The Culture of Terror in Pakistan: Ramification of Pakistan Blasphemy Laws. By Dr. Stephen Gill


 There is sufficient capital, technology and ability to open the doors to prosperity in Pakistan. But the resources are being wasted in feeding the tiger of fear. At the death of Bishop John Joseph, the son of Zia said that even if a hundred thousand Christians commit suicide, including the Pope, Pakistan would not change blasphemy laws. In other words, the laws which have spread terror can be changed only by a much stronger hand of terror or by a large number of sacrifices of innocent citizens like Bishop John Joseph made to make people aware to these time bombs. This article was written about 10 years ago.

 Terror is an extreme form of fear. And fear is one of the primitives, violent and usually crippling emotions. Fear leads to insane actions and/or reactions which can prove fatal. Take the case of an ordinary animal like a cat. The cat will run for life if a person will chase her. She will retreat in a corner. When there is no room for further retreat, she might attack the chaser. It is human psychology.

Pakistan was built on the foundation of fear, including the fear of the exploitation of the minorities by the majority. Fear did not disappear within the territory of the new Muslim country. Quite the contrary, it kept emerging rather more violently.

The rulers of Pakistan kept broadening the list to spread more fears. The list culminated in the rule of Zia-ul-Haq from 1977 to 1988. In order to tighten the grip of rein, Zia-ul-Haq, the military dictator of Pakistan, divided the citizens with a sword of fear and other means.  He was successful in his purpose because the atmosphere of religious bigotry was already there from the day one in the life of Pakistan. When the rest of the world was thinking of removing the death penalty, because this penalty has not lessened crimes, Zia was in favour of it. Though petitions came to him for compassion, he never converted any death penalty into life imprisonment. He proved his stand by approving the death penalty of his friend prime minister Zulfikar Bhutto by hanging.

It would be incorrect to say that Zia did that for justice. If that were so, he would not have ever gotten himself declared above the law.  There was a sharp increase in the number of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments handed down by the military courts. He formulated religious laws on drinking, adultery and theft that did not reduced crimes. On contrary, the laws opened the doors to opportunities for additional corruption. Smuggling, gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging flourished under the protection of the administrators of his government.

During the reign of Zia, religion dominated politics. Prayers became obligatory in all government offices. At the campuses, members of Jamaat-e-Islami were encouraged to beat any student who demonstrated against the government. The crop of fear developed further. There were killings between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims as well as between the refugees (Mohajors) and the local Muslims. 

Zia divided refugees and fomented the killings of one another. Zia’s laws of blasphemy and the long history of martial laws have created nothing but fear in the land where the worst genocide of the twentieth century has taken place when the subcontinent was divided. The black laws of the twentieth century have created fear not only in the minorities, but also among other citizens who belong to the main stream. The Muslims themselves are killing one another even in mosques, where life is supposed to dwell. There are movements to declare even Shias a minority. One can go one step further to say the whole nation is being crushed under the weight of fear.

This is the land where one can buy any number of witnesses for the court with only a few cents each. This is the land where illiteracy is one of the highest. This is the land where churches of different denominations were united for the first time in the history of two thousand years. This is the land where churches for the first time have participated directly in politics due to fear. This is the land where the worst type of laws, the repressive laws of the century, have been imposed to defend the majority, instead of defending minorities as it should be.

 Zia-ul-Haq ruled Pakistan by dividing the nation chiefly through the blasphemy laws which were the time bombs tied to the bodies of the tiny minorities and whose remote control were in the hands of fanatic Muslims. He died in an air crash with one or two Americans of high diplomatic ladder. At the death of Bishop John Joseph, the son of Zia said that even if a hundred thousand Christians commit suicide, including the Pope, Pakistan would not change blasphemy laws. In other words, the laws which have spread terror can be changed only by a much stronger hand of terror  or by a large number of sacrifices of innocent citizens like Bishop John Joseph did to make people aware to these time bombs.

 Amnesty International in July 1994 reported about the persons who were tried under the blasphemy laws:

"The available evidence in all these cases suggests that charges were brought as a measure to intimidate and punish members of minority religious communities or non-conforming members of the majority community; hostility towards religious minority groups appeared in many cases to be compounded by personal enmity, professional or economic rivalry or a desire to gain political advantage."

 "The law quickly became a nightmare for Christians. Religious extremists began to apply the measure against their opponents or in order to settle personal disputes, including those relating to property and jobs.

"In addition, the legal procedures involved in enforcing the law were, in themselves, prejudicial to Christians. Anyone charged under Section 295-C may be arrested without a warrant. The offence is non-bailable and the trial is presided over by a Moslem judge. The victim of 295-C is stigmatized even before the case is brought to court. Often, he loses honor, property and, in some cases, his life as well"

The same publication quotes Asama Jehangir who was the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She "argued that the blasphemy law is being misused to create anarchy in the already complex society of Pakistan. She gave the example of several extra-judicial murders as manifestations of the general atmosphere of intolerance which is being fomented by the law."

Pakistan has gone through fearful periods of martial law administration for decades since 1947, when it came into existence.  To combat the terror of the martial law administration, several organizations came up with the aim of terror to intimidate the administration and supporters of the administration. To match it, the administrations used more terror and more promises. Pakistan was declared an Islamic republic. To strengthen his grip Prime Minister Nowaz Sharif come up with more ideas to implement even more fearful punishments for the citizens, such as flogging, stoning and amputation of parts of the body in public places.

Mujahid Hussain details in Sawan from Lahore on pages 23-24 in  October 1996 about the killings committed by religious groups like Sipa Sahaba, Sipa Mohammad, Sipa Abbas, Mukhtar Force, Tahrik Jafaria and others. These religious extremist organizations recruited notorious killers and other law-breakers, providing them with refuge and weapons.  The article names some brains behind these groups. The article says that the head of the Sipa Sahaba, Maulana Zia-ulrehman Farooki, had organized his extremist force because of the mild policies of Sipa Sahaba, a fundamentalist religious outfit. Every member of these organizations was taught how to use weapons and to believe in killing for revenge, for peace and to compel the government and opposition to accept their policies. It has been found that the anarchy in the country was largely due to these extremist groups because of their belief in terror. They had their offices in different parts of Panjab and Karachi to employ people for killing. Pakistan has become a most fertile land for the development of terrorists.  Bishop John Joseph tried to bring this fact several times to the attention of the peace-loving world community.

 Bishop John Joseph said in Christian Voice, published from Karachi, on April 20, 1997:       

 "The extremists have set up training centres in different parts of Pakistan to train young boys in religious bigotry and handling all sorts of weapons. There was no dearth of the latest weaponry because part of the big amounts of armament coming from all over the world, meant to be used in Afghanistan against the Russian Communists, went to these centres. It was said that one could buy a military tank of the latest model in Peshawar or Karachi at a bargain price.

"These young, extremely well trained terrorists became religious  robots  programmed  to  kill  in the name of religion. Religious killings are, very sad to say, going on even these days, all over Pakistan. These fanatics are killing Christians, Ahmaddiys, Sunnis and Shias. They do not hesitate to enter a mosque in order to kill the praying congregation, even court premises are not sacred to them. They are ready to kill any number of innocent by-standers in order to get their victim.

"All over Pakistan we find people who are motivated on religious grounds to accuse non-Muslims or even Muslims of a different sect, of having said, written or behaved against Islam or the Quran. There have been cases where a server (Khadim) in a Mosque is caught red-handed burning copies of the Quran. When asked why he did it, his answer: I was told to do it for the greater glory of Islam because some Kafir (infidel, blasphemer) will be accused, punished and eliminated through this act." 

The terror that Bishop John Joseph stated again and again to warn the democracies of the world, has been reported by India Today in a long fearsome article by Manoj Joshi and Ramesh Vinayak under the caption "The Fire Next Time", published on Sept. 7 of 1998 on page 50 with pictures of the terrorists or the extremists who combine their prayers with guns. These traditional schools or madarasas are run by extremist Islamic groups and funded by Arabs and Punjabi  businessmen. Most of their students are unemployed youth who "are easy prey for the ulema who advocate the practice of what they call pure Islam and urge Jehad to extirpate all apostates and infidels.

Fear has emerged in a morbid form when the Islamic schools started altering the Christian scriptures. They are now producing their own version of the Bible to teach their students of Islamic studies.

The outcome of this frightening situation was more terror. To combat this terror, the liberal forces come up with even more terror-stricken tactics to punish the administration. It led to another fearful cycle of terror that culminated in another military coup in 1999. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested and jailed by the military forces.

Common man and Christians have suffered the most in the climate beset by fear and uncertainty, because economically both are at the bottom of the ladder.  Both were blinded by their rulers with the dust of promises. Both received blow after blow from the hands of laws and terrorism.  As a result, the locusts of lawlessness, corruption and violence hovered freely over their heads. To terrorize them further, anarchy was promoted, along with division and hatred among religions and denominations. Consequently, the citizens have lost their credibility in the leaders of the country.

Mr. Taukeer Chughtai, editor of Jafakash, paints the same picture on November 1999 when he says that the citizens have lost their trust and the national institutions have been destroyed. Bloodshed, and religious and ethnic hatred have grown. No one is brave enough to open mouth against government, and the religious groups. 

Mr. Itfak outlines the despair he notices around in his article "The Insurgence of Public Awareness in Pakistan," published in the May 1997 issue of Jodat International. 

Pakistan is an Islamic republic which has restricted freedom of thinking. No citizen is free at any level. The fear has made individuals so weak that they are afraid to express what they think is right. Mr. Itfak challenges any readers to study any institution, including the court, educational institutions, police stations. They will find that Pakistanis do not have the courage to express the truth. The absence of safety has made them cowardly and feeble. He asks why there is no mental freedom in a democratic country.

Mr. Itfak laments that the politicians who came to power in the past had suppressed thinking, either in the name of patriotism, or in the name of imaginary foes of the nation. The members of the opposition party were harassed. To rob the nation's treasury, often they were put behind bars. To clear their path, the leaders of the opposition were listed among the ignorant and were silenced with the force of the gun.

When the opponents came to power, they crossed even those boundaries that were not crossed by the previous rulers. Because public awareness was not matured, the citizens could not distinguish between good and bad. As a result, Pakistan followed the path of regression, losing the path of thinking.  As a result, human relations, particularly love, harmony, understanding have down the drain. All the faculties which help to raise a voice against injustice have been crippled with fear. The citizens have lost their interest in the national problems. They pass their lives for themselves which has accelerated the race for the grab of money and more money. Fellowship and sacrifice have disappeared from the dictionary of survival. In the field of politics, most of the time, fortune seekers have danced with joy.

The fortune-seekers are able to dance with joy by spreading the germs of fear everywhere and in every form.  The whole country is suffering from the psychosis of fear. In many places, Christians have stopped going to church for fear that the congregation would be attacked. Mothers tell their children every morning not to talk about religion in or outside the class with anyone.

One can pick up any written media from anywhere in Pakistan. It would appear as if the whole nation is gripped with fear of one kind or other. The minorities can neither work nor travel in peace. Even the expression of happiness seems dangerous. No one can tell when someone will appear with a revolver to kill for pleasure or to get a quick passport to heaven for killing an infidel. No one will be able to find the killers. Fear has wrapped the minorities in its dark blanket. In some towns, when Christians leave the house for work or shopping, the family will pray for their safe return. If there is a knock at the door, the demons of fear will grab their hearts. They cannot sleep peacefully in the night. The peace of the day has gone. They are strangers in their own land and home.

 Leaders and persons are suffering from the same psychosis. A slight gesture of friendship from someone of the opposite camp, is viewed with doubt. In the name of defence and religion, they try to annihilate their supposed enemies.

In the field of politics, jealousy, fear and suspicion have boosted fanaticism and anarchy. Suspicion and fear have split the nation into many opposite camps. There is a maddening race among them to grab power with the gun. No one knows when, where and how this race will end.


The repressive laws to promote fear have failed to give jobs to people and to alleviate poverty and despair. There is so much addiction to drugs, and so many weapons of destruction easily available in the country and also there is so much environmental destruction. Clearly, the discriminatory laws have failed to usher in an era of peace. There is sufficient capital, technology and ability to open the doors to prosperity. But the resources are being wasted in feeding the tiger of fear. There is money to carry on war preparations but not enough for social programs to benefit children. Ethnic, racial, linguistic, and religious fears and tensions have been destroying the nation. The gap between the few who are rich and the many who are poor is widening and so are the tensions.

 There is sufficient capital, technology and ability to open the doors to prosperity in Pakistan. But the resources are being wasted in feeding the tiger of fear. At the death of Bishop John Joseph, the son of Zia said that even if a hundred thousand Christians commit suicide, including the Pope, Pakistan would not change blasphemy laws. In other words, the laws which have spread terror can be changed only by a much stronger hand of terror or by a large number of sacrifices of innocent citizens like Bishop John Joseph made to make people aware to these time bombs. This article was written about 10  years ago.

 To prevent the economic wealth of the few, the politicians create imaginary giants to foster fears to keep the mind of the people busy. The result is violence, revenge and attacks, like on Shantinagar, Khanewal, churches, and false accusations under the blasphemy laws to condemn and kill the tiny minority. 

The Bangkok Post in its issue of 25th of January 0f 1996 says that "Pakistan is called Heaven for Religious Bigots". If Islam is the religion of God, then why fear that Islam is in danger. Why not use the democratic way of dialogue instead of using undemocratic ways to legalize inequality that has led to violence. Is Pakistan afraid that Muslims will become Christians? Muslims were not forced to change their religion during or by the British regime. Several Muslims, not Christians, were raised to the position of nowabs, zamindars and rajas of several states. The administrators and the rulers of the country at the higher level know this, because they were educated in mission schools or abroad. The mission schools of Pakistan have produced judges, lawyers, doctors, politicians and so on. They know it for sure that they were never asked to embrace Christianity. Then which is the fear that drove them to make these repressive laws?

Suppression of rights of minorities is not the answer. This may satisfy the ego of fanatics. They may look forward to entering paradise by killing the people of other faiths, though common sense defies this argument. The continuous atmosphere of fear will open more doors for anarchy, leading the country to further fragmentation. Pakistan is on the way to becoming another Afghanistan, Bosnia and Lebanon. It was the fear that was responsible for dividing India and creating Pakistan. It was again the fear that divided Pakistan and created Bangladesh. This fear will divide Pakistan once again.

The base of this fear is the greed for money and power. Instead of focusing on the economic ills, the governments in Pakistan have been drugging the citizens with the opium of religion and terrorizing them with repressive laws. Several militant groups show their muscles built with the money received from domestic and foreign resources. The net result is more terror and hard life for minorities and common people.

There are countries in the world which came into existence after Pakistan. Economically, they are much better. In Pakistan, due to wrong laws, the plight of the common man and the minorities is going from bad to worse. Pakistan is number 120 among the 160 poor nations. 80% of the women are illiterate here. Therefore, it is important to awake the awareness that is not possible under the clouds of growing tension caused by the unfair legal system.

The Washington Post  of October,21, 1992 on page A33 warns  that  "Pakistan's religious cleansing will be much worse than the Nazi cleansing because Pakistan is not as efficient a state as Hitler's was."  One can  understand  the severity of the situation from the fact that when Christians were attending the funeral of Bishop John Joseph, who took his own life to protest against the blasphemy laws, the fundamentalists looted and set their houses on fire. Some children suffered burns. When Christians raised slogans against persecution, beating their chests, a mob of Muslim tried to clash with them at the funeral of the Bishop. Obviously, the Christians of Pakistan are facing a strong wall of intolerance and fanaticism.

These repressive blasphemy laws are divisive, dangerous, discriminatory, and deny the basic human rights to the citizens of the same country. They hinder the healthy growth of the nation. These repressive laws free the demons of fear, and provide a blot on the name of Pakistan.  

About Stephen Gill:

Stephen Gill, a multiple award winning Indo/Canadian self-exiled poet, fiction-writer and essayist, has authored more than thirty books. He is the subject of doctoral dissertations, and research papers. Thirteen  books of critical studies have been released by book publishers on his works and more are on the way. His poetry and prose have appeared in nearly one thousand publications. The focus of his writing is love and peace. SITE:


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