It takes only a miniscule drop of rain to send the government scuttling for cover. The threat by religious parties to protest any change in blasphemy laws has lead to an immediate process of backtracking. This has not been enough, however, to prevent the nationwide strike which went ahead on December 31. The pressure then is on.
The new minister for religious affairs, Khurshid Shah, told the National Assembly this past week that the PPP had no plans to repeal the law or make changes in it. Other members of the government have expressed similar sentiments. These contrast quite markedly with the bold assertions made previously about changing laws that have been misused to put hundreds behind bars. Most of them are innocent people who have been victimised by rivals attempting to settle some score. The blasphemy clause has become a highly convenient way to deal with those who become caught up in a row of any kind. The government should be emphasising this point, rather than cowering each time extremists come out on the streets to demonstrate their power. The degree of menace they present is overrated. After all, nothing of note had happened when major changes were made in the Hudood Ordinance during the Mushurraf era. It seems quite obvious that religious groups have more bark than bite.
In the past, the PPP had spoken out strongly against the blasphemy laws and the manner in which they were put to use. It is sad to see the party now moving backwards along the track without so much as an explanation. It is important that the blasphemy law be relegated to history. The courage to do so needs to be found. Even though they do not speak out, the ‘silent majority’ as it were, many people will applaud this. More and more citizens are shocked by the manner in which religion has come to be abused in our country. They seek from their leaders a willingness to undo the damage inflicted during the Zia years and ensure that the true values of Islam — peace, tolerance and mercy — once more become the norm in society, rather than engaging in political point-scoring. It is the rights of the people that need to be given priority.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2011.