By Khadim Hussain
The gory incident of lynching at Mardan University has shaken almost everyone who is a humanist at heart. On that dark day, the face of humanity turned out to be that of a blood-sucking monster. More troubling was the realisation that this happened in a land that carries legacies of universal love and non-violence traced back to the Gandhara civilisation and the more recent Khudai Khidmatgaar Movement.
That the gory incident took place at a seat of higher learning and that the perpetrators were mostly students gives rise to several scathing questions. Both the base animal instincts hiding behind the thin veneer of human species and the extremist and violent narrative perpetuated by the state are the reasons behind that savagery. The narrative that is constructed and perpetuated through the education system has to be dissected.
Privatisation of jihad and justice and negation of human aesthetics lie at the core of this narrative. The curriculum, pedagogical methods, and academic environment suppress critical thinking and suffocate creative consciousness. To add fuel to the fire, dissenting voices are curbed with full force of the state. Intellectual and creative endeavours are castigated and stigmatised. Little difference now remains the difference between medieval European inquisitions and the targeting of the intelligentsia in Pakistan.
That both the administration of the university and the personnel of law enforcement apparatus were allegedly involved in the barbaric lynching is in itself indicative of the impunity that the state perpetuates. That a law is used as a tool is yet another proof that rather than extending protection to the lives of citizens, our justice system and law enforcement apparatus still carry the colonial legacy.
The barbarity also brings to light a class-based and patriarchal social structure that leaves little chance for creative and brilliant individuals to contribute to the richness of life. In such a context, the habit of questioning is considered not only heretical but also liable to death in full public view.
Ruptures brought about by the colonial dispensation and the post-colonial imposition of a centralised state on a region with a diverse and pluralist indigenous Pashtun culture is more than evident. The Pakhtun land, especially Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, has been used as a strategic black hole over the past several decades.
This region was Arabised and talibanised through extremist violent organisations and their hardliner madrasahs and religio-political parties. Space for indigenous literature, music and dance was squeezed through all academic, media, cultural, legal and political tools. Celebration of diversity and tolerance for difference of opinion were also squeezed out of the veins and arteries of the Pashtun society.
The legacy of the Khudai Khidmatgaar movement that had constructed and perpetuated a non-violent, pluralist and democratic narrative deep into the core of the Pashtun society was ruptured by state institutions for pursuing self-destructive policies in the region. The organisational continuity of an enlightened secular democratic movement was badly dented by dubbing it anti-state. Its system of large-scale political education was forcibly made dysfunctional.
In the meanwhile, two factors seem to have become a ray of hope for those who still cherish universal values of humanity. Iqbal Sahar, the father of Mashal Khan, has turned out to be a larger than life figure. The message he has delivered through an unprecedented composure is a message of non-violence and justice and a plea for valuing human life. He wants us to ensure that other Mashals (candles) are not put out. He wants Mashal to be a symbol of wisdom and enlightenment.
Secondly, the courageous people of Mashal’s village Zaida and neighbouring villages who defied all conservative forces and stood firmly with Iqbal Sahar during the performance of final rites for Mashal seem to be the harbinger of a new dawn.
The Pakistan’s Parliament has passed a resolution condemning the lynching incident. The Chief Justice of Pakistan has taken a suo moto notice. Demonstrations and vigils have since been held by enlightened people across the country and abroad to seek justice for Mashal.
Through his unprecedented sacrifice, Mashal has provided a rallying point for this enlightened section of the society and compelled it to question the extremist narrative. Now this section may hopefully be able to gather courage to construct an alternative narrative to replace the narrative of war. They may also be able to build pressure from below to transform tools that have been used for the permeation and perpetuation of the extremist narrative, especially the education system. Similarly, the law, law enforcement apparatus and administration at universities may be scrutinised and debated openly in the Parliament and provincial assemblies and among civil society organisations and the academia.
One hopes that in the wake of Mashal’s death state institutions and the privileged classes of Pakistan may find themselves convinced to facilitate indigenous nations, ethnicities and communities of the country in reclaiming their pluralist traditions and values — that inculcate respect for diversity and celebration of life.
Mashal’s barbaric lynching is rightly considered to be a test case for our state institutions. But it’s also a test case for the enlightened sections of the society in Pakistan and people who believe in humanist values throughout the world. Finally, it is litmus test for the heirs to Baacha Khan’s non-violent, democratic, pluralist, and enlightened movement.
Khadim Hussain is a political analyst based in Peshawar.