On April 13, Mashal Khan, a 23 year old student of journalism in Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan was lynched by a mob. He was dragged out of his hostel room and shot at with bullets while the mob lynched him. Even after being killed, his body was desecrated and humiliated.
The mob wanted to burn his body, but this was prevented. All this happened in front of police and university security guards, along with the army, who are also present on the campus due to the insecure situation of the area. Many students were videoing the atrocity on mobile phones. These videos later went viral, creating an enormous indignation amongst students and the general public across the country.
Mashal Khan, along with his two friends, was falsely accused of blasphemy, which according to Pakistani laws is punishable by death if proven true. The chief of police has now confirmed in his statement that no such evidence could be found against Mashal Khan, and after searching his hostel room, laptop, mobile phone and other belongings it can be categorically stated that he never committed blasphemy. In recent statements in the court, one of his friends, Abdullah, who was also injured by the mob and had to be taken to hospital, has stated that the university’s administration had planned these events because Mashal Khan was raising his voice against the management’s rotten corruption and was in possession of important documents that he was going to highlight in the courts and media.
Mashal Khan was a progressive student. After the incident, when the media visited his hostel room, portraits of Karl Marx and Che Guevera were found hanging on the walls. Slogans written on the walls of his room included "Workers of the World Unite!" He had also studied in Moscow University for a few years, but due to financial restraints he had to abandon his studies there and return to Pakistan. Just a few days before the incident he had organised a protest against the university administration on issues such as fee hikes. In a TV interview during the protest two days ago, he stated that fees in other government universities are around ten to twelve thousand rupees, but that this university is charging twenty five thousand rupee for a semester - a massive injustice. He also raised the issue of the university administration’s corruption.
Due to these activities and his progressive ideas, Mashal Khan was becoming a thorn in the side of the university administration - hence they planned to get rid of him. The administration planned this heinous crime with the help of the leadership of fundamentalist student organization Islami Jamiat Talba (IJT) and the nationalist Pushtoon Students Federation (PSF). The IJT has a long history of criminal and fundamentalist activities on campuses across the country. Strongly supported by the Pakistani State and university administrations, this student organization has been used to victimize progressive students and to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation on the campuses. The IJT played a leading role in recruiting jihadis in the American-backed “Dollar Jihad” in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which later gave birth to Taliban. The mother party of this student organization, Jamat Islami, is currently in a coalition government in the province, Khyber Pushtoonkhwa, where this incident happened. They were also in power under the dictatorship of Musharaf regime. In power they are also responsible for making drastic changes to the curriculum to make it easier for their fundamentalist organizations to recruit students.
The other leading organization in this crime is PSF, the student wing of ANP, a pushtoon nationalist party. It was in power in this province for five years from 2008-2013, founding this university and naming it after their late leader Abdul Wali Khan. This party claims the legacy of Bacha Khan, the grandfather of current leader Asfandyar Wali and father of late Abdul Wali Khan. Bacha Khan was inspired by Gandhi, especially with his ideas of nonviolence. This party also had strong left wing tendencies, and its red-cap-wearing supporters amongst the working class were distinct from all other parties in the country. But this party has strayed far from its ideals and is drowning in the quagmire of the black economy, drug trade, land grabbing and other crimes. These criminal activities have unmasked the degeneration of the party, to the extent where its student leaders can't be distinguished from those of its ideological opponents, the IJT. Others leading the mob were from the ruling party - the PTI of Imran Khan - and its student wing.
Mashal Khan was mobilizing students in defence of their rights, and this was not acceptable to the IJT or PSF. Also, he had started a campaign against the university administration over the fee hikes and was about to spill the beans regarding a colossal corruption scandal involving the varsity’s administration. The administration, after sensing the danger to their plundering, vowed to silence Mashal. First they asked the leadership of PSF to coerce Mashal not to speak about their corruption and students’ rights. Then the IJT and the student wing of the ruling party, the Insaf Student Federation, were approached, who also failed to help their accomplices. Fearing that they were losing control of the situation, the university management ordered Abdullah, a comrade of Mashal Khan, to become a witness against Mashal, inventing the story of blasphemy. Unsurprisingly, he refused to carry out these orders.
On April 12, Mashal Khan was falsely accused by other students in the pockets of the administration of sharing blasphemous content on his Facebook account. These allegations were proved to be false by the fact that the account was active even after Mashal’s terrible murder. At that time Mashal was advised by his friends to go home until the situation had cooled down, but he declined, saying he was not guilty. On the same day, in the university canteen and other places, propaganda was spread by a number of students who were against him that he has committed blasphemy.
One student from the above mentioned organizations made accusations against him and others bore false witness to this crime. Then they gathered almost fifty students around them and, under the protection of the police and university security guards, marched towards Mashal Khan's room raising Islamic slogans.
Mashal refused to run away from his room, as he had done nothing wrong. Those who tried to save him were unarmed and were pushed away, while those who were coming to kill him were fully armed and had all the protection of the security forces and university administration. First, Mashal was inhumanely beaten with wooden planks, and then he was shot at and hit by two bullets, before pulling him down the stairs of the triple-story building. He was stripped naked, and his corpse was attacked and mutilated with bricks. The presence of police during all this can be clearly seen in the videos circulating on social media.
After the murder, the university administration issued a notification accusing Mashal and his two friends of blasphemy and rusticating him from the university. An inquiry committee was also appointed to investigate his crime. In this notification there is no mention of the brutality and killing of Mashal’s murderers, nor is any action taken against those involved. The university was closed for indefinite period after this.
When this news reached students across the country, a strong mood of indignation and anger developed against the fundamentalists. Firstly, the media portrayed this murder as a spontaneous reaction of hundreds of students to the allegations of blasphemy. But later reports showed that all this was planned and several dozen students were involved; meanwhile, many university employees were also complicit. Due to the presence of the police, other students couldn't do anything to protect Mashal Khan. All these details led to protests at campuses in universities across the country, where students raised slogans against state sponsored terrorism and demanded the death penalty for the cruel murderers.
When Mashal Khan's body was taken to his village in Swabi the prayer leaders and local Mullahs refused to lead his funeral prayers, calling him an infidel. Public announcements were also made from mosques asking people not to attend his funeral. A local technician then led his funeral prayers with a few people present; the whole situation was tense. Some people had to guard the funeral with weapons to defend against any attacks on it. This local technician was also threatened later with dire consequences.
But when news of this injustice spread, there was a general reaction of anger against what these atrocities. Hundreds of students and left-wing political activists across the country thronged the village of Mashal Khan to express solidarity with his family. A delegation from the Progressive Youth Alliance also visited his village and met his father and expressed their solidarity with him and his family. Comrades from the PYA also addressed the gathering and expressed their anger against the poison of fundamentalism and how this evil has its roots in the decaying capitalist system that blights the country.
All these acts of solidarity emboldened the people of the village, and two days later they came out in large numbers to protest against this victimization, raising slogans of Begunah (“he is innocent”) and demanding death sentences for the murderers. A large number of people gathered at the main crossing of the village, where student leaders and left-wing political activists addressed them.
The reaction of the students across the country to this incident is so strong that some Mullahs have had to come on TV to announce that Mashal Khan is a martyr (Shaheed).
Protests were held by students at Peshawar University, Malakand University, Quaid e Azam University Islamabad, Islamic International University Islamabad, Balochistan University, UET Lahore, BZU Multan, Islamia University Bahawalpur and many others. PYA Lahore has also dedicated its convention, to be held on 22 April, to Mashal Khan, as - like the PYA - he was also fighting against fee hikes and corruption in universities.
This incident also shows the bankruptcy of the ideas of the bourgeois intellectuals, who want to change society and reform the system via the state institutions and by merely educating the youth. It clearly shows that all the institutions of the state support the forces of reaction and ignorance. The only way out for the youth is to fight against the state and the imperialist powers that finance and support the forces of Islamic fundamentalism in this region. The problem here is not the education of the youth, but the senile socio-economic system.
A big majority of the population in Pakistan is illiterate. Of those who are able to pay for a decent education, very few (only four percent) are able to reach university level, since they are forced to work in order to earn their livelihood. In the university campuses, they are silenced by state sponsored goons, while student unions and politics are banned. Before being admitted, students are forced to sign a legal document, promising not to be involved in political activities. Failure to abide by this agreement means that they can be rusticated. So while fees are raised every six months and the quality of education keeps deteriorating, students are not allowed to raise their voices. The university administration keeps making money through corruption, while denying students their basic rights. Critical thinking inside campuses is also strongly repressed, and any student who raises questions about the curriculum or state-supplied version of any subject is shunned by the professors and the administration, with all efforts made to purge any critical views.
Mashal Khan was such a student who was striving against all injustice and cruelty. Until his last breath he was loyal to his ideals.
The brutal forces of reaction have tried to silence Mashal’s voice, but they achieved the opposite. His voice now has more strength and is finding an echo in campuses across the country. This system, and the state that defend it, are decaying at a rapid pace, and evil forces are manifesting themselves in various brutal forms. Mashal and thousands of students like him know that the cancer of savagery, frustration, and individualism have permeated the society. Like a thorny weed, this rotten system cannot simply have its branches cut; rather, it needs to be pulled from its roots.
Revolutionary students, workers and peasants need to unite in this war against tyranny and oppression. They should struggle for a red dawn which guarantees a bright future for humanity, with no more rule by an elite and repressive minority over the masses. The students across the country will take inspiration from Mashal's struggle (his name literally means Torch) to undertake their own revolutionary activity and forge a revolutionary Marxist party that can emancipate the oppressed classes through a socialist revolution.