Pakistan is sliding toward extremism
October 16th, 2014
06:27 PM ET

Pakistan is sliding toward extremism

By Farahnaz Ispahani and Nina Shea, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center 2013-2014. Her forthcoming book is 'Waiting to Die: Pakistan's religious minorities'. Nina Shea is a senior fellow, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and co- author of 'Silenced; How apostasy and blasphemy codes are choking freedom worldwide'. The views expressed are their own.

The decision to award Malala Yousafzai the Nobel Peace Prize last week was a good one. After all, the 17 year-old, who was named a joint winner with along with Kailash Satyarthi, personifies the struggle for modernity, women’s equality and individual rights to religious freedom against the threat of Islamic extremism. But while Malala’s award is a triumph for her determination, it is far from clear that the cause she champions will meet as much success.

The reality is that Pakistan is facing a serious problem, with the mushrooming of Islamist appeal within Pakistani society reminding us that we risk seeing the Talibanization not simply of a small minority of ordinary citizens, but large swathes of the populace of the world’s second largest – and only nuclear-armed – Muslim country.

Pakistan abounds with violent sectarian and Islamist groups headquartered in semiautonomous tribal areas. Foreign jihadists, including Westerners like American David Headley, flock to areas such as North Waziristan. Yet although Islamabad devotes a full third of its armed forces to the northwest of the country, it is also pursuing policies that encourage a mainstream slide toward extremism.

State laws and practices relating to Islamic blasphemy, in particular, are increasingly suppressing moderate voices, while allowing extremists to dominate cultural discourse and learning. As a result, extremism is making ideological inroads into wider and wider segments of the population.

A shocking example came last month with the drive-by shooting of Muhammad Shakeel Auj, dean of Islamic Studies at the venerable Karachi University. Auj had earned a PhD after writing a comparison of eight Urdu translations of the Quran. But some found offense in his “liberal” religious views as he passionately denounced terrorism and suggested that Muslim women could pray wearing lipstick and could marry non-Muslims.

Over the past two years, Auj has been subject to a barrage of blasphemy accusations, fatwas, and death threats, including that he will be beheaded. Particularly troubling is that four of his own faculty members were allegedly behind some of the threats. They were arrested, but soon released on bail. As one obituary writer commented, Auj’s murder shows that now “even the most mainstream Sunni voices will not be tolerated.”

Junaid Hafeez, another university professor, may soon be sentenced to death by the state. Charged with insulting the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook, he is now on trial for the capital crime of blasphemy. Yet the charge is based entirely on oral testimony of students linked to the hardline Jamaat-i-Islami party.

Hafeez has reportedly found it difficult to find a lawyer willing to defend him, not least because those who manage to secure an acquittal for accused blasphemers run the risk of being seen as blasphemers themselves. And while the state doesn’t penalize such defense lawyers, it also does little to protect them or punish their extrajudicial killers either. For example, while after his first two lawyers quit following death threats, Hafeez was able to hire Rashid Rehman, a senior lawyer with Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission. But on May 7, Rehman was shot dead in his office. His killers remain at large.

Liberal Muslim educators, lawyers, and human rights activists aren’t the only victims of the country’s anti-blasphemy codes. Often targeted are the Ahmadis, an as many as 5 million strong, well-educated community that professes faith in Islam, but which is not deemed Muslim under Pakistan’s constitution. The sect’s tenets renounce violent jihad and embrace the separation of mosque and state, as well as religious pluralism. They now account for 40 percent of blasphemy prosecutions, which also disproportionately target Christians, Shia, and Hindus.

Such extremism has touched us personally. Our friends Shahbaz Bhatti, the former Minority Affairs Minister, and Salman Taseer, Punjab’s former governor, were both outspoken critics of the blasphemy conviction of Christian mother Asia Bibi, and both were gunned down in 2011. The Lahore High Court on Thursday upheld the death sentence against Asia Bibi.

The blasphemy law was originally introduced to appease extremists, but has instead stimulated an appetite for more. As Bhatti noted: “This law is creating disharmony and intolerance in our society.” He is right – it legitimizes and enflames religious passions over speech, while providing extremists a platform within the very heart of Pakistani society.

American drones are now aiming at Pakistan’s northwest terrorist snake pit. But there is no military solution to the blasphemy law. And while it is only right that we celebrate Malala’s Nobel award, we also cannot forget the growing numbers of Pakistanis that take no pride in such an achievement.


Post by:
Topics: Islam • Pakistan

soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Adam

    Noooooo. Pakistan has a problem with extremists? Noooooooooooo.

    October 16, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Reply
  2. ssisodiya

    Pakistan is now like a hub for terrorism. Sad, but true.

    October 17, 2014 at 1:26 am | Reply
    • desertvoice

      This anti-blasphemy law is being used to deny justice to non-Muslims! That a mother of five be hanged for daring to drink water from the same bucke tas Muslims, is more than a destruction of justice! This is a call for the whole world to raise against such laws! This is insane! How about the public water system? Wll now Christians be denied to drink public water because the Moslems drink it in Pakistan? Something terribly evil is at work in Pakistan! This is more than extreme extremism!

      October 21, 2014 at 6:31 am | Reply
      • john

        No this is not a blaspheme law. it is islamic HATE law against other religion, this is the law of bigots, terrorist failed corrupt state, Porkistan

        October 21, 2014 at 8:23 am |
      • john

        No this is not a blaspheme law. it is islamic HATE law against other religion.
        PS don't you like to hear it again>

        October 21, 2014 at 8:25 am |
  3. Javad

    bomb it, make it a big parking place for Iran

    October 17, 2014 at 7:54 am | Reply
  4. My Picture Of Mohammad


    October 17, 2014 at 10:09 am | Reply
  5. Lester

    I wonder where the anti-India cheerleaders are? Noticeably quiet on this article. Is it because FZ didn't write this one?

    October 17, 2014 at 10:52 am | Reply
  6. Syed Ahmed

    I live in both Pakistan and the US and I can honestly say the level of extremisim is the same in both countries in fact in the US the vitriol is much stronger sometimes, go to any forum or especially a Southern forum and read some of the comments, always wanting to blow the camel jockeys to Allah and let him sort them out or the glass parking lot, or some other vile comment, burning of Korans etc, the only difference is the US protects this sort of speech and people find racism something passed down the family, but please do not try and single out Pakistan, because we know the agenda here, the writer Farah Naz Isphan's husband was reviled by the public of Pakistan and was unceremoniously booted from his Ambassadorial position, so the wife has some resentment issues. There is worse extremism in India in the Hindu BJP and RSS communities, but of course they are ignored because they dont burn US flags they just massacre Muslims...on top of that Farid Zakariya is an avid Indian and constantly attacks Pakistan, which suits CNN fine, so this is all an attack on a Nuclear powered Muslim nation whose problems are no different than India or the US or many other nations, if anything Pakistan has played a key role in combating terrorism, which the Americans are loathe to credit it with, because its a small proud Muslim nation with Nukes.....thats the bottom line.

    October 17, 2014 at 11:46 am | Reply
    • Lester

      You will note that Fareed Zakaria didn't write this, and his ethnicity has nothing to do with the opinions of the two that did.

      October 17, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Reply
      • Syed Ahmed

        His name is on the heading of this article, and its always the case, he only approves anti Pakistan articles.....people know that.

        October 18, 2014 at 10:52 am |
    • Are

      Are you living in the US or Pakistan now? Case closed.

      October 17, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Reply
      • Syed Ahmed

        you're an Indian – case closed

        October 18, 2014 at 10:52 am |
    • dd

      Why bring India in? The article is about Pakistan & the internal matters of Pakistan.
      Shed some light on the Pakistani Punjabi Army Generals & how they have destroyed Pakistan.
      The Generals are the root cause of most everything bad in Pakistan.

      October 17, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Reply
    • Syed Ahmed

      Extremism in India is even worse, go to Times of India forum and read hindu minds...lower than a gutter.

      October 18, 2014 at 10:53 am | Reply
      • SK

        Your mind is a gutter. First look yourself in the mirror before calling other's names

        October 18, 2014 at 3:53 pm |
      • Vishnu Sharma

        A die hard Paki that you are, You are hated all over the world. Your country is the source of trouble in all countries of the world. It has been described as an international migraine.

        You will never admit to your country's mistake but always try to put the blame on others.

        Shame on such cantankerous die-hards – The Pakistan who now think that they can take on the whole world just because they have these silly nukes.

        Remember, you cannot unilaterally nuke anybody without being nuked off the face of the earth yourselves.

        October 18, 2014 at 8:41 pm |
    • fz

      small proud nuclear power, lol, look overhead there is a drone waiting for you.

      October 18, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Reply
    • desertvoice

      All my being boils at reading your abominable whitewashing of Pakistan. How can you defend a Sewer? Pakistann is worse than all the sewwers in the world put together!, when it comes to fundamental human justice! How many lawyers for this innocent mother were already murdered, to prevent the justice coming to her? There is an abominable stench coming from your defense of Pakistan! A stench of death and stench of human waste! tell me about your Pakistan!

      October 21, 2014 at 6:38 am | Reply
    • oysterdog

      When is the official "Burn the Koran" day?

      October 21, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Reply
    • godfreyofboulogne

      What a scurrilous an immoral false equivalency! You really are trying to claim that the US South is a hotbed of religious terrorism, and murders and executions for 'blasphemy' and the like? One of the vilest rhetorical gambits made by the Left and their allies is the "American Taliban" line, trying to parlay the Last Acceptable Bigotry (that against white southerners) into an absurd tu quoque mitigation of the horrors wreaked by the actual Taliban and their Islamist ilk.

      As for the "glass parking lot" comment: excessive, yes; but the fact remains that jihadism (salafist or deobandi) is every bit as vile and evil as Nazism, and just as deserving of extirpation from the world's extant ideologies.

      October 22, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Reply
  7. Allan Kinsman©

    Many issues stem from cultural paradigms. In the United States it appears we express the love of freedom and a pursuit of liberty when it is clearly evident these are falsehoods. Our history stems from a potential to embrace these profound ideologies but the result again says the truth. The heart of many people here although still imagine it and many spend their lives setting a better example than their official government representatives. It is like America itself many of my neighbors are not like me yet we talk and muse together about the hate we observe in the world by people who think their way is so clear that murder is the best way to go about change. A dark road with darkness as a final goal for people or governments or armies set out on destroying others with a different view. You see everyone has a different view and tolerance must enter in or we will just all be finished.

    October 17, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Reply
  8. Ferhat Balkan

    Malala Yousafzai the Pakistani girl who won the Nobel Peace Prize, visited Obama last year and spoke to him. The young girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban said this after her meeting: "I thanked President Obama for the United states' work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees. I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism." That last sentence pretty much explains why extremism is on the rise in Pakistan. You take any country with any religion anywhere and you bomb them with drone strikes for years that results in civilian casualties, you'll get extremism in one form or another.

    October 17, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Reply
    • Billy Maximus

      If the extremists are not droned then they blow up towers in the west as well as in pakistan, get it?

      October 17, 2014 at 7:57 pm | Reply
  9. Thomas

    And what supper genus at the State department came up with this conclusion ?

    Arn't government contracts for common sense great ?

    October 17, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  10. Alex

    My understanding is that Pakistani society has never been more united against extremism then it is now. ZEA is widely popular and backed by all major political and religious groups. There is a difference between conservatism and terrorism. Terrorism is the use of violence for political aims, conservatism is a private choice.

    October 17, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Reply
    • desertvoice

      What you are presenting here is a wishful dream how Pakistan should be! A nation that has pride, is. A nation that is not, but "aspires to become" is not worthy to be a nation! How many people will be killed in Pakistan for luck of justice and for luck of common humanity?

      October 21, 2014 at 6:43 am | Reply
  11. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Maybe to answer to the above question should be yes. The current corrupt government there stinks they seem to be going along with those dastardly drone strikes carried out by those rotten butchers who operate them!

    October 17, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  12. Billy Maximus

    Whats new about it? Everybody knows!

    October 17, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Reply
  13. Pakistan has always been a mess

    Simple truths. Pakistan has always been a mess. Right from the moment it was founded by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. His house in Baluchistan province was blown to smithereens a few years ago. That says it all. Lost, sick people.

    October 17, 2014 at 11:37 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      No, it's not ordinary Pakistanis who are to blame for the mess, but politicians and clerics. Pakistan receives aid from Saudi Arabia, therefore it follows the Saudi brand of Salafism. Young boys from impoverished families attend madrassas, to become suicide bombers. Yes the war on terror has hardened anti-American sentiments and politicians are at the mercy of the clerics, although they want to have a modern Pakistan too.

      October 18, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Reply
    • desertvoice

      Amen! The problem is that the world cannot tolerate the cancer in Pakistan forever!

      October 21, 2014 at 6:45 am | Reply
  14. Jahanzaib

    Malala Yousafzai a BIG DRAMA of the WEST !! WE the people of Pakistan founded our Motherland in the name of Religion .. We are MUSLIMS and we will enforce SHARIA law in Pakistan .. WEST likes it or not !! Even through DEMOCRACY success of MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD of EGYPT have proved that ISLAM is the only choice of MUSLIMS

    October 18, 2014 at 1:12 am | Reply
  15. Jahanzaib

    We say to WEST that enough is enough .. stay away from us .. Death to Colonialism .. West must LEARN to live in their own TERRITORIES !!! You killed MILLIONS in VIETNAM, SOUTH AMERICA and NORTH AMERICA, AUSTRALIA and AFRICA and HINDUSTAN

    October 18, 2014 at 1:16 am | Reply
    • desertvoice

      Don't vent your ugly and misplaced anger on o a poor innocent mother of five!

      October 21, 2014 at 6:50 am | Reply
  16. Blue Saffron

    So let us talk about the muslims in India since Fareed segway(ed) this into his post. The muslims in India have been massacred, suppressed, maimed and rayped by the hindu majority in India. They have been living in oppression. Suffocated. Genocides committed against them.

    The time has come for Muslims in India to rise and demand a separate independent state for themselves. Where they can live in dignity, in peace, in a civilized culture and not under Hindu subjugation. We have seen the fear in your eyes and the quiver in your voices. From the ashes of India shall rise the Phoenix.

    The western world and Americans support a separate state for the Muslims in India. A state based on democratic principles , capitalism, a belief in the unity of god .

    October 18, 2014 at 8:34 pm | Reply
    • Vishnu Sharma

      Another nutter Pakistani with a Saffron name. Remember a mistake once committed will not be repeated

      Blue Saffron, prepare to bury your nation and read the Namaz-e-Janaza and Fatiha over the corpse of Pakistan which will not exist after the year 2015.

      Pakistanis will by singled out and slaughtered all over the word.

      October 18, 2014 at 8:45 pm | Reply
      • Muhammad

        Chill man, you just scared the fluids out of me

        October 20, 2014 at 7:48 pm |
    • Bingo

      What a shame that a muslim individual in Pakistan can claim blasphemy against any non-muslim and get anyone they don't like legally killed. One of the main reasons Pakistan is a hot bed for terrorism recruitment is that most rural areas have no free schooling, most don't get any education past the 5th grade due to economic pressures from their large families – they give their boys to so called teaching groups for boys who promise to cloth and educate them but its in their own version of taliban islamic extremism. Another reason is that their population, like India's now has a huge male bias, to the tune of more than a million men unable to marry. As Pakistan doesn't value girls, they abort them before birth in favour of boys. What does 1 million+ young men of marriageable age do, when their is no chance marriage – They join the Taliban, Al Shabab, ISIS or any other group that shares their views of world islamic domination it seems.

      October 21, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Reply
    • Bingo

      Muslims in India have a separate Islamic state – its called Pakistan.

      October 21, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  17. Arnold

    Muslim terrorists!

    October 19, 2014 at 7:59 am | Reply
    • desertvoice

      This goes beyound extremism! Pakistan is covered with a foul stench of sewer!

      October 21, 2014 at 6:52 am | Reply
  18. Herry

    1. The True Origin of 'Allah':
    The Archaeological Record Speaks

    “Wa salaamu ‘alayya yauma wulittu, wa yauma amuutu, wa yauma ub’atsu hayaa. = And prosperous it (Isa AS) on the day he was born, on the day he died, and on the day he raised back to life ".”(Maryam 19:33)

    (Qs 3:45 , Madjallat
    Kullyyat al Adab, 1934) Hadist Anas bin Malik page.72 : “… arsalnaa ilaihaa
    ruuhanaa fa tamatstsala lahaa basyaran sawiyya.”
    Ibn Ishaq, citing a letter sent by the Prophet Muhammad to Negus of Abyssinia, where Rasullullah said, "I testify that Jesus child Mary, is the spirit of God and His Word, which He sent down to virgin Mary. '

    Source: Pearl of Hadist, 2002
    Vol. III No. 152 Muhammad says, “The breath of life is in Son of Mary

    Answers to all human questions problems are in this Book :

    This will also answer the question of many religions in the world:

    October 21, 2014 at 4:04 am | Reply
  19. Sparks Brunu

    We are mere motals and yet we claim to have right in taking another persond life. If we are asked to creat a hair on our head can we do that? all that science claims to do always starts from an already existing material (or cell/atom to say the least). Can science make anything come into it can't. why then do we take lives we can't give. There is therefore an invisible hand we call GOD behind this. Why don't we let him defend himself...if He is to kill some one as punishment for blasphemy let Him do it by Himself because He a lone is able to put everything into existence. Whatever name you call Him in your religion; God Almighty-Christians, Allah-Muslims, and so on for other religions. Let us preach peace and love and harmony and tolerate one another. If your God wants some one to believe in him, he should have the power to pull that one to himself...I think your only responsibility is to try and persuate (what the Christans call evangelism) while praying to your God for the person to buy your views...this should be done in peace and not in violence.

    October 21, 2014 at 4:29 am | Reply
  20. Benedict Barau

    These days that smallest details are considered dangerous and i can't begin to wonder how segments of Pakistani society feel when they can be targeted by people who fight for a cause that doesn't allow for redress of the said accusation?!!!!.

    October 27, 2014 at 7:31 am | Reply
  21. Bayu Angora

    Indonesian freethinker satirist blogger must stand up and speak up loudly against religious radicalism and extremism.

    July 15, 2019 at 11:11 am | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.