International institutions asked Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy laws. But the government now plans more anti-blasphemy repression rather than less.
by Massimo Introvigne
In 2021, “Bitter Winter” published a series of seven articles about Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, the extremist Islamic party hailing international terrorism and violence against religious minorities at home that the government failed to suppress. We note how through its marches, which paralyze the traffic on main highways for days, the organization has been often able to compel the government to accept its demands.
Until last Saturday, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan was marching again, from Karachi to Islamabad. Last week, the government was digging trenches to slow down the protesters’ entry into Islamabad. It probably did not know how effective the trenches would be. But experience tells Pakistani politicians that more effective than trenches is negotiating and giving up to some of the party’s demands. It was this latter strategy that ended the march.
Since Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s requests about an in-depth reform of the Pakistani economy and a reduction in prices of petroleum products, electricity, gas and daily use items are impossible to satisfy, the government is resorting to the time-honored strategy of humoring the extremists on blasphemy and religious minorities bashing.
On June 15, representatives of the government met with Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and agreed to its demand to create a new “Counter Blasphemy Department.” “Filters” will also be imposed on social media to block blasphemous content promptly.
The government promised Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan that blasphemers will be prosecuted and tried “according to the law,” but trials, that often last years and allow for foreign interventions in favor of those sentenced to the death penalty in first degree, will speed up, and surveillance and repression of blasphemy will increase.
The international community is asking Pakistan to abrogate the laws punishing blasphemers with the death penalty and abandon an anti-blasphemy policy that is often based on fabricated charges and hides the repression of religious minorities. It seems that Pakistan’s answer is to promise an even harsher anti-blasphemy repression.