So far the authorities have shown the right diligence and attitude towards the horrific lynching in Mardan; politicians have made the right statements, institutions like the Supreme Court are taking the right initiatives and the police seem to be pursuing multiple leads in the case. While it remains to be seen how motivated the authorities are to take these steps to their logical end, for the moment we must support the positive actions they take. On Sunday, law enforcement agencies opened a hate speech investigation involving the two clerics who tried to disrupt the funeral rites of Mashal Khan in his hometown of Swabi.

According to a senior Swabi police official, “the mosque loudspeaker for hate speech against the slain student and his family and ... created hurdles for the people and another cleric to participate in the funeral.” Hate speech and anti-terrorism legislation clearly outlaws the use of loudspeakers to incite hate and violence, and there exist strong precedence for clerics being indicted and punished for committing this crime. In this case, there is ample evidence of the incident, multiple eyewitnesses and the political backing to try the perpetrators – this should be an open-shut case and nothing short of a successful conviction suffices in the circumstances.

The stakes in this case also make this a must-win case for law enforcement and prosecution teams. While the actual murderers and their abettors surely need to be put behind bars, also on trial is a culture that encourages violent vigilantism on mere suspicion of blasphemy, supports targeting family members of the victims and intimidates all opposition. While the shrine of Mumtaz Qadri, the “Lubaik Ya Rasool” movement, and other individuals – some in the government itself – seem beyond what the authorities are willing to tackle at the moment, these low level clerics who blindly propagate that toxic narrative need to be tried for their crimes and made an example off. This is the least the government can do.

It is time that the authorities start looking at the bigger picture – instead of going after the individuals that commit these vigilante murders, the government needs to start targeting the organisations that propagate this narrative, who fund it, and who glorify murderers. We are reminded by the incident in Mardan that unless the organisations who openly challenge the writ of the state and encourage people to take the law into their own hand are taken down, the lynch mobs will keep rising up.

Mardan is a test case for the government; it must show that it is capable of delivering justice.