Too often now, the country has seen the politicization of cases presented before the courts. Nowhere is this politicization more blatant than with regards to the blasphemy law, which transforms rather quickly into a social and political circus. Essentially, once charged with the “crime” of blaspheming, the trial of the accused begins and ends. To be pronounced guilty, the charge has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. No such luck, no such justice in Pakistan. Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman and mother of five, who has been languishing away in a prison in Multan for five years, is one particularly high profile victim of the blasphemy law. In support of her case, then Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were brutally gunned down, causing increased fear from those working to help her. Now, the government of France, a primarily Catholic country, seems to be intervening on moral grounds, and is signaling towards granting her family possible asylum if she is freed. Though this has not been formalized, it reveals international support for her case; the issue is slowly coming to the fore in global media and politics, and considering the political deadlock at home, that might usher in some constructive debate.

The husband of the accused wrote a heart-wrenching open letter published in the New York Times earlier this week, which is an utter humiliation for the government of Pakistan. As it fights militancy and Islamic fundamentalism in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency, it must also battle it out in its own law and policy. This is where the counter narrative for moderation, tolerance and peace will emerge. If the government does not stomach the backlash of the scattered mobs supporting the blasphemy law, then it cannot expect to stomach the backlash of a relatively sophisticated militant network inside the country. This is not a religious issue. It is a governance issue, a policy issue, and it must be handled with some forcefulness of purpose. Narratives change if there is room provided for them to alter their course. Issues pertaining to the blasphemy law in particular must be included as part of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s newly launched |Counter Terrorism Strategic Communication initiative. The counter narrative must emerge internally, systematically and intelligently. It cannot be left to the gradual pace of international pressure, lest too many more precious lives are wasted for nothing.