By Avinash Mohananey
blame Pakistan’s judges for relying more on Quran than rule of law to acquit
Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges.
appalling that a 21st-century judgment acquitting Christian woman Asia Bibi of
blasphemy charges should read like a religious text itself— but that’s exactly
how the Supreme Court of Pakistan penned the verdict releasing her, after
wrongly imprisoning her for nine and a half years.
judgment began with “Qalma-e-Shahdat” and ended with the Hadith of the Prophet.
To pre-empt criticism from religious groups, Justice Saqib Nisar, reading out
the judgment, quoted one verse after another from the Quran praising Prophet
Mohammad and agreed that those who dishonour the Prophet should be handed the
he explained that in this case, several witnesses had contradicted each other
and the prosecution case was weak. To reinforce the acquittal of Asia Bibi, he
quoted from the Hadith: “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim
minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can
bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet) will
complain against the person on the day of judgement”.
knows why the judges had to rely more on religious texts to protect an innocent
Christian minority woman than on the basic tenets of internationally accepted
rule of law. But don’t blame Pakistan’s judges for that.
real blame lies with the rise of the religious Right and the support extended
to it by successive governments— civilian or military. The first major success
of religious extremists in Pakistan was the declaring of Ahmadis as non-Muslims
in 1974, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was at the helm of affairs. But the rot set
in much earlier, when the Pakistan constituent assembly declared the country to
be an Islamic Republic despite vehement opposition and boycott of proceedings
by minority members in 1949.
has been repeatedly told for the last 70 years that Islam is Pakistan’s
Asia Bibi case was a huge challenge for the government. On one hand,
internationally, Christian groups had been critical for the alleged denial of
justice to Asia Bibi. On the other, parties like the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan
(TLP) had vowed to wreak havoc if the judgment was unfavourable. And it did.
immediate street protests by the TLP after the judgment, the organisation
called for bringing down the new Imran Khan government and death to all three
judges. “They all three deserve to be killed. Either their security should kill
them, their driver kill them, or their cook kill them,” a TLP member said
during a protest in Lahore. The TLP also declared Pakistan army chief Qamar
Javed Bajwa a non-Muslim worthy of being killed and called upon troops to
mutiny against him.
televised speech Wednesday night, Prime Minister Imran Khan supported the
Supreme Court’s decision and warned TLP not to create disturbances. But Imran
Khan is naïve if he thinks that he can threaten these extremist groups into
silence through a simple TV broadcast. These groups have tasted power, have
access to weapons and have cohabited with the army for its regional ambitions.
threat can’t just be brushed aside because the TLP has street and muscle power,
which can paralyse the functioning of the government and throw normal life in
Pakistan out of gear. The appetite of this organisation is only growing. It
garnered over 21 lakh votes in the general elections held in 2018. Earlier, in
November 2017, it demonstrated its strength and withdrew its sit-in near
Islamabad only after law minister Zahid Hamid resigned. Later, its activist
shot at interior minister Ahsan Iqbal and injured him.
of reprisals by religious groups is so rampant that after the TLP’s threat to
his life, the Chief Justice said on 1 November: “I and our all bench members
are lovers of the Prophet and our faith is incomplete without our faith in our
judges recite durood-e-shareef as they sit in their chambers,” Justice Nisar
Imran Khan had to first establish his religious credentials before warning the
TLP in the address. This may not help. Only a secular narrative and approach to
all issues of governance can help in controlling the monstrous religious groups
in Pakistan today. Rather than succumbing to the demands of the TLP, as the
government was compelled to do in November last year, it is time to call its
bluff by enforcing rule of law to protect life and property of citizens and
Avinash Mohananey is a former intelligence
official who has served in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and in
Pakistan blasphemes Islam