Once again, from the horrifying incidence of mob violence in Jehlum on Friday, it is crystal clear the state and government of Pakistan is not serious about taking any meaningful measures to end loss of lives and property of innocent Pakistanis, especially not those of religious minorities of the country. Many a blasphemy accusation has had many an innocent Muslim in its vicious web. But the majority of victims remain those from other religions or declared as ‘other’ like the Ahmadis. Friday’s attack too was targeted at Ahmadis.

The problem has several reasons, two of which are legal. First, blasphemy law inherited by Pakistan from the colonial era law was altered by General Zia-ul-Haq. The original law did not differentiate between religions and was aimed at preventing provocations between different religious groups that lead to communal violence in a multicultural, multi-religious India. The law did not discriminate between classes or religions, and held all equal before the law – as any law should, however, flawed. And the punishments for committing such provocations were relatively light. The original Section 295 from 1860 prescribed 2 years in prison, and pertained mainly to defilement of places or objects of worship that might be construed as insult. Later in 1929 after religious riots rocked India, Section 295-A was added increasing punishment to 10 years for any spoken, written, or visually represented insults or affronts to another’s religion, with the proviso of malicious intent and acts behind said insult. Though, by today’s international standards of free speech, the original British law was still flawed, punishing speech instead of the violent actions.

However, what General Zia did was to, first, differentiate and discriminate between religions and elevate Islam over all others, and secondly, to make the difference so stark as intentionally ignite a war on religious minorities in Pakistan.

In 1982, General Zia introduced Section 295-B, prescribing life imprisonment for the willful defilement of the Quran, thereby ripping asunder the first principle of law: that it be blind to class, creed, status, wealth, religion etc of all. With this he opened up all minorities to attack by the majority. In 1986, he added Section 295-C to include insult of Prophet Mohammed to carry life imprisonment or the death sentence – but this section introduced the most vile aspect of dropping the preconditions of the insults being either ‘wilful’ or ‘intentional’. In 1991, the Federal Shariat Court, another fiendish introduction of Zia, struck down the option of life imprisonment, making the death penalty mandatory. How a court can change the law is another question – no matter that it was passed by the rubber stamp Shura (parliament) fronting a military dictator.

The impact of Zia’s mischief in bringing death and division to this country is amply demonstrated by the fact that only 14 cases of blasphemy were reported prior to 1986, and 1,247 between 1986 and 2010. The second legal travesty was the declaration of Ahmadis as non Muslims by ex-Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1974, opening them up to victimization and making them easy prey to religious persecution, including the blasphemy law of 1986.

Apart from the legal root causes of murder and mayhem in the name of religion arising from these fundamentally flawed laws, there are two other issues: one of extra-judicial killings of victims by mobs, and two of the utter impunity for the mobs or mob instigators. Dozens of blasphemy accused have been killed before even the registration of a report of the ‘crime’. In cases that reach courts, victims remain incarcerated in prison while their cases drag on for years in courts, victims’ and their families’ lives destroyed in the process.

Unfortunately, none of the governments whether civilian or military since after Zia have addressed a single aspect of the issues outlined above. The flawed laws have neither been repealed nor amended out of the visceral fear of being killed by fanatics. But the most inexcusable apathy of the state is manifested by the failure to end the impunity with which false accusations are made followed by extra judicial killings of the excused. Nor has any effort been made to expedite the trials of the accused, to spare them living deaths in the prisons of Pakistan. Emboldened by state fear and apathy, officers of the law have taken to murdering blasphemy accused in their custody. All this while the state looks away while making noises about bringing the ‘perpetrators to justice’. Not once has an inciter or perpetrator been punished. Nor has any political party advanced tighter, more specific laws to deal with either of them.

Today Pakistan is making tall claims of fighting religious terrorism and waving the National Action Plan formulated after 130 school children were gunned down in December 2014. Blasphemy killings are as much religious terrorism as the Tehreek-e-Taliban killing innocents. Why is the blasphemy issue not part of the NAP?

All political parties in parliament are urged to frame and table laws targeted specifically at the impunity side of the blasphemy killings at least, and to do so on a war footing, given they find it hard to change or repeal the blasphemy laws at this time. A few simple recommendations include: The introduction of capital punishment for anyone, including the mosque clerics like in Jehlum’s case this Friday, who call for punishment/killing of blasphemy accused by people; charging members of the attacking mob with nothing short of murder or attempted murder, as the case may be; reform of procedure before anyone can be booked for blasphemy.

n The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.