Prime Minister Nawaz will not risk reforming Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as he gears up for the elections scheduled to be held in 2018, says an article published in The Economist.

“Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, will not risk even modest reforms, especially in the run-up to an election expected next summer,” it says.

The article cites many reasons as to why the government is reluctant to bring reforms to the colonial-era blasphemy laws , modified in the ‘80s to protect the sanctity of Islam and the Holy Prophet.

It says vocal critics of the laws have been murdered in brutal fashion, preventing politicians from tackling the issue. “The killing of Taseer and Bhatti explains the reluctance of politicians to tackle the issue.”

The laws, it says, are often exploited to settle personal disputes. And authorities are unwilling to tackle the issue due to the sensitivity of cases pertaining to blasphemy laws .

“It is risky even to call for the harsher punishment of people who make false blasphemy allegations.

“Police, scared of the mobs that round on alleged blasphemers, rarely resist pressure to lodge charges. Judges in the lower courts are unwilling to throw out even the most nonsensical cases for fear of retribution.”

The article says that the laws in their colonial-era form were “relatively sensible”. But modifications by successive governments after Pakistan’s independence led to “these man-made laws as being almost as sacred as the Quran itself”.

It says leaders of the Barelvi community, who are thought to comprise the majority of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslims, consider preserving the laws a “key issue”.

“Preserving the laws as they stand has become a key issue for the leaders of the Barelvi community, otherwise moderate believers who follow a Sufi-inspired form of Islam.”

The article, citing cases of Mashal Khan and Asia Bibi, says people accused of blasphemy continue to face the risk of death by a charged mob or at the hands of fellow prisoners if they are convicted.

“Nineteen people are currently on death row for blasphemy. Without changes to the laws, charges of blasphemy are being bandied around ever more loosely.”

Mashal was lynched by a vigilante mob after he was falsely accused of blasphemy in the conservative town of Mardan. Bibi awaits final judgment by the Supreme Court in her case after judges last year chose to postpone the hearing to an unspecified future date.