With tensions between India and Pakistan rising, I couldn’t help but notice how many people on my Facebook were more than willing to go to the borders and fight for Pakistan. Countless posts about how these individuals would embrace martyrdom for their country poured in. Seeing these posts, an outsider would have thought what a foolishly brave nation we are. It seemed, during that time, that Pakistanis don’t fear anything. Fast forward a few days, on Thursday the 13th of October, I realized that we aren’t ‘brave’ at all. We are cowards who maintain a façade of bravery. While we want to go fight ‘the enemy’ at the borders, we fail to fight numerous enemies within; religious extremists being the biggest enemy of all.
Thursday the 13th of October could have been a monumental victory for Pakistan had the Supreme Court heard Asia Bibi’s case and freed her from the unjust torment she has been subjected to for 6 years. A woman, whose only crime was to drink from the same cup her Muslim counterparts drank from, has spent 6 years away from her children after receiving a death sentence.
Salmaan Taseer stated that Aasia Bibi would most likely be pardoned if the High Court did not suspend the sentence. The then president, Asif Ali Zardari was poised to grant pardon but Lahore High Court issued a stay order against potential Presidential pardon. It is pertinent to mention that this stay order remains in force even now.
Since 2010, this woman has been trying to get freedom and to avoid getting punished for a crime she hasn’t committed. Even in prison, she is under constant threat of getting murdered by other inmates or even prison guards. On 13th October, 2016, her case was to be heard in court but Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman, told the court he had to recuse himself, claiming a conflict of interest, "I was a part of the bench that was hearing the case of Salmaan Taseer, and this case is related to that," he told the court. This ‘conflict of interest’ came very conveniently at a time when Lal Masjid warned the government of ‘serious consequences’ if Aasia Bibi was released. The “Shuhada Foundation”, which was formed after the security forces raided the Lal Masjid in 2007, said its supporters would take to the streets and will not allow the government to function if Aasia was released.
Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman’s refusal to hear the case has shown us that fighting religious extremism is just a claim we make. The anti-mullah rhetoric is something restricted to social media pages and conferences held in five star hotels. When it comes to taking a stand where it matters, we back out. This isn’t surprising given that Pakistan has a history of failing to stand against the ‘Mullahs’. Even Bhutto, the self-proclaimed champion of liberalism, took some ridiculous steps to please the Mullahs including the expulsion of the Ahmaddiya community from Islam. Sad as it is, no matter how much we say we want a progressive Pakistan, we fail to speak up against religious fanatics when it matters most.
On social media, I couldn’t help but notice people sympathizing with Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman. There were countless arguments saying he must have been under immense pressure, that his family must have been receiving threats and so on. While there’s no denying the fact that he must have been under great pressure, one can’t help but think what would happen if every individual backed out from doing the right thing if pressurized. If this is the standard being set, then why do people create such a fuss if a murderer from a rich and powerful family is freed by court? Rich and powerful families are known to threaten judges into giving favourable decisions. Why is no such sympathy present for those judges then?
The sad truth is that we, as a nation, are cowards. We do not want to be the ones taking a bullet for speaking the truth. We dare not question a law that takes the lives of innocent people to ‘protect’ an all powerful entity. It is sad that many people know the adverse effects of this law yet remain silent because they fear saying something that may land them in hell. As long as we don’t go to hell in the hereafter, we don’t mind making life for innocent people like Aasia Bibi a living hell. There must have been many, who would have been relieved at the Supreme Court’s decision to indefinitely adjourn Aasia Bibi’s case since nobody wants to deal with religious extremists coming out on the streets and disturbing our perfect lives. So, while Justice Iqbal finally sits at home in peace, while we go on without our daily routines getting affected, a woman sits in an isolated corner in a prison, wondering how she could possibly have offended God in a way that she has been condemned to such a fate.