AKORA KHATTAK, Pakistan – Several thousand people gathered on Saturday near the Afghan border to complain about the death of Sami ul-Haq, 82, a leading Sunni cleric and so-called "father of the Taliban", who was stabbed to death by unknown assailants.
Officials and religious leaders from across the ideological spectrum in Pakistan and Afghanistan joined students from the prestigious seminar in Akora Khattak, where Haq taught and supervised two generations of Afghan Islamist militants.
A delegation of Afghan leaders came to pay tribute to Haq, whom the Kabul government had recently asked to help persuade the Taliban insurgents to start negotiations to end the 17-year war.
Some Pakistani participants from banned religious groups hid their faces behind turbans.
Haq's mysterious murder on Friday was a shock to the nation. For several days, nationwide violent protests by traditionally moderate Sunni groups in Pakistan, angered by the acquittal of the Supreme Court of a blasphemous Christian woman.
The overcrowded funeral was a temporary break in the nation's dividing turmoil and a tribute to Haq's multiple influence on the country.
He was a radical Islamic scholar – often referred to as Respect, Maulana. But he was also a respected political leader and legislator and a humanitarian man who famously condemned a religious fatwa that condemned militant Islamists for attacking health professionals who distributed the polio vaccine.
"We are all shocked, but also happy, because our respected Maulana has become a martyr at this late stage in life," said a teen seminar student named Ikram Abbasi, who had spent hours with a group of classmates attending a service. "He is a great leader and he is a martyr for Islam."
In the capital, Islamabad and other cities, peace returned on Saturday after four days of anti-blasphemy groups canceled massive street protests. Their leaders declared that they were non-violent lovers of Prophet Muhammad, but they exhorted angry crowds to block highways, set fire, and throw stones. Some demanded a military mutiny and the deaths of the judges, who on Wednesday canceled the blasphemous condemnation of Asia Bibi after nine years in prison.
The Pakistani government paid a heavy price for the peace by yielding to most of the demonstrators' demands after hours of negotiations on Friday night.
The signed contract was published without delay and allowed the anti-blasphemy groups to appeal the ruling of the Supreme Court. It was also agreed that Bibi, whom the demonstrators want to see dead, can not leave the country.
The breathtaking capitulation was widespread and has been described by many observers as a dangerous dedication to the forces of religious extremism and hatred of minorities, who often oppose charges of blasphemy against Islam.
Bibi, 47, a farmer, was convicted after a dispute with Muslim employees in a field. The Supreme Court ruled that the evidence against them was weak and contradictory, but did not criticize or criticize the strict blasphemy laws or the mandatory death penalty for convicted blasphemers.
Faisal Siddiqi, a lawyer writing in the Dawn newspaper, said the court ruling set the tone "for a much bigger existential problem confronting the country: whether Pakistan is actually becoming a theocratic state governed by vigilantism" or whether it is a judgment "watershed", which allows the country with a Muslim majority to progress as a "modern constitutional state".
Many people had praised new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan after sharply warning the demonstrators in a televised televised address on Wednesday.
Khan described her aggressive behavior and her threats as "unfortunate," saying that they did not "act in the service of Islam" and urged them not to clash with the laws of a democratic state.
But on Saturday, when Khan was not in China, critics expressed disappointment that his resolve had collapsed. This would further encourage a radical religious movement supported by millions of mainstream Sunni Muslims.
Some warned that Bibi's life in Pakistan was not safe where people blamed for blasphemy were often lynched. Her lawyer fled the country on Saturday and said he received death threats. The judges who had freed Bibi were threatened with their lives. Therefore, another high court that hears the appeal of the demonstrators may feel at risk.
"The limits of hatred have continued to expand in Pakistan without being strangled by the state or society," wrote Babar Sattar, a lawyer in Islamabad, on Saturday in The News International. "Clerics consider this judgment as the state that intervenes in their exclusive domain."
Constable reported from Islamabad.