The Raymond Davis saga has not only cast a pall over US-Pakistani relations, it has also managed to sideline what was one of 2010’s defining issues and 2011’s tragic realities: The status of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Caught up in the thrilling world of espionage, the media and the authorities seem to have forgotten that somewhere, a woman is still being held in custody under a controversial blasphemy law. We have also apparently forgotten that Salmaan Taseer’s death and the collective silence that followed it means our ability to air even moderate opinions has been compromised.
Yes, the governor’s murderer was formally indicted on February 15 — but nothing has been done to curb the sentiments that caused him to act out in the first place. The government is silent, failing to acknowledge that anyone suggesting amendments to the law has been threatened into submission. Self-professed ‘activists,’ prominent media persons and the exalted judiciary, too, seem to be focusing on ‘less controversial’ issues.
This attitude is more troubling than any tangle Pakistan gets into with the US — it is the kind of moral decay that causes societies to fail. It is this deterioration that we need to address most urgently. In comparison, the current spy war playing itself out on TV is just a blip on the radar: Even if we ‘win’ the Raymond Davis case — find him guilty in a Pakistani court, get the US to apologise, or do whatever else we need to do to keep our insecurities at bay, will it make any difference to an average Pakistani’s struggle to live a better life?
Our failure to see the bigger picture reminds me of some news that came out of Egypt recently. On the eve of Mubarak‘s resignation, a female journalist was sexually assaulted by men in a 200-strong crowd. Horrific as the incident was, it was not an irregularity — according to Egypt’s interior ministry, at least 55 women in the country are raped every day.
So what good is a revolution when all that changes is the top leadership and the average citizen’s access to justice remains unaffected? Instead of hyping up people’s movements across the Arab world, we should wait and see what these states evolve into before making our judgments.
Similarly, we shouldn’t be blinded by all the hype surrounding Pakistan’s ‘Spygate,’ nor should we take any ‘successes’ on that front to be indicative of the country’s progress. We should focus on that Christian woman in prison, and people like her — anything less is merely cosmetic.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2011.
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