When the murderer Mumtaz Qadri’s funeral was held in Islamabad, tens of thousands of people travelled to the city to attend it. At the time there was a very real concern that the event could become a pretext for Qadri’s devotees, the organisations that supported him, and even elements of some mainstream political parties, to spread their version of Islam’s message of peace through violence and intimidation. This did not ultimately come to pass, although the fear had been sufficient to warrant a blanket ban on media coverage of the funeral, as well as the deployment of massive amounts of security in the capital city.

Perhaps nothing captures what is wrong with Pakistan more than the contrast between Qadri’s funeral and that of Mashal Khan, the student who was murdered by a frenzied mob on the campus of Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan after being accused of blasphemy. The few images of Khan’s funeral that have been circulating on social media show a sparsely attended event marred by the deranged exhortations of a local cleric who, in addition to refusing to lead the funeral prayers, reportedly used his mosque’s loudspeaker to warn residents against participating in the proceedings. For the cleric in question, the logic at work was simple; Mashal Khan had been accused of blasphemy and had therefore gotten what he deserved. The fact that there was no evidence to support the accusations that had been made, and that an innocent young man had been unlawfully killed by a mob of vigilantes, appeared to be of little consequence.

From all accounts, Mashal Khan was a bright young man with a promising future, possessing the kind of critical mind that has become an increasingly rare attribute in the Land of the Pure. His death is a crime and a tragedy, and a damning indictment of the system hate and intolerance that has been cynically built and reinforced by the opportunists who hold power in this country. Reports of how he was killed, and video footage of the murder, shows hundreds of enraged students singling out and attacking Mashal Khan with complete and utter impunity in full view of a police officers who refused to intervene in any meaningful way, either out of fear or, more chillingly, complicity. While some two dozen FIRs have reportedly been filed against the main perpetrators of the attack, past precedent suggests that murder in the name of God will be met with the mercy of the state and its institutions. It also seems reasonable to assume that little or no action will be taken against the craven elements of the university administration and local police who refused to intervene in the matter when their actions could have saved Mashal Khan’s life.

In the wake of the attack Imran Khan, whose PTI heads the KP government, decried the attack and the entire notion of mob justice. Pervaiz Khattak, the chief minister of the province, vowed that action would be taken to make sure atrocities of this kind were never repeated. However, it is impossible to not wonder if these men realise how hollow their words sound. After all, Khattak was quick to clarify that action needed to be taken since no evidence had been found to suggest Mashal Khan committed blasphemy, thereby implying that had such evidence been found, the subsequent lynching would have been perfectly understandable, if not acceptable. Similarly, in the months leading up to Mashal Khan’s death, the PTI was at the forefront of attempts to ‘normalise’ and ‘mainstream’ the pernicious ideology of openly militant and sectarian ‘religious’ organisations by showering them with large sums of money (in the case of the Darul Aloom Haqqania) or ‘consulting’ them for input into the province’s education policy (as was the case when representatives of the PTI met with members of the ASWJ in 2015). Indeed, the PTI’s history of public pronouncements in support of some of Pakistan’s most dogmatic religious ideologues has been cemented by joint rallies and local electoral rallies with the ASWJ.

Of course, it would be unfair to single the PTI out in this fashion. After all, the PML-N itself has fine form in this regard. Entering into seat-adjustment pacts with militant religious organizations has long been one of the main tools in the party’s electoral toolkit, and matters have certainly not been helped in the recent past by the Interior Minister’s frothy denunciations of blasphemy in society and on social media. In this, he has been joined by no less a personage than Justice Shaukat Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court, whose tearful speeches in support of the blasphemy law, and whose belief that ‘liberals’ are worse than terrorists, are not at all the product of cynical calculation and are instead borne out of a genuine desire to protect Islam from its enemies in a country where more than 95% of the population is Muslim and where religion plays a dominant and revered role in public life. To this list, we can also add television anchors like Amir Liaqat who have long championed the murder of blasphemers as a means through which to appeal to the baser instincts of their viewers. Finally, questions must also be asked of those elements of the military establishment who continue to believe that religious militancy must necessarily be preserved as a pillar of Pakistan’s security policy.

All these actors are responsible for cultivating an environment in a which a murderous mob can kill an innocent man without any real fear of repercussions simply because they believe or allege, without a shred of evidence, that the victim committed blasphemy. It is the same factors that legitimize the frequent attacks on minorities that have become the norm in this country. While tall claims are often made about the success of the National Action Plan and successive military operations aimed at ending terrorism, the fact remains that much of the religious violence perpetrated against people in Pakistan is committed by average citizens fed a constant diet of dogma and paranoia. The politicians and leaders who continue to use religion as a means through which to manipulate their supporters, acquire legitimacy, and amass power, are presiding over the radicalization of tens of millions of people in this country. No military operation or National Action Plan will be able to contain the dangerous forces now being unleashed across Pakistan if urgent measures are not taken to end the constant appeasement of those who trade in hate and intolerance.