Opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman seeks to blame incident on ‘state inaction’ against individuals accused of blasphemy
Defense Minister Pervez Khattak on Sunday sought to dampen outrage over the heinous mob lynching of a Sri Lankan national in Sialkot, claiming such murders occur when young people get emotional and are not linked to “any other actions.”
During a press interaction in Peshawar, he was asked about any potential links between the Sialkot lynching and the government’s decision to end a ban on the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan political party after it rioted across Punjab, killing at least nine policemen. Khattak, in response, said there were no links between the two situations.
“You know the reasons [behind the lynching],” he said, implying it was not motivated by religion, but rather personal enmity. “When children grow up, they become spirited and do things out of emotions. This does not mean this was the result of that action [to end ban on TLP],” he said, adding that the “sudden” lynching had been a result of “some young men” gathering and accusing victim Priyantha Kumara of disrespecting Islam.
Claiming that he too could commit “something wrong” when in a state of heightened emotions, he urged media against positing that this meant “Pakistan was heading toward destruction.”
To a follow-up question on whether this meant the minister believed the murders of policemen during the TLP riots were a result of “heightened emotions”, Khattak asserted that young men were “ready to do anything” and only learn how to moderate their response with age. “So this happens among youth, fights take place and even murders. [Does] this mean it is the government’s fault?” he said, adding that the media should stop placing all blame on the government and fix the “mindsets” itself.
“Why don’t you change this mindset? Your anchors should come on TV and make the children understand religion. You only take advertisements and earn money,” he said, seeking to wash the government’s hands off the incident.
Khattak’s statement has drawn widespread scorn amidst nationwide outrage over the mob lynching of Priyantha Kumara over blasphemy allegations. After torturing him to death, the mob of hundreds burnt his body, with the prime instigators brazenly telling local media they had targeted the foreigner because he had “insulted” Islam. The suspects’ citing of a slogan of the TLP had linked the group to the crime, but it has since condemned it and demanded legal action for the perpetrators.
Fazl blames state
Meanwhile, even as the vast majority of opposition leaders have issued unequivocal condemnations of the horrifying events in Sialkot, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam President Maulana Fazlur Rehman alleged that state inaction on blasphemy allegations was to blame for such incidents.
“The incident in Sialkot is reprehensible and shameful. There should be a comprehensive investigation. However, if the state does not take action against those accused of blasphemy, then such incidents will continue to happen,” he said in a posting on his Twitter account, adding that similar public outrage had resulted from “government-sponsored fugitives accused of blasphemy.” He reiterated a narrative of the “international establishment” conspiring against Pakistan’s ulema through such incidents.
Senior PMLN leader Ahsan Iqbal, whose party is in an alliance with Fazl in the Pakistan Democratic Movement, urged the JUIF leader to not place any conditions on his condemnation. “With due respect, Maulana Sahib, such incidents should be unconditionally condemned as Islam does not allow such fanaticism and illegal killings by mobs in any case,” he said on Twitter. “The nation expects religious scholars to guide them in such matters,” he added.
Similarly, PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar stressed that there should be no qualifications when issuing condemnations to such incidents. “Maulana Fazlur Rehman Sahib is a respectable figure but, on this occasion, he should have condemned the Sialkot tragedy by taking a stand in blunt and clear words instead of using ifs and buts,” he wrote on Twitter.
Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain commended Khokhar and Iqbal for their censure of Fazl, stressing that the incident had been shameful for all of Pakistan. “The way everyone condemned the incident is commendable,” he said, adding that he hoped the moderate residents of the country would all unite in condemning the lynching.