Mashal Khan and a disappointing verdict

Pakistan stands today as a country where young men go off to university and never come back. Where they risk being gunned down not by terrorists. But their fellow classmates. And where religious parties protest the convictions of those with blood on their hands. It’s also a country were swift justice is often preferred over the long-drawn out version.

This explains why many have seemingly accepted the verdict in the Mashal Khan murder case. An anti-terrorism court (ATC) this week sentenced the man who pulled the trigger on the journalism student well known for his progressive views and independence of thought. Indeed, one month or so after the incident, Imran Sultan Mohammed told the BBC — as he sat in Mardan Central Jail along with the more than 50 other suspects involved in the prolonged and brutal lynching — that he didn’t regret any of his actions that day. Five more have been sentenced to life; with 25 facing just three-years in prison. And, perhaps, most shocking of all: 26 have been acquitted due to insubstantial evidence.

We, for our part, don’t believe justice has been fully served. Which is why we wholeheartedly support Iqbal Khan’s pledge to approach the higher judiciary to appeal these exculpations to ‘honour’ his son. For as one rights activist has accurately pointed out: the 26 who have been let off scot-free are in no way innocent. Not when they have been seen celebrating their release by glorifying and encouraging violence; while vowing to do the same all over again. The only positive development is that the KP government is now planning to contest the acquittals.

For true justice to be delivered there has to be collective responsibility; and one which goes beyond holding the university administration and police to account, though this is also vitally important. The Chairman of the Journalism and Mass Communications department in the immediate aftermath of Mashal’s brutal murder — when asked who should be held to account over students holding such extremist views that made them think it acceptable to violently take the life of another — admitted the failure was on the part of the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan (AWKUM) as well as the entire Pakistani education, social and political systems. In this, at least, he is right. For as long as our schools are filled with hate material there will be no respite. Similarly, as long as mainstream (religious) political parties like Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F), insist that blasphemy was committed (regardless of police findings) and say that this is suffice to warrant ‘murder’ the cycle of bigotry will forever repeat itself.

Indeed, the JUI-F and other likeminded parties that today plan to hold a rally protesting the ATC convictions need to ask themselves this: whether their utter disregard for the law and due process is, in reality, compatible with their participation in the electoral process. We don’t think that it is. And we would urge the Election Commission to arrive at the same conclusion.  *

Published in Daily Times, February 9th 2018.