Print Version    Email to Friend
Cooperation can break the terror mould

HONG KONG (SE): A Christian advocate and a Muslim religious leader came together to save a woman from death when, at the beginning of November, they jointly intervened in a case of a woman being accused of blasphemy.

The woman, Asia Masih, is a Christian. She had recently moved into a new home in Faisalabad, Punjab, and was burning some old papers, when two Muslim students noticed some of the pages bore Arabic writing, AsiaNews reported.

Presuming they were pages of the Qur’an, they later come to her home and accused her of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death.

A Christian member of the Human Rights Defender Network collected evidence on the case and an Islamic leader, belonging to the Peace Committee, assisted him in proving her innocence.

Blasphemy laws have been widely abused in Pakistan and used by many people to try and settle personal disputes.

The laws are seen as being part of the bigger problem of the failed peace process that has produced no fruit in an ever increasingly violent Pakistani society.

The Daily Times reported on September 19 that the Council of Islamic Ideology is suggesting that the death penalty also apply to those who make false accusations of blasphemy to counteract this.

“Keeping in view the suggestions of human rights activists and civil society members, the Council of Islamic Ideology has decided to fix the same penalty for the person who falsely accuses someone of blasphemy as the accused,” Allama Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi was quoted by Agence France Presse as saying.

He cited deterrence for people using the laws for personal agendas and the silencing of critics of the laws as the rationale for the decision.

At the same meeting, the council also reversed an earlier decision not to allow the use of DNA testing as evidence in rape cases, other than to supplement the testimony of four witnesses when the accused denies the charges.

An editorial written by Ataurehman Saman in the November issue of E-Mirror, published by the National Commission for Justice and Peace in Karachi, names extremism and terrorism as being the two big hurdles to the peace process.

He points to the All Parties Conference held in September in which the government agreed to hold talks with the leadership of the Tehrik-e-Taliban (Taliban), saying that what resulted in fact is that the Taliban has been allowed to sit in the driver’s seat.

Saman says that since that time, terrorist attacks have increased by some 40 per cent, the most public of which was the bombing of the church in Peshawar.

Saman puts this down to government inactivity, mismanaged negotiations and inability to dialogue. He describes government policy as being a combination of wishful thinking, misuse of historical lessons and lack of planning.

He says that government policy actually supports militants, as it protects those who support their interests, as a result of which militants are not seen as the enemies of Pakistan and a blind eye is turned to their activities.

On the other hand, he says that the Taliban is crystal clear about its intentions. It does not accept the Pakistani constitution and is determined to destroy its functions and institutions.

However, although it denies responsibility for the attack on the church in Peshawar, Saman counters that it was executed according to Shariah Law, a Taliban trademark.

“A clear narrative supported by all sections of the state would bring us out of a continuous confusion. We would have to follow a zero tolerance policy towards extremism and terrorism, otherwise violence would become unmanageable,” he says.

Peter Jacob argues in the same issue that the government brings the same policy of turning a blind eye to infringements of the blasphemy laws, as they support its agenda.

He says that this means there is no healing process.

He points out that after the Peshawar incident, young Christian people, who have so far lived by the image of teachers and healers set by generations of Pakistani Christians, were angry, even becoming aggressive, which he notes is uncharacteristic.

He says that the long history of government refusing to involve itself in the abuse of minority groups is part of the reason for its failure to deal with the Taliban over the peace issue.

“The opinion of the minority Christians may not matter a lot politically speaking, however, defying wisdom and common good will deprive the leadership of their legitimacy as duty bearers of the common good,” Jacobs concludes.

More from this section