By Mehboob Qadir
On 12 April 2017, humanity, a man’s right to life and belief and the passage to peaceful disagreement and constructive dissent were annihilated in Wali Khan University, Mardan as the mob smoked out, chased and lynched Mashal Khan. They shot him, drilled screwdrivers into his skull and mutilated his dead body in a frenzy of murder and grating vengefulness, duped and urged on by sectarian vigilantes and clerics. Having killed him, the bloodthirsty mob cheered wildly, congratulated each other and then solemnly swore not to disclose who all actually took part in the gory manslaughter.
Can you imagine this savagery took place on the premises of a university dedicated to a so-called liberal politician and the killers were neither Taliban nor Daesh, but thorough bred Yusufzai Pathans who pride themselves as Pathans of the Pathans? Mardan is considered to be the mother basin of Pashtuns in the world and rightly so. These proud men shed all pretensions to valour, rubbished their glorious history, attacked and killed an unarmed, defenceless man in cold blood absolutely against the rules of Pukhtoonwali: the Pathan code of conduct. Not one of them stood up to defend or save Mashal.
Mashal Khan was a descendent of the Holy Prophet’s lineage, from a literary, educated family and a well-respected father whose integrity and sensibility was widely valued in the area. His quiet strength and dignity became visible during his interactions with various TV crews, and those who visited him for condolence and burial of his son. He kept his remarkable composure and never sounded vengeful or rebellious. During interactions, he kept emphasising the need for eradication of intolerance in society; lawful punishment to the perpetrators; and a powerful reassurance to the remaining students to continue to attend their classes. These sentiments were also reflected by the deceased’s mother and college-going sister. It is absolutely rare and unquestionably commendable character.
Mashal’s room in the hostel did not suggest any convolutions in his mindset, but perhaps a fear of the free flowing sectarian intolerance in the atmosphere. That may be the reason why he had put up generally acceptable religious posters and inscribed similar non-controversial thoughts on his cubicle walls. This is quite unusual for a person of his age but is an indication of a kind of defensive mechanism against the generally contaminated environment that he was managing to live in. It must have been quite natural that his amiable nature and sunny mind may have earned him the ire of those in the university who practice a narrow and biased sectarian agenda. Wali Khan University will live forever with the black spot that its own faculty and staff conspired with the mob to kill their own student.
We must understand that a university campus is normally full of impressionable raw young minds. The society in Mardan, Charsadda and Swabi has become vulnerable to a cross current of sectarian, militant and terrorist streams from TTP to ISIL and their numerous derivatives. This is the heart of KP and is being devoured by these monsters. What happened at the University is just a hint of the destructive storm that is ominously building up.
Much more heinous was what happened after the murder. The fear of the unforgiving clergy was gripping, the mullah in the community mosque refused to offer Mashal’s funeral prayer, and people of the locality were afraid to arrange one. This shameful act of malice and cowardice must have been the first ever and, I pray, the last time it ever happened in that village.
From the ashes of disgrace and weakness, there appeared a noble and brave man called Shireen Yar Yusufzai, who stood up to the tyranny of the vicious clergy and oppression of the mob, gathered his supporters and announced that funeral prayers of the deceased would be offered come what may. Another brave heart, Shah Wali led the prayers while Shireen and his friends provided security at the peril of their lives. Mashal was given a decent burial while the odious mullah sulked somewhere behind his stinking barred door.
One wishes there were many more Shireen Yars and Shah Walis amongst us. We have to have courage to stand up against the tyranny of the sectarian mullahs and the threat of the lynching mobs, or else our children will also be massacred. May God reward courage and nobility of Shireen Yar and Shah Wali.
Mehboob Qadir is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army.