In Pakistan, the institutions that have remained above legitimate criticism since our inception are those that do not want to hear the bitter truth. This bitter truth is a story of oppression, denial of fundamental rights and the endorsement of a bigoted and warped religious narrative that has eaten away at the core of what constitutes any civilized society. It is unfortunate that Pakistan today continues to have skewed priorities. The entire idea of “national interest” has been constructed according to a flawed assessment of potential security risks and factors for long-term stability. Take for instance the treatment meted out to human rights activists in the country (bloggers, members of the PTM, critical voices within academia), and contrast that with the glorification of and capitulation to hate-preachers and radicals. Manzoor Pashteen, who has never threatened the State or called for the execution of the judges of the highest court of the land, is seen as a national security problem, while Khadim Rizvi and the TLP are seen as disillusioned citizens who deserve the State’s patience and use of carrots over sticks to satisfy their demands, which happen to be in violation of the Constitution and the country’s penal laws. But enough has been written on this count by myself and others and the objective of this piece is to focus on some underlying concerns that the State must address, while “firefighting” (as the Minister for Information put it) against radical elements. If one examines the evolution of the international legal system, from the Westphalian conception of the State to the development of a human rights-oriented international polity, one would reasonably conclude that even in times of public emergency, where the life of a nation is under threat, there are certain rights so fundamental that no derogation from them can be permitted. These rights include the right to life, which contains a prohibition against the arbitrary deprivation of life; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;the right to recognition as a person before the law; and the right not to be tortured or subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This is supported inter alia by one of the leading human rights instruments, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Pakistan on 23 June 2010. The tragedy of the State of Pakistan is that its own politicians and military elite have contributed to the fire that encircles us today. Actively endorsed and perpetuated by the State through its refusal to amend discriminatory laws, investigate and punish hate speech and violence against minorities The Human Rights Committee, which is the monitoring mechanism for implementation of the ICCPR, has emphasized, in General Comment No. 31, the duty of States parties to exercise due diligence in preventing, punishing and investigating instances of arbitrary deprivation of life. In fact, where States fail to exercise such due diligence, even where the violation in question is carried out by non-state actors, liability for the State can arise as a consequence of a breach of the ICCPR. The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, Ahmed Shaheed, produced a report on 28 February 2018, which aptly stated: “The full realization of equality, including with respect to the exercise of freedom of religion or belief, requires States to move beyond tackling ‘formal discrimination’ to achieving ‘substantive equality’.” Examining the case of Pakistan, it is clear that our Constitution and Penal Code provide for institutionalized discrimination against minorities — so there is certainly “formal discrimination” by the State in the first place. Additionally, on the level of “substantive discrimination”, what is required to eliminate this is proactive State engagement in countering “the conditions and attitudes which cause or perpetuate substantive or de facto discrimination”. While equal treatment “is not synonymous with identical treatment”, as the report clarifies,it does entail efforts on the part of the State to secure the rights of religious minorities to profess and manifest their religion. With the recent nation-wide violent protests by the TLP, one thing became crystal clear, even to those who had previously maintained delusions to the contrary: for decades now, the State has endorsed bigoted and intolerant right-wing elements that have, year by year, transformed the country into a graveyard for minorities (Muslim minority sects included). The State has been complicit in the rampant persecution of minorities in Pakistan, which regularly goes unpunished. The recent example of lacking action against TLP leaders for engaging in hate speech and inciting violence against Aasia Bibi, and anyone even remotely associated with her case, is just one prominent example, among many, that has gone unchecked. It is then no surprise that the blasphemy law itself is used as a tool to persecute minorities with. When crimes as heinous as the burning down of over 100 houses belonging to Christians in BadamiBagh are not followed up with strong condemnations and even stronger punitive action against perpetrators, it is no wonder that members of the Christian community are forced to flee the country just to be able to breathe. The tragedy of the State of Pakistan is that its own politicians and military elite have contributed to the fire that encircles us today. Anyone who dares to raise their voice to condemn the targeting of minorities is labelled a “blasphemer”, a narrative actively endorsed and perpetuated by the State through its refusal to amend discriminatory laws, investigate and punish hate speech and violence against minorities, and take an unequivocal stance, in words and practice, against those who thrive off igniting and re-igniting the flames that will one day burn the entire country to ashes if we continue on as we have. This is the first time in our history where, for better or for worse, our military and civilian leadership seem to be on very good terms with one another. Therefore, the responsibility on both sides to finally address this situation is higher than it has ever been before. When the last government tried to lean on the military to control the monster it had fed, the former was rather impolitely shut down. There is no excuse today for this government’s inaction. If certain elements in the corridors of power (civilian or military) are still intent on backing these radicals, it is about time they be exposed and overruled. Tough decisions are just that: if the road was easy, we could have crossed it much earlier but it’s not and it is only going to become increasingly difficult if we delay the inevitable. The writer is a lawyer Published in Daily Times, November 20th 2018.