Sunday October 17, 2021

A serious matter

July 16, 2020

We cannot call the charge of blasphemy made against former defence minister and PML-N leader Khawaja Muhammad Asif even a case of intolerance. Most would agree that the innocuous remarks he made in the National Assembly would not alarm even an intolerant person. Yet a local PTI leader from Narowal has targeted Asif by accusing him of committing the crime and stating that he had violated the constitution of Pakistan and the law of the land. The charges brought against Khawaja Asif also add to the often negative vision with which Pakistan is looked upon by the rest of the world. In a tweeted message the United States Committee on International Religious Freedoms has condemned the charge against the PML-N leader.

It seems quite obvious that this is yet another attempt to harm a person against whom the individual making the charge has some petty issues. In this case politics and the fact that Khawaja Asif belongs to a party that rivals the PTI may have contributed to the ludicrous charges made. However, as we know from past experience an accusation of blasphemy can often have extremely serious consequences in our country even when there is no validity behind it. Scores of people have suffered, some only because of a petty dispute over matters of business or jealousy within an institution. The blasphemy law has been abused again and again to settle issues for which the law was never intended. In effect, using charges of blasphemy in this fashion amounts to a serious crime.

Trivializing such a serious charge in this fashion does not serve the interests of anybody in the country. In this case as in others there is also risk that extreme religious elements will attempt to play up the matter. Narowal police have so far refused to file an FIR. The matter has been referred to the DPO. We hope the police will act in a responsible fashion and fulfil their duties. The risk however is that until there is room for the blatant misuse of the law, it will be deployed against more and more people. We also hope that the PTI leadership will take note of the matter. Imran Khan and his party came to power using the slogan of justice. It is therefore their duty to ensure that justice does indeed prevail and that extremely grave charges are not flung about only on the basis of political rivalry or vindictiveness. Other people have suffered before Khawaja Asif. They included educationists, members of minority communities, politicians and even children. It is time the government took action to ensure the law cannot be misused as has happened too frequently in the past. This would be a true act of justice falling in line with the principal slogan of the PTI and its leadership.