In Pakistan, it is seldom that a person has a feeling that things may actually be headed in the right direction. Fleeting that it proved to be, one rejoicedin a feeling of initial goodness! The acquittal of Aasia Bibi by the Supreme Court presented that rare moment when one dared say that a realisation may finally have sunk in that the state had allowed far too much wrong to be perpetrated by relinquishing its responsibility as a just arbiter. The landmark decision could have been that first drop of rain that this parched land has hungered for. Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman, had been accused of blasphemy by her co-workers as a sequel to a quarrel while picking berries in a farm. She was sentenced to death by the Sessions Court which was upheld by the Lahore High Court. After having appealed before the Supreme Court, she languished in the death cell for over eight years before the three-member bench pronounced that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt and, therefore, Aasia Bibi should be freed immediately. In his separate concurring note, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa captured the true essence of the judgment: “Blasphemy is a serious offence, but the insult to the appellant’s religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party, and then mixing truth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), was also not short of being blasphemous”. Being “more sinned against than sinning” is mostly the case in matters of litigation initiated in the name of religion. In their exaggerated zest to be recognised as the righteous — a mindset which is indoctrinated from a very early age onwards, and which most of the impressionable youth become wedded to irremediably — the diehard adherents of a certain faith fail to understand that being just to the followers of other religions is integral to the spirit of all religious teachings. This guideline was enunciated by the Quaid in his speech of August 11. Speaking from the floor of the first constituent assembly, he set forth the direction he wanted the newly-born state to take. One’s religion or faith, he said, had nothing to do with matters of the state and everyone was free to visit their places of worship in accordance with their beliefs and practices. But, all that one thought Pakistan had gained through this landmark judgement was lost in the subsequent three days of the state suffering from severe epileptic fits. A guilty state nurtures regression and weakness. When it negotiates with the religious zealots from that position, it legitimises them. It legitimises their distortion of religion and its teachings. It legitimises their expletives and sedition. It legitimises their evocations to rebellion. It legitimises their violence, vandalism, loot and carnage In the agreement signed with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the state relinquished its position as the guardian of all its citizens and institutions without exception. It ceded to the blackmail of TLP goons who had held the country hostage through acts of loot, arson and violence. Instead of establishing its writ by dealing with these perpetrators in accordance with laws as contained in the constitution, the government preferred to negotiate a deal that belittled the authority and stature of the state. This contrasted alarmingly with the Prime Minister’s speech where he had dissuaded the people from taking on the state and warned of action against those instigating violence. The reported agreement with the bigot brigade reflects an inglorious capitulation of the state. Understandably, those arrested during the course of the reign of terror unleashed by the goons of TLP will be freed. What of the death threats hurled at heads of various institutions? What of the abominable provocations to rebellion? What of the violence and damage to public and private properties? What of holding the country hostage? And, most important of all, now that the state has ceded before these zealots, what is the guarantee that they will not do this again? Marred by widespread loot and arson perpetrated by the bigot brigade against the SC judgement, this moment comes with another kind of pain. Aasia Bibi may be a free woman today, but she has no place to live in Pakistan as an equal citizen like everyone else. This is not the first time that an alleged blasphemer is being hunted by the followers of extremist religious fabrications. Granted that capital punishment has not been implemented so far in case of any of the alleged blasphemers, scores of them have been eliminated in acts of vigilante justice meted out by the religious fanatics. By not taking immediate action against the criminals provoking rebellion, which fell within the domain of sedition, the state became complicit with the crime. Further, by seeking to talk to the bigot brigade, the state showed weakness which these zealots will continue to exploit to their advantage. This, indeed, is a real moment of reckoning and the position that the state has taken will leave an indelible mark on what it may or may not be able to do in the future. This act of indescribable weakness, nay surrender, is virtually tantamount to belittling the state before this abhorrent band of inveterate criminals who work by regressive and degenerate methods to lead people to violence. Intolerance presents the real challenge that Pakistan faces today, and it is not an easy one. This diseased mindset has been cultivated over seven decades of misrule and may take many more than seven decades to begin giving way — that is, if an earnest effort were initiated at all with the belief that it had to be remedied irrespective of challenges. It is a patent reality that Pakistan and this intolerant mindset cannot coexist. The state has to decide whether it seeks to exterminate this crass negativity by taking effective measures, or it would opt to regress to a point of virtual extinction. I wrote in one of my pieces a couple of weeks ago: “No pit is deep enough for the state to hide the guilt and shame of being unjust”. A guilty state nurtures regression and weakness. When it negotiates with the religious zealots from that position, it legitimises them. It legitimises their distortion of religion and its teachings. It legitimises their expletives and sedition. It legitimises their evocations to rebellion. It legitimises their violence, vandalism, loot and carnage. The state should have acted with resolve to nip the evil. By negotiating to surrender before the goons, it has laid the foundations of continued regressive onslaught dripping profusely in the blood of religiosity which, in time, will drive it to forfeiting its right to exist. Then, the deluge! The writer is a political and security strategist, and heads the Regional Peace Institute — an Islamabad-based think-tank. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Raoof Hasan Published in Daily Times, November 6th 2018.