Captain (retd) Safdar’s hateful speech in the National Assembly against an already oppressed minority was one of the lowest moments in our Parliament’s history. His outburst ostensibly targeted military leadership and the judiciary via coded messages arousing prejudice against the Ahmadis and glorifying Mumtaz Qadri. This was not an isolated incident as blasphemy allegations were freely used for political point scoring inside and outside the Parliament in days and weeks preceding Safdar’s outburst. As political stakes are getting higher, rival parties are becoming increasingly desperate to attack their opponents by all possible means. Indeed, basic human morality and decency have no room in power politics. Last week, Sheikh Rasheed roared on the assembly floor accusing the sitting government of blasphemy based on a minor change in declaration for assembly members. This was a harmless move to streamline the process and accommodate non-Muslim member of parliament which was approved by all political parties through layers of parliamentary committees. However, Rasheed turned this into a matter of undermining the faith and called for extreme action against the government. Tehreek-e-Labbaik, a religious organisation with extremist overtones, joined him in condemning the ruling party in a seemingly orchestrated move, followed by a retired Major of Pakistan Army issuing threats to Nawaz Sharif over these false allegations. With such attacks, Capt Safdar’s toxic tirade against Nobel Laureate Abdul Salam and Ahmadi military officers was inevitable to ease the mounting pressure over the ruling party. Some observers believe that these attacks are deliberately planned by the deep-state to weaken the PML-N’s electoral support. Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan and a well-concerted effort propping this issue in the public could cost the party a few dozen seats in the 2018 national elections. An illustration of this phenomenon was observed in the recent NA-120 by-elections where the candidate supported by Tehreek-e-Labbaik secured over seven thousand votes. Add the few thousand Milli Muslim League votes throughout Punjab to these and the ruling party might end up losing around ten thousand votes in most constituencies, putting it at a disadvantage in closely contested seats. It is no secret that extremist groups have enjoyed an affinity with the deep-state, which is not shy in using them for local politics. It is unfortunate that the deep-state has used religion throughout our history to reach its internal and external objective. Each time, such moves have proven to be extremely short sighted and pushed us further into chaos PML-N thus seeks to subvert such attempts by firing warning shots via Safdar. The message is clear: if the establishment plays dirty, the ruling party will respond in kind. Far from the high moral ground, we expect from a seasoned political party, this is realpolitik of the highest Machiavellian order. Indeed, the PML-N has played these games in cahoots with the establishment against the PPP during the 1980s and 1990s, and understands all the moves on the chessboard incredibly well. This also suggests that the party has shed all its hesitations to take on the deep-state at any level the situation demands. Emboldened by massive public support during Nawaz Sharif’s Islamabad-Lahore rally in August and the NA 120 win, the PML-N’s confidence has grown to the extent that it now considers the establishment as an equal rival. Ahsan Iqbal’s recent comments showing displeasure over DG ISPR’s comments on the economy and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s statements against technocrat governments demonstrate that the PML-N will not be shy in dealing with the establishment anymore. The deep-state, of course, is not used to such treatment by civilian authorities and is likely to retaliate, taking the conflict to new heights. As Pakistanis, we should hope that this strife does not becomes toxic enough that religious sentiments are used against each other again. The country is already in a mode of crisis and the economy is suffering as political uncertainty deepens. Adding venom against religious minorities to this situation will be detrimental to our social order. The onus of restraining the use of religion for politics lies with both parties, but more with the establishment as it represents the state of Pakistan and is responsible for ensuring equality and protection for all Pakistanis regardless of politics and beliefs. It is unfortunate that the deep-state has used religion throughout our history to reach its internal and external objective. Each time, such moves have proven to be extremely short sighted and pushed us further into chaos. Ziaul Haq’s use of religion to recruit for the Afghan war brought drugs, guns, and extremism into our own society which continues to plague us. Musharraf’s double-dealing with the Americans by providing safe havens for Al-Qaeda affiliated groups in our tribal areas backfired. Earlier this year, a few anti-establishment bloggers were unlawfully abducted allegedly by state agencies. When public pressure for their release mounted, they were falsely accused of blasphemy to justify their detention. Such a hysteria around blasphemy was generated that a violent mob lynched Mashal Khan over false allegation a few months later in an unrelated incident. Every action of the state has deep consequences for the society as people learn about what is acceptable through the actions of the state apparatus. If the state uses religious bigotry to reach its objectives, citizens will adopt these tools to settle their own scores leading the country to chaos. We can only hope that sense prevails on all sides and religious sentiments are not aroused for petty politics. Otherwise, these toxic songs will spew such destruction that the social fabric of this country will be torn beyond repair. The writer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Cleveland State University. He can be reached at email@example.com. His twitter handle is @RamblingSufi Published in Daily Times, October 16th 2017.