Pakistani politicians and military officials have vowed to eradicate the ultraconservative religious extremism that tortured a mob, brutally lynch a Sri Lankan citizen and burn his body in the eastern city of Sialkot. 900 cases were filed with the police and 235 people were arrested in connection with the killing.
“Let me be clear: I have decided that from now on we will not spare those who resort to violence in the name of religion, especially the Holy Prophet (PBUH),” Prime Minister Imran Khan said at a memorial service for Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana, a 48-year-old textile mill manager.
The mob accused Mr Diyawadana of removing a sticker from Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) or “I am Present Pakistan” (TLP), an extreme right-wing militant religious group, from machines before visiting foreigners.
Some reports alleged that an argument between Mr. Diyawadana and workers sparked the lynching. It was not clear whether the argument could be linked to the stickers.
The TLP condemned the Sialkot assassination, but turned often baseless blasphemy allegations into a violent crusade in a country where the death penalty is mandatory.
Whatever sparked the murder, the government’s response appeared to have been to instill a determination to tackle a simmering problem. It’s a claim that, despite Khan’s strong words, sounds hollow in a country where government policies are inconsistent or even seem to promote religious ultra-conservatism and intolerance.
“We will see the truth soon enough when the next Pakistani – be he or she Muslim, Hindu, Christian or another – is lynched in the name of blasphemy,” said journalist Zarrar Khuhro. âBecause this will continue no matter what happens to those arrested while lynching in Sialkot. You know it and I know it too. “
Despite crackdown on Mr Diyawadana’s killers, government and military leaders failed to censor Defense Minister Pervez Khattak for downplaying, if not justifying, the murder.
After Mr Diyawadana’s killers proudly admitted their crime on television cameras and posted selfies with his mutilated body online, Mr Khatak described them as boys who enter into adulthood and are “ready for anything” who learn to control their emotions with age . âSo that’s what happens with children; There are fights and even murders. Does that mean that the government is to blame? “
Most of the suspects in Mr Diyawadana’s murder were under 30 years of age.
Mr Khattak’s remarks appeared to be a throwback to four years ago when the military appeared to be openly supporting the TLP when it staged a mass protest against the government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Dawn, Pakistan’s flagship English language newspaper, summarized the state of play in an editorial. The newspaper said that “such a statement from a federal minister should come as a shock, but unfortunately we are used to our officials denying the reality of extremism and violence in the country.”
Weeks earlier, under the pressure of a mass protest march by thousands of supporters of the group in the capital Islamabad, the government had initially given in to demands of the TLP. Demands included the overturning of a decision banning the group and releasing its leader and supporters from prison. However, a week later the government pulled out of the deal with the group.
Days before the murder, Khattak’s colleague, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, tried to protect religious seminars or madrassas, an influential segment of the Pakistani education system, from criticism. Mr Chaudhry, who clearly condemned the murder of Mr Kumara, did so by making the spread of extremism in Pakistan through public schools rather than madrasas.
âThe institution of the madrasa has become the most important political base for religious groups and religious-political parties and continues to adhere strictly to its potentially explosive sectarian character. It is expanding and encroaching on the formal education sector and the state has failed to regulate the institution, âsaid Pakistani analyst Mohammad Amir Rana.
Countering Mr. Chaudhry’s claims, Mr. Rana replied that âformal educational institutions have not produced a fraction of the number of militants joining the ranks of various national and international terrorist organizations that the madrassas of various banned militant organizations have so far produced. â
Mr Rana made his remarks days before the Sialkot assassination, but could have written after the incident when he discovered that successive Pakistani governments had attempted to depoliticize public university education âwhile politically and ideologically charged the madrassa students and remain vulnerable to exploitation â. for street protests and recruitment for military purposes. “
Mr Chaudhry got it right in referring to the public system but failed to mention that it was because the government was increasingly hiring madrassa graduates as teachers in the public sector.
“The madrassa mentality plays its full role in society and is responsible for fueling two major socio-political conflicts … first the sectarian divide and second, ideological radicalism,” warned Rana.
This way of thinking is growing in importance with the introduction of a single national curriculum that places greater emphasis on religious education. A court in Lahore has ordered that all students in Punjab be tested for their ability to read the Koran.
âPreliminary reports point to provincial confusion and chaos and a state of fear among children, teachers and school principals. Accompanied by police officers with rifles, judges rush into schools and interrogate children aged between seven and twelve, âreported nuclear scientist and human rights activist Pervez Hoodbhoy.
âGrim-faced magistrates pouncing on schools, destroying the authority of teachers and principals, and bringing terror into the hearts of all is a shame on the concept of education. It can’t end here, âwarned Mr. Hoodbhoy.
âHow we dress, speak and think is increasingly controlled. Imran Khan’s Pakistan is on the way to Talibanization, âhe added.