious right has slowly and steadily been tightening the noose around the country’s neck. Where certain elements of the so-called ‘moderate’ establishment have all the while been waiting in the hangman’s wings, too afraid to liberate the country by severing the rope once and for all. Thus given these constrained circumstances — this shift, however small it may be, must be welcomed.
For here is where we all must be honest with ourselves. Civil society protest alone will not change the world. We have been here far too many times before to believe otherwise. We have been here far too many times under democratic rule to believe otherwise. From the twin attack on Ahmadi places of worship in Lahore, to the diabolical burning alive of a Christian couple near Kasur. We have all been here before. We have attended the candlelit vigils. We have stood under the banners poignantly declaring: one nation, one people. We have done all this and we, rightly, will continue to do so. Yet without support from the state — such sincere and heartfelt shows of unity have no long-term bite.
The primary function of civil society agitation is to keep the media focused, ensuring that whichever atrocity of the day (for these, sadly, occur all too frequently) captures as many headlines for as long as possible. This especially holds true when it comes to international media coverage. For the bitter truth is that the Pakistani state’s fixation on its image abroad is the one thing that can usually be counted upon to galvanise it into action. Yet for far too long has the state outsourced all responsibility to civil society to protest against such gross injustices. And so it is we wait with bated breath. In the hope that we have reached a tipping point from which there is no return. In the hope that the state once and for all recognises the burden of liability rests upon its shoulders. And that the state fulfils its responsibility of clearing up the bloody chaos of its own making.