Ask any good cricketer and he would tell you that prevarication is a deadly sin in international cricket. A class batsman, once committed to playing a stroke would never pull back from going through with it.
Pakistan’s newly anointed leader Imran Khan belonged to that premier class of cricketers, who wouldn’t dither and would never fumble.
However, in his style of governance he seems to be flirting, dangerously, with flip-flop, which is not only against his erstwhile reputation but also carries the risk of dragging him into a blind alley from where he may find it very hard to pull back.
On October 31, the Supreme Court of Pakistan set Asia Bibi free from the blasphemy charge against her. The young Christian woman had been in jail for 10 long years because she had been accused of blasphemy against the Holy Prophet of Islam—a capital crime under Pakistani law carrying the death sentence. Accepting her appeal, the apex court declared that the prosecution had failed to come up with credible evidence against her. She was thus given the benefit of doubt as normal.
However, Pakistan’s bloated religious brigade—the powerful and influential clergy which has gathered enormous following in the country over the last three or four decades—immediately raised its battle cry against the apex court verdict. Their purblind followers—the rabble known for its nuisance power—instantly poured onto the streets through the length and breadth of Pakistan demanding the court’s decision be annulled and the impugned woman hanged.
Clerics, notorious for their street power and command of bigoted fanatics, exhorted their followers to kill the apex court judges guilty, in their eyes, of setting a ‘heathen’ woman free. The clerics even coaxed military soldiers to go after their commanders who were, in their perverted sense, hand-in-glove with the guilty judges.
There was even a demand for Imran to step down as prime minister because he had failed to uphold the honour of Islam, in whose name Pakistan was fought for.
Imran stood his ground. He warned the rabble in a televised address to the nation not to challenge the writ of the state. He sounded firm and said he would not let anyone dictate his policies. Imran’s supporters heaved a sigh of relief. They were relieved that their man wasn’t going to be browbeaten or blackmailed by bigoted clerics and rabble-rousers who had gained enormous following because past political regimes had pampered or compromised with them for their short-term political gains.
Having fired his warning shot, Imran took off the next day for China on a previously arranged official visit. That was understandable, given Pakistan’s dire economic predicaments. China, with its economic clout and a history of close cooperation with Pakistan, could relieve some of Imran’s crushing burden.
But the fanatics baying for Asia’s blood and that of her ‘liberators’ took to the streets in every part of Pakistan. For three days they ruled the street, holding citizens to ransom by blockading roads, torching cars, buses and poor men’s motorcycles, even preventing ambulances from carrying the sick to hospitals. It was mayhem, chaos, anarchy; an open and brazen defiance of Imran’s warning not to challenge the state’s writ.
But then, instead of forcing its writ, Imran’s government buckled under the pressure of street thugs and sued for peace. It was a somersault least expected of a man who built his political career on the promise to wring in a ‘New Pakistan’ that would be radically different from a corrupt and violent Pakistan fashioned by Imran’s myopic political predecessors, like Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.
However, the agreement signed by his government with the rabble-rousers and religious zealots looks like a carbon copy of a similar agreement the discredited Nawaz government had signed last year with the same troublemakers in an almost similar ambience of state paralysis triggered by the self-styled guardians of the people of Pakistan’s faith.
Incidentally, it was Imran and his cohorts who had vehemently decried that ‘surrender’ to non-state actors. There’s no way Imran can justify his agreement with those very same elements who challenged his government’s authority with the kind of impunity deployed against Nawaz.
The agreement raises the brazen terrorists and arsonists to equal status with the elected government. They have twisted Imran’s arm to release all the troublemakers detained by police and other authorities. Worse still for poor Asia, the government succumbed to the terrorist demand to put her name on the Exit Control List, so she may not be able to leave the country.
Several European countries—Italy with its Catholic bastion in the lead amongst them—are willing to provide her and her family sanctuary. But Asia, the innocent victim of a bigoted ‘mulla-cracy’s’ blatant disregard of the rights of minorities guaranteed under Pakistan’s constitution and Islam’s universal message of equality of all human
beings, remains a prisoner even though freed by Pakistan’s top court.
Asia’s lawyer, who successfully pleaded her case, has already fled Pakistan and sought refuge in the Netherlands. He is out of the clutches of the fanatics. Will Asia and family be lucky like him is a question Imran must answer.
Karamatullah K Ghori
Former Pakistani diplomat