An image of a young Christian boy wearing a special attire in celebration of the recent Independence Day of Pakistan, and consoling his weeping mother sitting outside ruined remains of what once used to be their home is making rounds on the internet.
The foundation anniversary of the nation had barely passed when five churches and a few Christian houses were already burning in the fire of religious hate crimes in Jaranwala (Faislabad), Punjab.
These houses aside, even the dead at a Christian cemetery were not spared the horror of vandalism! Though the blasphemy rumors incited the pyromania and destruction, it was the extremist groups like Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) supported by the Pakistan Army that carried the show.
Clerics’ announcements from the mosques enraged the mob who in turn appointed dozens of people to block the Lahore-Multan motorway causing delay in extending assistance.
Though senior community leaders of Punjab and government officials condemned the act and promised “stern action against the violators of the law that target minorities”, the police had already registered an FIR against the poor Christian cleaner for defiling the Quran using derogatory remarks against Prophet, under the Pakistan Penal Code.
Before giving him any chance for justification, or for clearing his character off such an accusation, the man’s house was demolished. Despite such a volatile situation, the police arrived late and then “negotiated” with the protesters and involved “peace committees” than extinguishing the situation. They silently watched as Christians were harassed and tortured.
Even the assistant commissioner of the area had to run and save his life from the people he served for so long!
To those whom Jinnah promised a land of equality between religious minorities, it is an arduous time. The Quaid had insisted upon the protection of the vulnerable but in 2023 Pakistan is turning back in time, glorifying the ideologisation of politics and oppressing the already downtrodden minorities.
The impunity enjoyed by extremist Sunni groups and terrorists in the name of religion has emboldened them. Small-time NGOs are collecting funds to accommodate some hundred Christians who fled their homes from the maddening crowd carrying sticks and weapons on the instruction of local mosques.
The accused admitted he was being bullied by local Muslim men into unrelated conflicts. When no reasonable arguments were left, accusations of blasphemy began. The strengthening of the blasphemy laws in January 2023 has created space for anti-minorities parties like TLP to freely profess and establish a Sunni-purist ideology.
And that is exactly what they are doing.
Despite enough justifications to remove the blasphemy laws for being misused, the Pak government is encouraging extremist groups to weaponise them against religious sects and to settle personal vendettas, as in the case of the Christian man.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has warned the government that not only is the amended Blasphemy Act unconstitutional as it violates the guaranteed right to personal liberty under Article 9, but it creates a conducive environment for the persecution of non-Shias and promotes jungle order with no place for humanity.
The times when Asia Bibi’s alleged blasphemy case was in question were still merciful, some Christians believe. Pressure from international communities had an impact on the weak Pakistani society. The trend since her acquittal is rather shocking. People no longer wait on the justice system to take its course; they use their personal authority as saviors of Islam to lynch or kill the accused to death.
These notorious draconian laws caused the lynching, torcher, and arson of a Sri Lankan factory manager in December 2021 in Sialkot. The videos from the shameful act show the mob taking selfies with the burning flesh of the man.
People supporting radical groups, mainly TLP, have since been seen using TLP slogans to justify crimes against minorities.
Since the lifting of the ban on TLP, non-Muslims have become prisoners of fanaticism. The growing adoption of TLP has normalised murder over blasphemy allegations.
Only ten years ago, over such violent acts the international human rights watchdogs would reprimand Pakistan. But today as the fire of radical Islam fans over the West, they are too fearful to speak. It is impossible to negotiate with the ones whose only motive is to kill.
In fact, TLP party leader Saad Rizvi reiterates since long to the Pak government that instead of begging for international aid to stabilize the country’s economy, the PM’s cabinet should “carry Quran in one hand and nuclear bomb in the other” and demand their money. This statement foreshadows the future treatment of minorities and life in general in Pakistan.
With the Army and state supporting the rabid TLP, the Faislabad Church burnings are bound to be replicated across Pakistan without guilt. That Pakistan has gradually drifted to extremism and ceded to forces like TLP better explains what will be the future of the country.