Pakistan’s Never-Ending Cycle of Religious Barbarity Continues


One more Pakistani is added to the long list of victims of the heinous blasphemy law. The latest premeditated killing induced by blasphemy allegations took place in Warburton, Nankana Sahib. A man named Waris, son of Esa, from Sundrana Town area was taken from police custody, forcibly stripped and beaten to death. Initial accounts by local news outlets of Nankana Sahib stated the man was beaten to death and then hung upside down. The RPO Nankana Region gave a media interview implying the body was not burnt.

The victim was taken into custody by personnel from the Warburton police station for allegedly practicing black magic using pages from Holy Scripture. But the SHO and remaining on duty staff fled the station as the mob attacked the station. Once the videos of vigilante torture went viral on social platforms, the PM, interim CM and IG Punjab —having taken notice of the police negligence, suspended the SHO and DSP of Nankana Sahib circle.

The video on Facebook shows the stripped, bloodied body of the victim being dragged in the streets by a mob which included children. Those who are not beating the victim, can be seen marching with pages allegedly used by the victim for black magic, and chanting slogans of sanctity of khatm-e-nabuwwat — finality of prophethood—. The exact chant is, “Tajdar-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, zindabad zindabad.” The chant starts with a man’s voice, but the zindabad is clearly uttered by a group of young boys.

It just so happens, that this particular killing was executed 364 days right after the lynching of a mentally unwell man over blasphemy allegations in Mian Channu, Khanewal. It is, almost, as if, the brutality in Warburton was an anniversary ritual. Unfortunately, one could look at any month or an area, especially in Punjab, and find a brutality committed to protect the so-called sanctity of majoritarian Islam in that space or time. In the land of the supposedly pure, it is a stellar feat that governments change, but the state’s failure to counter violent Sunni supremacists of all ilk remains the same. In fact, new supremacists are created and allowed to organize.

Let’s not go far and look at Nankana Sahib, a district which made news over the course of the past few years for multiple incidents of religious zealotry. In 2020, a young Ahmadi doctor, Tahir Ahmad, was killed by a teenager in the city when he stepped out from a worship place, his relatives sustained serious injuries. In 2021, a British-Ahmadi man Maqsood Ahmad Qamar was gunned down in Nankana Sahib. The distance between the Warburton station and the police station which covers the murder site of Maqsood Ahmad is 36 kilometres, per Google Maps. Warburton is 59.2 kms from the area station of Dr Ahmed’s murder. In 2017, an Ahmadi community leader and a lawyer Malik Saleem Latif was gunned down in the Nankana city. And one of the visible cases of blasphemy allegation from the district is that of the Christian farm worker Aasia Bibi in 2009, who spent 9 years imprisoned for a crime she never committed.

We remain stuck in a rut of barbarity and lawlessness. The perpetrators of immediate violence do get punished in some cases. The murderers of Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara, victim of one of the many mob attacks incited via blasphemy suspicions were sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court. But the death sentences or immediate notices by the prime ministers —current or former— have not resulted in an end to mob violence or faith-based target killings. The police keeps failing to protect victims and the Supreme Court’s rulings are not implemented in letter. The policemen who failed to perform their duty got suspended in the recent Nankana Sahib lynching but their negligence also points towards the starkness of where we are at. The law enforcement lacks the capacity –maybe training and strength also — in dealing with Muslim lynch mobs.

The Punjab police specifically appear to be clueless in countering such attacks. In 2013, when another Muslim mob attacked the working class Christian settlement Joseph Colony in Lahore, the on-duty police warned the locals to leave, and then fled the scene. They did not protect the victims’ belongings or properties. There is an example or two of LEA doing their jobs in controlling raging bigots e.g. Hyderabad police’s response to save the Hindu accused of blasphemy in August 2022, but that particular mob was dispersed with the help of a Rangers’ contingent. In 2021, while hunting for a blasphemy accused, a mob in KP torched a police station and attacked multiple posts in Charsadda — an example of degree of damage which could be caused even when the accused was saved. In Punjab, on the one hand, the SHO and duty staff, readily register FIRs of complaints of blasphemy to appease the clergy, and violate rights of the persecuted e.g. demolitions of minarets at Ahmadi places of worship. And on the other, run away to save their own lives.

This is not apologia for LEA in Punjab, but the solution to anti-blasphemy mob violence does not only lie with the SHO doing his job when dozens are lusting for blood, empowered by a discriminatory law further abused by sectarian religious outfits like the Aalmi Majlis-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat or religious parties like the Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan, and even the Jamat-e-Islami.

You cannot bend over backwards to strengthen a black law, and expect brainwashed masses with exposure to normalized extremist narratives in their mosques and public spaces to not resort to vigilantism. In January, the National Assembly passed an amendment to the blasphemy law widening its scope, increasing punishment for insulting more religiously revered figures, and making it even more vague than it already is. This amendment was proposed by Jamat-e-Islami’s Abdul Akbar Chitrali. Within days of this passage, the Senate passed a resolution against insults to the Holy Quran in Holland and Sweden, tabled by JI’s Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan.

While looking through posts about the Nankana Sahib attack across social platforms, I also found a post of Senator Mushtaq about this resolution, and one about a PTI rally in Muzaffargarh district against inflation and insult to the Holy Book in Sweden. If it is not the TLP calling for expulsion of the French ambassador then it is the senators wasting their work hours condemning European bigots, and contributing to the narrative of insult to majoritarian Islam at home.

When will the Senate of Islamic Republic of Pakistan pass a resolution to condemn violence perpetrated to protect the sanctity of Islamic scripture? What would it take for the Punjab Assembly to declare lynching in the name of Islam, the ultimate insult to Islam?__Courtesy The Friday Times