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Will Blasphemy Continue to Swing Pakistan Between Diplomacy and Aggression?

Will Blasphemy Continue to Swing Pakistan Between Diplomacy and Aggression?

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One very powerful mullah, a hellishly determined Dutch politician, and a just-sworn-in Prime Minister still learning the ropes – put them together, and you have a riot on the streets of Pakistan as well as a potential diplomatic fall-out with Netherland. At this point in the story, mostly everyone has declared their stance. Conservative religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), which was heading the protests probably had the most drastic outlook of them all:

“We can be martyred or arrested, but we will not return until either the cartoon contest is stopped or the Dutch envoy is expelled.” 

And of course, the incident is used to prove there is “nothing new in Naya Pakistan”.

The fuss started when Geert Wilders, the leader of a major Dutch political party, Party for Freedom, announced he would be directing a cartoon contest (with Prophet Muhammad as its subject) to be held in November. This isn’t the first time this particular politician has targeted Muslims’ sensitivities. He must have known what kind of reaction his project would incite, seeing as Muslims hold the Prophet in the highest possible esteem – but he went ahead with it anyway, perhaps because he knew what would happen.

However, the justification provided by Wilders for initiating such an idea was that he saw ‘freedom of speech was under threat’ and ‘critics were being silenced’. The sanctity of freedom of speech was exactly the point Dutch PM Mark Rutte recently also used to excuse Wilders’ actions. 

The fact is, it isn’t surprising at all to see that thousands of Pakistanis have already held protest campaigns in Lahore and as of yesterday, had taken them to Islamabad as well. To the contrary, it would be shocking if no action had been taken. Here in Pakistan, the sin of blasphemy transcends all others in severity – whether it be murder, rape, or human rights violations:

Naturally, the issue is also being considered a priority by the government. A trending concern amongst the Pakistani public and a point of interest internationally as well is this:

How well will Khan handle the pressure? 

Khan’s blatant condemnation of the contest, the way he has implored foreign parties to understand the depth of feeling in Pakistan relating to this issue, and the stated goal to involve the OIC and UN, seemed to be indications of an attempt to exercise impactful yet careful diplomacy. However, it was here that the tug of war between the government and the highly charged religious sect began.

There is a very real concern as to the extent of power Khadim Rizvi is able to wield.

How long would have Imran Khan allowed for this to continue is a question that although irrelevant now, is still an important one. Wilders announced that he is cancelling the contest. Everyone is lauding Khan for taking a stand for Muslims at world-over. Can we really take the lead in the Muslim world like this when under the same teachings of Islam, minorities suffer back home? Moreover, is Khan capable of asserting himself amidst Khadim Rizvi’s dominating leadership? Particularly when the latter has the ability to bring Pakistan to a standstill? Furthermore, just how much of a hard line will he be able to take in the future, considering the decades-old, undefeated prevalence of this self-appointed, TLP-led blasphemy court in Pakistan?

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