I want to concentrate on a different facet of the tragedy, namely the absurd laws that remain on Pakistan's books, decades after political expediency (in Bhutto's case) and downright bigotry (in Zia's case) that have allowed things like this to happen.
Actually, I think some people may take issue with that statement in and of itself. So let's back up for a second. There are basically two ideal-type views on the relationship between laws in a society, and that society's existing mores and preferences. The first would be that laws really matter, and change the way we think about things, as well as the things we do. The second is diametrically opposed to this, and would argue that laws are epiphenomenal. Laws, in this view, merely reflect what we already think and do and have no independent effect on anything. Put differently, the first view says laws determine our actions and thoughts, and the second says that our actions and thoughts determine our laws.
This distinction is important because it forces us to consider what types of actions we should take when we oppose a particular social practice. Let's take honor killings. If you are with the first group, you think that if you make the laws against honor killings more stringent -- by, say, punishing the entire family responsible for the killing -- then you can slowly but surely eradicate it. If you are in the second group, you think changing the law is pointless; the thing to do is to change the education standards and the social norms that govern our interactions and actions in society. These prescriptions are very different, and so the views we have on the law-norms relationship have very real consequences for how we go about reforming things.
I think most reasonable people would fall in between the two ideal-type views on average, but privilege one or the other on a case-by-case basis.
On the Ahmedi issue, however, I'm most definitely in the first camp. Why do I believe this? Well, the main reason is that the only reason we even have these laws -- especially the Bhutto laws from the 70s which declared Ahmedis non-Muslims -- is because of agitation from the religious right. Now, we all know that the religious right has no real political power; they've never won anything worth winning in elections. They are at most a nuisance, a bunch of mosquitoes and flies who need to be brushed away when they start buzzing around. They don't represent "average" Pakistani norms and never have.
The problem is that because of short-term and ill-advised considerations, non-religious leaders have given into these goons repeatedly. Whether it's something serious like declaring Ahmedis non-Muslims (Bhutto), or something unserious but still incredibly annoying like a religious column in the Pakistani passport (Musharraf), leaders have found it convenient to give in to them, hoping it'll shut them up. But it never does. All it actually does is leave draconian and bigoted laws on the books for people to take advantage of. The Zia laws are similar, in that they allow and sanction people to explicitly discriminate against an entire group of Pakistani citizens. Let me say that again: under Pakistani law, we are supposed to discriminate. Not discriminating is illegal.
What ends up happening is that because of the existence of these laws, cultural and social practices change as a result. Anti-Ahmedi sentiment has spread from being the sole purview of the religious right to a much more mainstream position in the last couple of decades. Judging by online comments and some Tweets I've read, hating Ahmedis and being glad about yesterday's events is perfectly normal. My feeling is that these laws are a big reason for that.
Anyway, all this is a long preamble to my actual point: this is the next big thing the PPP must do. The Hudood laws, the rape laws, and the anti-Ahmedi laws. Gone. Done. Dusted. Am I crazy? Can this happen? Mostly yes, and mostly no, respectively, but bear with me.
If you examine the PPP government's record in power, there's been a great bifurcation on the issues on which they've done well versus the ones they've done badly in. Think about their greatest successes: the autonomy package for Gilgit Baltistan. The moving forward -- if fitfully, in stops and starts -- on Balochistan and Balochi rights. The 18th amendment. Inter-provincial harmony. Now think about their greatest failures: electricity. Water. The war. The economy.
Can you see what's going on here? On the issues which affect the everyday lives of ordinary Pakistanis, the PPP government is either unwilling or unable to do anything that makes a difference. On the other hand, on "big" political/constitutional issues, whose importance tomorrow will outweigh their importance today, they've actually done an excellent job.
Well, this should be right up their alley. The anti-Ahmedi and Hudood laws are a disgusting blot in our penal code. It should be their next target. The tragedy of yesterday should serve as a focal point around which reform can coalesce. Recall that the PPP was the only party to support Musharraf's Women's Rights Bill back in 2006, when his own coalition partners (the Q) weren't really for it. They are, purportedly, the secular, liberal party of Pakistan -- or at least they advertise themselves as such. The numbers may not work in the Assemblies -- I see only the MQM helping them out, and even combined those two don't make for a majority, let alone a two-thirds majority. But I'd still like to see them make an effort, if for no other reason than forcing the PML-N and PML-Qs of the world to come out in the open and explicitly say they favor the current discriminatory legislation (and they will, don't worry).
This is what governments are elected to do: tackle the big issues which individuals can't tackle on their own (like, say, garbage collection). This is the PPP's chance to make history...again. It's time for them to rid Pakistan of these laws. It's time for the PPP to step up.
UPDATE: Here's the Taliban's statement in reaction to the killings. Let's just say it's not exactly like reading NFP:
Congratulations for the whole nation. What the brave Mujahideen did yesterday in Garhi Shahu & Model Town, Lahore. We greet them whole heartedly how well they have done with best of their expertise. As a whole we do like to encourage the nation for increasing this kind of activities like target killings of Qadianis, Shia, supporting political parties, Law enforcement agencies, Pakistan Army, racist parties and many more. MQM is an acting political and terrorist wing of Qadianis & jews. They are responsible for destruction of the country & nation. We are confirming the very near future assassination attacks on everyone who is with MQM. Simultaneously we advise the realistic people to take initiative and kill every that person who came in their range. There is no specific need of detonators, bombs or explosives. Just kill them either by means of just crashing them under their cars. Qadiani & Shia are the enemies of Islam and common people. They disrespect Muhammad (Salal-Lahu-Alaihi Wasallam) and Sahaba (Razi Allahu-Anhum). They have no respect for anyone. MQM is their terrorist wing which is involved in target killings in Karachi.