Bane of ‘Street Jihadists’

20 Apr 2017
20 April 2017


Pakistan was rattled by a mob lynching incident in a university last week. A student, Mashal Khan was killed by a violent mob of extremists at the campus of Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, Pakistan, on Thursday, April 13, 2017. The extremist students, who also made it a point to record the lynching in a video, alleged that the victim had committed blasphemy.


The blasphemy law has been used countless of times in Pakistan to punish those with a dissenting view. And if we want to know why Mashal Khan was killed, we have to go back and look at the murder of the governor of the biggest province of Pakistan – Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Or maybe we have to go back in history and see why a Christian woman, Asia bibi was incarcerated under Article 295c of the Pakistan Penal Code. Perhaps we must go back even further, and look at the life of the dictator who enacted the law which now allows every tom, dick and Harriet to settle their score with anybody and everybody who possesses a nice shop; has refused to let go of their share in the property, or who will not let their daughter be exploited.


However, none of that will work now. Even digging into the colonial ashes of the British Raj will not fix what has been done. Education, which was considered a medicine to treat all ills of the society, will not work either. For Mashal Khan was murdered inside a university by students who were allegedly incited to commit this hate crime by the university management. It is now not even a ‘madrasas are the breeding grounds of extremism’ debate.


The bright student was killed not just by the extremist students of the Abdul Wali Khan University, it was instigated by the lecturers and management. He was also lynched by the collective callousness of the Pakistani society. As evidence is now piling up, the university management along with lecturer’s involvement was knee deep in the conspiracy to kill Mashal who dared to ask for students’ rights and raised a voice against the university managers’ corruption and nepotism. A society that considers questioning as a sin; a society that feels criticism is tantamount to treachery; and the society that labels thinkers as blasphemers cannot progress. For criticism is what enables people and societies to fix their problems and move beyond tribalism. But societies do not act in isolation. Administrators and law enforcers and those who must protect the very foundations of a nation are also accomplices in maintaining tribalism. Inaction and apathy to criticism, and instead aggression and violence against those who criticise on the state level, are also responsible for fanning public vigilantes, be it in Faisalabad or Karachi.


Historically, instead of supporting a victim, the state has blamed the victim. Politicians will have to get out of their comfort zones and take decisions to curb this streak of ‘street jihadism’ that not only challenges the writ of the state, but also makes any human life redundant in the face of an archaic law. Mashal Khan is not the first mob lynching victim of this country. There are countless cases which did not get reported over the years, especially before the privatisation of media and social media penetration. And his case might not be the last one either if the establishment continues to harbour its strategic assets that have now started to get back at Frankenstein.  Electronic, print and social media, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, all have an abundance of Pakistani ideologues spreading hatred against women, minority groups, intellectuals, and bloggers who challenge the national narrative. The recent disappearance of bloggers is evidence where the state of Pakistan stands in terms of curbing extremism versus curbing dissenting voices.


Under these circumstances, it is not a wonder that Mashal was killed in the name of blasphemy to help the administration of the Abdul Wali Khan University get rid of a tiresome student. Mashal was an aware student, a rarity among the few thousands of barely privileged individuals of this country who can access higher education. He was conscious and did not want the future to belong to the gun-wielding goons. And that was his sin.


Pakistan is a hotbed of terrorists and extremists, that is what the world tells those living in the terror-stricken country. And on the other hand, it is the favourite investment destination because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, that is what the government of the Islamic Republic tells its subjects. Mashal’s murder is testimony that perhaps the world is right. The government must pay heed.  For this cash strapped country, it is now imperative to look at the root cause of terrorism, extremism, and rampant corruption, be it moral or financial. Reigning in a mindset is a far more difficult task compared to redesigning textbooks and building a progressive international narrative about a conducive business environment.


If the government of Pakistan wants to portray a positive image across the global community, it has to rethink its foreign policy. The security agencies must provide enough evidence to the judiciary for prosecuting terror outfits as well as their humanitarian wings that perpetrate far more destruction amid the grassroots and the urban elite. Or else, this ‘street jihadism’ will soon reach the house, putting to rest all the tall claims of the powers that be.