Imran Khan's stance against religious hardliners draws praise



Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious political party, chant slogans in Lahore November 1 during a sit-in protest following the Supreme Court acquittal of Christian woman Asia Bibi. [Arif Ali/AFP]

ISLAMABAD -- Prime Minister Imran Khan won praise for his stance against religious hardliners Thursday (October 31), as demonstrators blocked major roads to protest the Supreme Court's overturning of a blasphemy conviction.

Khan has vowed to confront extremists who called for the assassination of the country’s Supreme Court justice and for mutiny against the army’s top brass, after the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman on death row for blasphemy.

"We will protect people's properties and lives; we will not allow any sabotage," Khan said in a nationally televised address Wednesday.

Khan's speech drew praise across social media, including from those formerly critical of the prime minister.


Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious political party, November 1 in Islamabad block a street during a protest following the Supreme Court's acquittal of Christian woman Asia Bibi. [Aamir Qureshi/AFP]


Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a cabinet meeting November 1. In an October 31 televised speech, he denounced extremists who protested the Supreme Court's acquittal of Christian woman Asia Bibi. [Imran Khan/Facebook]

Journalist Mosharraf Zaidi hailed a "remarkable speech", and a column in Dawn said Khan had taken "an unequivocal and strong line against religious bigotry and hatred that we have not seen taken in almost two decades".

"Prime Minister Imran Khan was admirably forthright in condemning those who believe violence is the appropriate response to a judicial verdict with which they disagree," said The News, which is often a critic of the PM.

Others, however, highlighted the prime minister's mixed record on addressing the controversy around blasphemy issues in Pakistan.

"Wish Imran Khan had delivered similar speech in the last Faizabad dharna," tweeted Bilal Haider, referring to Khan's silence during similar anti-blasphemy protests last year.

There was no indication Thursday that the authorities were preparing to clear the small pockets of protesters that continue to block major thoroughfares in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi.

The demonstrations are largely led by the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which is known for its hardline stance on blasphemy issues.

TLP, founded in 2015, blockaded Islamabad for several weeks last year to call for stricter enforcement of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws.

That protest forced the resignation of the federal law minister and paved the way for the group to poll more than 2.23 million votes in the July 25 general election, in what analysts called a "surprisingly" rapid rise. However, the party won only two seats in the Sindh provincial assembly and none in the National Assembly.

The party's chief, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, has vowed to "wipe Holland off the face of the earth" over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad if TLP gains power in the nuclear-armed country.

Fighting intolerance

Meanwhile, after saving Bibi from the gallows, her lawyer says he is facing the wrath of Islamist extremists -- and wonders who will save him.

But defying the threats against him, Saif-ul-Mulook says he regrets nothing and will continue his legal fight against intolerance.

Mulook's latest victory saw the freeing of Bibi -- a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy who spent nearly a decade on death row -- after the Supreme Court overturned her conviction Wednesday (October 30).

"The verdict has shown that the poor, the minorities and the lowest segments of society can get justice in this country despite its shortcomings," he told AFP immediately after the verdict.

"This is the biggest and happiest day of my life."

Danger from extremists

Mulook said he feels like a sitting duck with no security or escape plan.

"I think I have absolutely no safety. No security, and I am the easiest target... anybody can kill me," he said.

The defence of Bibi was just the latest in a long line of controversial cases taken up by the barrister.

In 2011, Mulook was the lead prosecutor of Mumtaz Qadri over the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer -- a prominent critic of the country’s blasphemy laws and supporter of Bibi.

Qadri -- one of Taseer's bodyguards -- gunned down his boss in broad daylight, citing the governor's calls for reform of the blasphemy laws as his motive.

Mulook said he took on the case as others, fearing reprisals from extremists, cowered.

His prosecution resulted in the conviction and 2016 execution of Qadri. Islamists feted the assassin and honoured him with a shrine on the outskirts of Islamabad.

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16 Comment(s)

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If extremists had been on sit-in, had Imran been on religious seclusion for 126 days?


Curse be on that abominable woman and her supporters


I appreciate the writer of this article


I am totally satisfied at your post. People of Pakistan are remotely controlled like American drones. And in such an invironment the people gets on autopilot. There is a small segment that doesn’t even say prayers but find religion and other ways to damage the beloved country. I have read verdict of Supreme Court and I am very hopeful. Blasphamy wasn’t proved for Asia. Only religious political parties are doing politics over the incident of Asia Bibi. While there hasn’t been any reaction from public. However I fully support the state of Pakistan for eliminating terrorism and extremism.


This is an extremely biased article… cursed Asia deserves capital punishment… if the protest of 126 days, civil disobedience movement, attack on PTV are not an extremist protest by Imran Khan, then this is also legal and democratic right of religious people. It was a peaceful protest nationwide, those involved in violence and destruction belonged to N-League.


In the name of Allah, the beneficial, the merciful


I swear that I am a die-hard fan of Imran Khan and even after that incident, Imran Khan means everything to me. But I renounce any compromise over respect of Prophet. The problem is not just Asia, but the problem is the honor of my Prophet. Earlier the west has reduced the importance of Jihad from our hearts by offering money and now the west wants to abolish the spirit of scarifying our lives over holy prophet, so that the Muslims may get weak and they may use the Muslims on their own ways. But the Satanist powers must behold that I believe that Imran Khan will take a stand at this issue. And the passion of religion is and will remain in our hearts. By grace of Allah, we will fight against agents of untrue. Imran Kahn didn’t get any appreciation, he has damaged his goodwill… but if Mr. Khan takes a stand, we will defend him.


Humanity is also linked with religion, that’s the reason sabotage during such protest is greatest terrorism


From which party did the evil Imran belong that he disturbed the whole country for 126 days. Secondly the greatest evil Imran and his vicious clique has used the same card to come in the power, then how can he condemn it. Thirdly has whole the world not witnessed that officers of Pakistan army were distributing money among the people at Faizabad sit-in


I have read your complete article, but I have seen intemperance and extremism. Therik-e-Labbaik has done a good deed; peaceful protest is right of every Pakistani, but I strongly condemn the rioters who tried to defame Tehrik-e-Labbaik and burnt the properties.


This article has no importance, I strongly condemn it—


A thousand curse on the one who disrespects Holy Prophet, as well as on its supporter.


Curse on that execrated woman and her supporters


Curse on that execrated. And her supporters be double execrated.


So, in your opinion, talking about securing the respect of Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) is terrorism and extremism! While such freedom of speech is his disrespect that Asia Masih committed and then she apologized in two courts! Freeing Asia Masih means that no one may adopt legal way against a blasphemer and kill him/her on the spot. People in power should think that taking such steps in order to brighten the west will lead to anarchy in the society.


The penalty of a blasphemer . . . . . . . Separate the head from the body