When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting for their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. – Wendell Berry The dream of being free has captured the human imagination from times immemorial, and is likely to continue doing so ad infinitum. Will we ever manage to be free of the burdens that we carry, or will we take them all to our final resting place? While these burdens are virtually integral to the life that we live on this planet, their weight increases manifold if one were doing so in a country like Pakistan where, on the one hand, everything except human life grows costlier and, on the other hand, because of attenuating factors, surviving through it all could be the most daunting task. And it is not just poverty and deprivation that I am talking about. It could also be suffering at the hands of laws which are not justifiable when measured; on the scales of equality and equity, justness and fairness, tolerance and humaneness. These laws were enacted by the parliament and have been repeatedly upheld by the courts. But, most importantly, these have been promulgated in deference to the wishes of the people, who are indoctrinated in the annals of prejudice and hate, rather than kindness and benevolence. So rabid has been this indoctrination that a former governor, Salman Taseer, and a former federal minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, who dared speak for the underprivileged cast on the wrong side of a law perpetuating religious intolerance, and who upheld the need for justice in cases involving blatant discrimination, were brutally eliminated by fanatics So rabid has been this indoctrination that a former governor, Salman Taseer, and a former federal minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, who dared speak for the underprivileged cast on the wrong side of a law perpetuating religious intolerance, and who upheld the need for justice in cases involving blatant discrimination, were brutally eliminated by fanatics. There have been numerous other instances of vigilante justice meted out to people who were perceived to have fallen out of the rigid parameters drawn by the merchants of religion, separating the believers from the errant lot who did not measure up to these ‘holy’ demarcations. Aasia Bibi’s case remains a pertinent challenge as also an opportunity for the state, most notably its judiciary, to come good on establishing the cardinal principle of equality of all as citizens and the justness of its laws. The need for the state to be seen as fair and non-partisan as against being brutal and discriminatory is paramount. This was never more important than now while living through the current trying times – a phase that is likely to worsen in the days to come. The ground realities suggest that we may actually be moving in the opposite direction – towards further regression. The recent example of Dr Atif Mian’s inclusion as a member of the Economic Affairs Committee (EAC) and the later retraction by the government under pressure from the ultra-right, spearheaded by the likes of Khadim Rizvi, is a case in point. A state must confront the reality that, if it forfeits its responsibility of ensuring equal treatment for all its citizens, it would also forfeit its right to rule. It would be reduced to becoming a skeleton shorn of legitimacy and moral basis to be an arbiter of justice. For much too long Aasia Bibi has languished in the dungeons of darkness and uncertainty. For much too long her family, has been routinely subjected to unbearable insults and threats. She was accused to having committed blasphemy back in 2009, by a group of farm workers and sentenced to death by the district court in 2010. Having remained incarcerated since then, her appeal has now been heard by the Supreme Court and the judgment reserved. In the meanwhile, there has been a spate of threats hurled at people and institutions alike that the death sentence must be upheld and Aasia Bibi executed for having committed a crime,which she says she never did. There are grave discrepancies in the statements of the witnesses and serious questions of law were not debated during the course of the trial. This may not be the last case for measuring the justness of a law, which has attracted severe international criticism for being starkly discriminatory. Justice cannot be meted out on the basis of statements of a few who are extremely vulnerable at the hands of the local thugs and the religious zealots. Also, with limited expertise and wherewithal available with investigating institutions to find the truth, the very need of such laws, which sow seeds of division and hate among various sections of the society, is called into question. Blasphemy law has never been able to free itself, from the tag of discrimination. It is so and it’ll remain so. In a society which is divided along multiple fault lines, the sagacity and wisdom of promulgating a law which is bound to create further discord is questionable. Though there has yet been no instance of executing the capital punishment in any of the blasphemy cases regarding which the courts have given their judgments, there have been numerous cases of administering vigilante justice to the alleged perpetrators of blasphemy. Some cases of the accused having been murdered while undergoing incarceration have also been reported in the past and, in all likelihood, these instances may continue to happen in the future also. While there is a need for ensuring justice in the case of Aasia Bibi, as also in other such cases which may be pending before the courts, the state must seriously look into repealing a law which has been a factor of sowing dissension and disaffection among people and also attracting increasing international censure. For Pakistan to take steps on the road to genuine progress, it must begin by breaking the shackles of regression and disallowing religion from being used as an instrument for securing political gains. One’s personal faith being no matter of the state, as enunciated by the Quaid in his speech of August 11, 1947, it must take urgent steps for the attainment of the ideals as enshrined therein and turn Pakistan into a liberal, tolerant, humane and egalitarian entity. No pit is deep enough for the state to hide the guilt and shame of being unjust. There is a serious need to look inwards and correct the wrongs that we have done through decades, the repeal of the blasphemy law being just one of them. We must take the path towards harnessing the national potential rather than bloodying it and spreading its ashes over vast stretches of an increasingly parched land. The writer is a political and security strategist, and heads the Regional Peace Institute – an Islamabad-based think-tank. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @RaoofHasan Published in Daily Times, October 16th 2018.