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Justice for Mashal

Afrasiab Khan Khattak

Afrasiab Khan Khattak

Writing about the lost blood of the wretched of the earth, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the outstanding progressive poet of Urdu in the 20th century, says in his poem “No trace of blood”:

Neither on the hands and nail of the slayer

Nor any sign on the sleeve

No redness in the dagger’s edge

No any colour on spear’s head

No stain in the earth’s breast

Or any smear on the ceiling.

The creative genius of late Faiz could wrote the obituary of those who are falling victim to an extremist violent mindset in today’s world decades before their death. This is how wretched of the earth have always been, pious noises of the rulers to the contrary not withstanding.

Mashal Khan, a young and intelligent student of Mardan University was brutally murdered on a black Thursday, April 13, 2017. The initial facts uncovered so far reveal a criminal conspiracy by a corrupt mafia in the university administration that was covered up by the lynching of the wounded Mashal by a frenzied mob consisting of students and a few others. The conspirators might have channeled the fanaticism of some youth against Mashal Khan by falsely accusing him of committing blasphemy but the wild wrath of young fanatics was by all means real. Ample footage of the savagery demonstrated on the occasion is available on the social media. Inspector General of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police was not off the mark when he said, after the initial arrests, that had it not been for the social media campaign of the concerned citizens the murderers might have gotten away with their crime.

The brutality and savagery of Mashal Khan’s lynching at a university campus was extremely shocking but scarier was the total paralysis of state and society in face madness galore. Political leaders and government authorities took their time in even condemning the murder. On the face of it, it seems to be an open and shut case due to the availability of evidence but the government was quite slow in responding to the crime.

This situation has been created by the misguided state policies. The security establishment has a history of using brainwashed young men to fight its undeclared wars in neighbouring countries. There is a large body of war hardened religious fighters who spoil for picking fights. As if that was not enough, the deep state itself used the threat of using the accusation of blasphemy against critics of its policies. It is a potent weapon for silencing opponents in a society where mere accusation of blasphemy amounts to a death warrant as there are numerous examples of people taking law into their hands by murdering the accused. The bloggers who were mysteriously picked up by the intelligence agencies, tortured and released after about a month were silenced by the same weapon. Neither the parliament nor the courts came to their rescue. Even the so-called free media chose self censorship on this issue. The impunity that this accusation (even if it’s a false one) provides to the offenders of different types makes it very tempting. Is it then surprising that the criminal and corrupt mafia of the Mardan University went for it to hide their crime? Most of the crimes of mob violence have gone unpunished. In a few cases where the courts did convict the perpetrators of crimes the foot soldiers were punished but the masterminds were able to steer free of convictions.

During the week after the murder of Mashal Khan the mainstream media also gradually focused on the case and public opinion was galvanised. There arose a hope that it may become a turning point for the state and society in Pakistan to act effectively, seriously and consistently against religious extremism and the violence that it inspires. There were even demonstrations demanding a clear and practical change in policy. Apart from some extremist fringe elements, most of the political parties and civil society not only expressed their horror but also vowed to work together to preclude the possibility of such tragedy repeating itself. But then we had the Panama circus. TV channels with “special transmissions” ensued to the exclusion of every other issue.

One sincerely hopes that society and state take madness at university campuses, that epitomises the deep evil in our midst, seriously. We have had extremist violence but this incident represents a new and frightening level. The rise of mob violence can lead to the physical liquidation of minorities and societal dissent in the first place followed by a liquidation of state and society. Syria, Libya and Iraq used to be functioning states at one stage. They have collapsed before our eyes. It’s the extremist mindset that has to be weeded out. Even nuclear weapons aren’t effective in the struggle against the extremist mindset. It’s through a reformed and enlightened education, investment in human development and narrative of peace and progress that this war can be won. The fight is mainly for the soul of our youth. Losing it will be losing the future.

Mashal means the source of light in Pashto and his lynching was literally and figuratively a lynching of light. If the blood of this innocent, charming and bright young man awakens the conscience of our society it might be some solace to the soul of the humanist that Mashal was. Justice for Mashal can be justice for our younger generations.

Writer: Afrasiab Khan Khattak

 The writer is a regular contributor to THE PASHTUN TIMES. He is a retired senator and a leader of Awami National Party (ANP). He tweets    @a_siab 


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