Even after 29 years since his death, one still gets to hear about the tyrannical and authoritarian rule of Mr. Zia-ul-Haq. This mostly comes with reference to those who are contiguous to our daily lives. People belonging to every sphere of the society somehow love to bring Zia up. In our households, local hair salons or even in our classrooms, we get to listen to the stories of horrendous public floggings, arbitrary arrests and of him hanging Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto till death.

But these sorry tales of the wretched past, and the policies introduced and implemented by him, become more audible when that very past, which we try to forget, creeps into our daily lives and shocks us with intolerance and sheer barbarianism.

Incidents like the murder of Salmaan Taseer over allegations of blasphemy against him; the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, over his efforts to reform the blasphemy laws, are noteworthy examples of when we remembered Zia the most. 

We’ve recently had another incident that left horrified imprints on the nation’s psyche. An incident of mob violence and vigilantism, incited by blasphemy allegations led to the brutal and inhumane murder of Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old student, inside the premises of his own university, while more than a dozen police officers stood by.

Rather than taking people out of their schisms, the Achilles’ heel for the Pakistani civil society is that it tends to do the exact opposite. It fragments itself into various factions that propagate their own righteous interpretations of the incident, acquiring abetment and depicting the ideals of transcendental concepts like liberalism, conservatism or religionism, staying completely aloof of the truism behind such a crime against humanity.

It was a show of inhumanity and brutality, through the near absence of any political, societal or even governmental protest, whatsoever, at this despicable incident. The question that strikes my mind is: how long will we keep on blaming Zia-ul-Haq for the actions and atrocities that we as individuals and collectively as a society continue to commit?

One plausible argument which can be made for the impotence of the authorities, as well as the society, after such incidents – which also explains this tendency to blame Zia for everything – is, perhaps, the desire to absolve oneself from the guilt and burden of the many catastrophes that the nation has had to face over the past three decades. For, the brutalities that we have witnessed have been accompanied with next to no remorse and stubborn inaction.

The only justified and righteous way to move on from the dungeons of the horrors we have committed in the near past, would require the entire society to pay dear consideration to the principles of humanity. It demands the society to be the unofficial actors of public policy making, concomitantly giving utmost importance to the right to life of an individual, and to exercise their right to protest against such acts of cruelty. The community will have to take off the shameful shroud of obsequiousness towards the intolerant segments of the society and move towards the narrative of liberal activism. This will subsequently generate the need and furor required to ameliorate and reform the existing policies and even laws, if need be.

The other strata of official actors that are equally, or at least to a greater extent, responsible for the carnage would be the street level bureaucrats present at the scene in the shape of police officers. There is absolutely no doubt that our police lack the capability and training required to tackle such a mob, moreover to predict as well as interpret the mob mentality during such upheavals. Simultaneously, the non-implementation of discretionary powers at that crucial stage might be due to the fear of revengeful leanings of the crowd, or due to the backdrop of departmental inquiries that follow such a use of force, which rendered even the 20 officials present at the scene helpless.

This makes it the earnest duty of the government to train and equip the police officers and the first responders, with the tactics and maybe even discretionary powers required to counter such threats to life.

If might result in granting the officials a certain level of immunity in their actions, particularly in cases like these, which may however be outside the pretext of their present rules of business. Necessary policy reforms should be introduced in the nick of time, with the consensus of the public and the political parties, to salvage the precious lives of the sons and daughters of this great nation.

As preached by Thomas Paine:

"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion”.