Let’s play with fire today.

Asghar Khan in a narrative under the heading of ‘Our Finest hour’ in his book ‘My Political Struggle’ urges the reader that the response to the earthquake of 2005 is an indication that Pakistanis are still human—human at heart.

I do not agree with him.

One of the finest and most articulate Pakistani columnist ever to voice his frustrations in the form of written prose, Ardeshir Cowasjee, bade farewell to his readers in the following words: “Now, old at 85, tired, and disillusioned with a country that just cannot pull itself together in any way and get on with life in this day and age, I have decided to call it a day.”

Him, I agree with.

In the Pakistani setting, pessimism and realism are but two sides of the same coin. The biggest problem for this country is its fetish to sweep its woes and ills under the carpet while adamantly believing in ludicrous mirages that numb its hurt. We as a nation have defined our strengths as surviving the turmoil that is a Pakistani life. Every day survived becomes an emblem. Every person lost becomes a statistic.

Let me quote another statistic: Almost 4 years ago, 2nd March 2011, a man was killed, sprayed with bullets that did more than simply pierce his skin; the ammunition intimidated and eventually silenced the voice of reason. The man was Shahbaz Bhatti, Minorities Minister of Pakistan. He had foretold his death many times. Like his stance against the draconian laws that plague the Pakistani constitution, he was right. The assassins almost certainly did not see fear in his eyes at his last moments. They probably saw equanimity; maybe even a contented capitulation. Shabaz Bhatti must have spoken to his lord in his last moments for after all, between his driver who did not steer away and evade the attacks, and the assassins, Jesus was definitely the most ‘human’ presence there with him.

His is a tale of history, swept under the carpet and forgotten by everyone. Let’s be realistic: he was less ‘Pakistani’ than you and I, after all, the country was founded for our faith not his, right? The most we do is melt candles and dedicate our social profiles to their tributes for a day or two. That’s about it. Minorities might not be aliens but for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, they are as alien as it gets.

In Cowasjee’s interpretation of ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’, Shahbaz Bhatti would have been alive today. He would have been a hero for challenging laws that undermined the true essence of not only the religious foundations of the belief system of the majority but also the reason d’être of the country’s existence. He would have been praised for cleansing the hoi poloi of their biases and recognizing the importance of simply being human at heart. In this Pakistan, the majority would have risen up to support him, advocating his belief of religious freedom and social equality. The grounds would have rattled at the march of protestors, men and women alike, who’d shun the powers that protected the Blasphemy law, engendered bigotry and spread intolerance within the society. A saner and safer society would have existed in such a Pakistan. Jinnah’s Pakistan hence, would have been, if nothing else, more human.

But all this is fictitious so let’s not waste time on dreams that seem laughable to realize. Jinnah’s Pakistan is long gone and in its place stands a country that is hollow, scared, and very selfish. It’s a country where emotions justify murder. It’s a country that relates the protection of the Blasphemy law with the protection of a religion literally meaning peace. Such are the times we live in, such is this country.

Shabaz Bhatti’s arguments were simple: The Blasphemy laws had to be amended not because of what they sought to target but because of the ambiguity in their implementation. These laws, he argued, gave way to vigilantism and accusations derived out of vengeance. They restricted the freedom to speak one’s mind, to converse and to debate. They allowed the ‘faithful’ to use the holier than thou narrative as justification for the exploitation of the ‘unfaithful’. They made the accused, almost always non-muslims, vulnerable to emotion driven retaliations. They made the minorities of Pakistan feel exposed and unprotected. The laws had to be altered to ensure that they weren’t manipulated for one’s selfish pursuits. The laws had to do more than simply control defiling and defamation of the religious entities, they had to protect the minorities from those of the majority who were bent upon eliminating them from the precinct of the great Pakistani nation.

His arguments ofcourse stand on sound ground. Lawyers such as Babar Sattar and Saroop Ijaz have written endlessly about the need for these amendments in a wide array of publications. They’ve pointed out that the accused in such cases are at the behest of the accusers and the whole trial is based on the strength of the accusations. All that really matters hence is the quantity and confidence of the ‘witnesses’ against the accused, a simple case of one’s word against another. The accused can protest denial but then again, who really knows the workings of the mind? In such murky circumstances, the benefit of the doubt, in all absurdity, is given to the witnesses and the accused is promised a trip to the gallows.

Four years down the road, the laws remain as they were, making Shabaz Bhatti’s sacrifice futile. The liberals too have mellowed down their insistence of the said amendments and who can blame them? The religious right that nurtures itself on dogmas seems to have won this bout and has reminded those who listen, to recognize its influence.

This is the real Pakistan: A country where it is justified to kill out of sheer discontentment, to accuse others out of vengeance and to destroy the lives of generations. The fact that laws complement the said chaos shows how deep we are in the quicksand of our destruction.