The entire Aasia Bibi episode particularly the scale of violent protests by fanatics in Pakistan led by Tahreek-I-Labaik Party (TLP) against the verdict of their Supreme Court acquitting the hapless Christian woman of the charge of blasphemy and saving her from the gallows just in time, must wake up the international opinion against the medieval extremism that has overtaken this country. All of this is happening in Pakistan in the name of religion shows how a long-range threat of faith-based militancy is on the horizon with the potential of not only destabilising the region but also threatening the democratic order of the world at large. Ever since Gen. Ziaul Haq in 1978 proclaimed the goal of establishing Nizam-e- Mustafa in Pakistan and went on to make the law against blasphemy far more stringent, a give and take relationship has existed between the Army and the Islamic militants there.
The victory of anti- Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan that was run on the slogan of Jehad led to a further deepening of this bond with the Pak army deciding to replicate that Jehad in Kashmir by infiltrating Mujahideen and using this as a cost effective alternative to a conventional war. Islamic extremism rules Pakistan today as the Bareilvis of TLP were competing with the Sunni radicals in reviving the fundamentals of Islam and the Pak army was at best trying to manoeuvre it all to its advantage. Fearing a hostile reaction from the US-led West on the issue of Aasia Bibi the Pak army is reported to have cautiously intervened with the help of the Supreme Court and is now left with the task of somehow diffusing the aftermath of wild protests launched by the Islamic extremists against Aasia's acquittal.
The background of Aasia Bibi's case is frightening for the reason that it shows how indoctrinated masses of Muslims can turn so inhuman as to bay for the life of a poor woman living in their midst - a berry picker representing the only Christan family in a village near Lahore - just because some locals first denounced her for drinking water from a well in the same utensil that was in use by the Muslims, abused her as a ‘filthy Christian’ and then asked her to convert to Islam. When she firmly declared her allegiance to what she believed was the best for her - Christianity and Jesus Christ - these crooks raised the allegation that she had insulted Prophet Mohammad and thus committed blasphemy punishable with death. The demand grew and the local judiciary in 2010 awarded her capital punishment in the face of public indignation expressed by Christian groups and human rights activists. Even the Pope made an appeal against the death penalty given to the Catholic woman. The Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer criticised the blasphemy law and suggested its reform- he even met Aasia Bibi in prison. This resulted in the horrific assassination of the Governor by his own body guard- Mumtaz Qadri in 2011- Qadri was enraged by Taseer's opposition to the blasphemy law.
As these events had the effect of completely exposing Pakistan as a territory of religious anarchy the Pak army - the de facto ruler -was compelled to find a way of getting the death sentence of Aasia Bibi quashed at the apex court- she had already suffered incarceration in a solitary jail cell for nearly ten long years. She still faces threat to her life as she is not cleared for traveling abroad even as her family had asked for US asylum. The larger picture is that Pakistan has become a dark hole of religious militancy and the world had to do something to force a process of democratisation on it. May be this will become easier if that country was first declared as a ‘terrorist state’. As it is the voice of peace in Pakistan has dwindled. The Aasia Bibi episode has confirmed the rapid deterioration of Pakistan as a rogue entity that could create geo- political imbalance and disturb world peace. As regards blasphemy a democratic state should only have a law like Sec 295A of IPC in India that punished any attempt to hurt the religious feelings of a community, with heavy fines and a quantum of imprisonment.
India has rightly kept aloof from the developments relating to Aasia Bibi but it has to strategise for handling a situation where the Pak army would not only be using Islamic extremists to step up cross border terrorism to destabilise Kashmir but also trying to revive Khalistani militancy in Punjab. Pakistan is losing ground with the Trump Presidency on the issue of safe havens enjoyed by Islamic terrorists on its soil and is therefore consciously banking on a military alliance with China- primarily to use it against India. Pakistan's sway in Afghanistan on one hand and its barely concealed attempts to exploit the Muslim minority issues in India to queer the pitch for this country, on the other, need close scrutiny and counter. India is moving towards a bigger strategic threat originating from Pakistan - that goes beyond the mischief of its rulers fishing in the troubled waters of domestic politics here. The way militancy is fuming out of the Pak crucible and converting quite a few Muslim youth in India to radical Islam, makes it probable that terrorism could get enmeshed in the communal problem and lead to the growth of faith -based militancy in this country creating a new level of threat to internal security of India.
There is need to insulate the socio- political mainstream of India from religious extremism and sectarian violence by sealing the porous borders, checking out for NGOs with undesirable foreign connections and establishing fast track courts to do justice to those caught for terror links. India's Pak policy, capacity building against Sino- Pak axis and a fierce pursuit of ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’, which is the main instrument of a secular democracy, can together keep the trouble away. The efforts to isolate Pakistan as the breeder of Islamic militancy should be pushed through and the geopolitical framework being built on QUAD should be strengthened as the world might move towards a new kind of conflict between the democratic states on one side and an extremist Islamic order commanding the allegiance of the Muslim world supported by a couple of non- Muslim countries like China, on the other.
The ‘war on terror’ has not succeeded in either getting the Muslim moderates to fight the Islamic radicals at home or bringing in democracy in the Muslim countries with financial aid from the US-led West. Pakistan illustrates the total failure of the Bush doctrine as Samual Huntington's prediction of a ‘clash of civilisations’ - he was a consultant with NSC of the US at the time of 9/11- seems to be playing out since then. India has this new element to reckon with while reshaping its national defence and security. Both US and India have a common prime security threat - in the form of Islamic terror- and it seems that post cold war a potential conflict of global proportion could arise not from the political clash between Communism and Capitalism but from the forces of Islamic revivalism confronting the US led West as well as the community of idolatrous people. The world had a glimpse of this during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan in the latter Nineties when the Afghan Emirate headed by Mulla Omar targeted the US on one hand and statues of Buddha at Bamiyan, on the other.
(The writer is the former director of Intelligence Bureau)