March 02, 2016

Pakistan: The Hanging of Mumtaz Quadri - Editorial in The News (2 March 2016)

The News, March 02, 2016

The hanging


Mumtaz Qadri, a former Elite Force commando who murdered former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, has been hanged. Taseer had been smeared in a campaign by ‘religious’ groups as a blasphemer after he defended a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy. Qadri, who became a hero to the country’s religious right wing, admitted his guilt in court – proclaiming that he had fulfilled his religious duty. Thousands including PML-N MPAs attended his funeral at Liaquat Bagh, and the Jamaat-e-Islami has announced Friday as a day of protest. So the tension on the streets may continue. Qadri was after all only one man; and the state cannot be expected to make up its mind about what to do with its – at the moment – former prodigies such as the JI in the mainstream. Qadri, a convicted murderer, has paid for his crime and the law has done its job. Does the execution create a fissure in the ‘ideology’ of the Pakistani state? Qadri used the cover of the country’s blasphemy laws to justify what he did. The Supreme Court answered that only the courts can ascertain a crime and its punishment, that false accusations of blasphemy are a serious crime and that Qadri’s victim had not committed blasphemy. Doing so, the SC created space for talking about reforming the blasphemy law. The tragedy was that by then Taseer had been murdered while Qadri had been garlanded as a hero. So has justice been served by hanging Qadri? According to the law of the land it has. Is it enough? Certainly not. Aasia Bibi, with whose conviction the entire affair started, is still languishing in jail; no judge is willing to hear her appeal. There has been no serious judicial, political or governmental effort to review the blasphemy laws. The state is faced with the strange task of building a counternarrative to something it itself had invented, and it has been fickle in this respect. The truth of the whole affair is nothing more than this: when Qadri committed the murder, the ‘political’ environment in the country gave him and his admirers little cause to worry. The courts could be surrounded, the judges could be hounded out and alleged blasphemers could be killed outside court. There was a moratorium on the death penalty and the army did not feel the need to act, or appear to act, very different to how it had been. This changed after the APS attack and the state developed a penchant for executions that could not be tainted for someone like Qadri. It is in this context that the Supreme Court, having given up considerable judicial territory to the military, developed the courage to deliver its judgement and speak candidly about the blasphemy laws. When seen in this context, the legal giant’s feet of clay are not very invisible.

Qadri, as much as we may loathe him, was after all a pawn in a criminal game whose field was laid by forces much bigger than him. Politicians, armymen, journalists, lawyers, clerics, our educational system and the state and its assemblies created the atmosphere where a Qadri could have felt justified in committing Taseer’s murder. The crime had long been in the making. To suggest that the hanging of Qadri somehow is the beginning of a change is lazy thinking. It is also a case of wishful scapegoating. There’s much to be done as a prerequisite for such a beginning and hangings are certainly not that. Do we see a serious desire to rebuild an educational system that breeds uncritical and dogmatic minds? Do we notice any effort to even start bridging the social chasm that exists between the haves and the have-nots and makes many of our people susceptible to the obscurantist narrative that the state itself has promoted? Qadri was one such creature – and not from amongst the very privileged, socially and intellectually. What about those very powerful and powerfully-related, both politically and militarily, who can and do defend Qadri’s deed and the ideas that guided it more articulately than Qadri ever could? We have even celebrated some of them as they departed from this world. This raises the crucial question: will Qadri’s execution serve as a deterrent to other would-be religious fanatics produced by our society? Qadri’s execution does not guarantee this. It does nothing to make us see the root of the problem. The root does not lie in one individual.