Lynching in Sialkot is a continuation of the history of vigilantism in Pakistan

OpinionLynching in Sialkot is a continuation of the history of vigilantism in...

By Agha Iqrar Haroon   

The Civil and Military leadership of Pakistan have shown their strong condemnation for the horrific lynching and burning of a Sri Lankan citizen in Sialkot on Friday by a mob of a factory where he had been serving as manager.


Prime Minister Imran Khan in his message said that the horrific vigilante attack on a factory in Sialkot and the burning alive of a Sri Lankan manager is a day of shame for Pakistan. He said that he would oversee the investigations and stated that there would be no mistake all those responsible will be punished with the full severity of the law.

Chief of Pakistan Army COAS Gen Qamar Bajwa in his message said that the cold-blooded murder of Sri Lankan Priyantha Kumara by a mob at Sialkot is (was) extremely condemnable and shameful. He said such extra-judicial vigilantism cannot be condoned at any cost and he directed all-out support to civil administration to arrest perpetrators of this heinous crime and bring them to justice.

This is not the first incident of mob justice and lynching in Pakistan. The first faith-based vigilante lynching I covered was in the mid-90s when a Muslim man was lynched to death by his neighbors in Gujranwala.

Since the early 80s, vigilantism is a dreadful reality in Pakistan. Since then A Jamaat or B Jamaat had been performing vigilantism. Since 1988, I had been covering or reporting attacks on annual functions of universities and colleges by vigilantes to snub immoral activities like the use of music, etc. Attacks on cultural events, attacks on painting and photo exhibitions, attacks on Mena Bazaars, and other cultural activities had been a new normal since the early 80s.

During the 90s media had been under attack by vigilante groups as “collaborators” of people following immoral lives because media had been trying to document and report such vigilantism. Even media had been under attack for using the word/diction “vigilantism” for illegal policing because vigilantes were of the view that this diction has (had) negative connotation and denotation therefore, it must not be used for those (vigilantes) who had been working for cleaning the society from ills.

Vigilantes were called dedicated people who wanted to clean society from evils. Such groups had been telling youth what to wear and what to do and what not to do. A long history of subjugation of society by vigilantism in Pakistan is yet to be documented but it is a reality and had been a reality that vigilantes have been glorified as heroes and flag bearers of “good” against the “evil”. Several murders had been committed by vigilantes in educational institutions of Pakistan since the early 80s but they had never been punished rather glorified for their contribution towards social morality.

The last three decades of the 20th century in Pakistan would be remembered as drastic changes that took place in the cultural, social, academic, and art scenes of Pakistan. This was the time when even symbolism in poetry was under the control of vigilantes and poets had been directed by the vigilantes what symbol they could use for poetry and what symbolic diction was against cultural and social norms of the society and this all exercise was done by vigilantes and backed by the state power.

We know that vigilantism is the act of enforcement, investigation, or punishment of perceived offenses without legal authority and a vigilante is a practitioner of vigilantism. In Pakistan vigilantism slowly but surely engulfed everything around and became so powerful that state decisions had been dictated by vigilante groups by the end of the 20th century. The first two decades of the 21st century in Pakistan would be remembered for a knuckle fight between the state and vigilantism in the form of war against terrorism when the State tried to reclaim its power from vigilantes and this battle is still going on. During the last decade, State successfully reclaimed some of the lost lands but vigilantism is not on the run rather trying to regain ground with a mix of tactical withdrawal and negotiating mode.

The rise of vigilantism during the year 2021 is an unfortunate reality. Less than six days before the horrific incident of Sialkot, a mob in Charsadda attacked a police station to target a man accused of blasphemy who was mentally challenged (insane). The trend of attacking minority-owned properties is also on the rise while the scenes of burnt shops and vehicles during the pitched fight between Punjab Police and a religious outfit cost several lives in Lahore recently including three policemen.

All these incidents are taking place when Pakistan is already under the watch and has been added to the list of “Countries of Particular Concern, Special Watch List Countries” of the US Department of State on November 15, 2021. The propaganda against Pakistan now includes that religious freedom conditions across Pakistan continue to trend negatively although lynching of Mashaal Khan was not very different from the lynching of Sri Lankan manager though one was a Muslim and the other was a non-Muslim.

Pakistan had gone through a terrible but successful war against extremism that cost this South Asian nation over 80,000 lives and a National Action Plan (NAP) was formulated to fight against social radicalization and extremism while Pakistan was fighting for survival. Militarily we won the war but socially vigilantism and extremism are rising. Napping of NAP can cause reversing what we have gained with our blood.

Social scientists can give a long list of reasons for the apparent failure of clamping extremism in Pakistan including flaws in the judicial process, polarization in society, weak narrative against terrorism, political negotiations with vigilante’s groups but for me the required imperative role of the State is needed that must not be “need-based” (taking actions only against projected and important cases). The 70 plus years of our national identity, 40 years we have already spent in making and breaking vigilante groups and cleaning radicalism with our blood. Is it not enough now?


The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.

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