Former Pakistani information minister Sherry Rehman is high up on the list of al Qaeda targets because of a bill she introduced in 2010 making the punishment for blasphemy lighter than it is currently — 10 years in jail to death punishment.
She became what has been described as a “prisoner of intolerance”. But she has not given up on her bill or her convictions.
She spoke to Hindustan Times — the first time to an Indian newspaper after the recent concerns about her security — on the sidelines of an international conference on US-Islam relations in Washington.
How did it feel to be house-bound (because of threats against your life)?
It’s over now. I am going everywhere. I have enhanced security. It’s par for the course. But I do believe that certain political parties used the blasphemy law to forward their agenda against the government.
It was clearly a political outlier, and I think when we have a government with stronger plurality, which we hope to, we will look at all such laws.
Do you regret bringing the law?
Absolutely not, why should I regret anything? I am happy to be alive. Reforming laws that misuse Islam’s name or the Prophet’s good name (peace be upon him) is not considered anti-religion or anti-anything.
Were you scared at any time when there were reports of threats to your life?
Everyone has some amount of insecurity in such situations. But there comes a point when you move on. The state has provided me with substantial amount of security and I have some of my own. And I am going about everywhere. I have been to Larkana (in Sind) recently — at an open, very big forum — to celebrate the birthday of the founder of the Pakistan People’s Party.
Things are not what they were two months ago. I think that Pakistan has moved on and I hope that the extremists’ advance will be mitigated. Anyway we are seeing a very strong civil society movement, a new movement emerging, especially in big cities like Karachi where middle class — young people and not diehards of the human rights movement — not invested in public space are coming out and making their voices heard and building coalition with political parties.
I think that is very important. That’s happening. And we hope that between the progressive parties — the PPP and others — with the civil society can be a force again.
You are a strong believer in Track II with India.
I run the most institutionalised programme…my institute.
As you can see there has been a sharp uptick in relations, with talks and the Mohali show
I think it’s going everywhere. We are back to structured talks. The trade secretaries are meeting or are about to meet, the defence secretaries have met and the foreign secretaries have met.
And there was the Mohali match meeting, which didn’t take place in a strategic vacuum as both prime ministers are motivated very powerfully by the will of their people to to bring about a change in their tenure, more than any other time.
Is there a buy in from the Army to the peace process?
Who, from the Indian Army?
No, from the Pakistani Army.
That’s a preposterous question. It’s the Indian army that is not okaying the Siachen troop withdrawal. Armies have a stake everywhere. Our army is — say when the Prime Minister or the foreign minister or the President speak, they do it with total consensus (sic). They don’t have to go home and revise what they said; there is no Sharm el-Shaikh moment (When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh committed talks in the face of 26/11, and retreated under domestic pressure later).
There is hope, but we should not burden this moment with too many expectations, there is 63 years of discord to go through after all.