Pakistan must acknowledge the impact its blasphemy law has on the state
The testimony of a man unable to hear or even speak was enough to sentence a Bahawalnagar man to life in prison for desecration of the holy Quran in 2008. The panchayat was loaded against the poor desecrater and had him thrashed; the police followed suit, and a magistrate handed down the jail term. The so-called desecrater spent nine years in jail before the Supreme Court set him free in December 2017 on the basis of defective testimony, with the judges saying the accuser should be punished instead.
No one seems to care about the blasphemy law’s impact on the state of Pakistan. Rather than trying to prevent its abuse, every major political party in the country banded together and tried to use blasphemy as an excuse to pull down the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) over the phrasing of a law—subsequently reverted—that they had all helped draft and pass in Parliament. The firing of the law minister abated the resulting unrest, but the opposition wants the government gone instead. There is no coincidence in perceived threats to the blasphemy law being used as a rallying call by Barelvi preachers, who have since organized themselves and asserted their street power against a disemboweled state.
In February 2011, in the wake of then-Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassination, Stephen Cohen, author of several books on Pakistan, had this to say: “These are symptoms of a deeper problem in Pakistan. There is not going to be any good news from Pakistan for some time, if ever, because the fundamentals of the state are either failing or questionable. This applies to both the idea of Pakistan, the ideology of the state, the purpose of the state, and also to the coherence of the state itself. Pakistan has lost a lot of its stateness, that is, the qualities that make a modern government function effectively. So there’s failure in Pakistan on all counts. I wouldn’t predict a comprehensive failure soon but clearly that’s the direction in which Pakistan is moving.”