New Delhi: The import of the Aasia Bibi judgement has either escaped New Delhi or the religious right regime of Narendra Modi has chosen to ignore it. After all, the right-wing Islamists of Pakistan who have protested Aasia’s acquittal on blasphemy allegations by hurling threats at Supreme Court judges, her defence counsel, and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, bear no small resemblance to Hindutva purists and fanatics weighing in on issues ranging from a Ram temple at Ayodhya to Sabrimala. Nevertheless, at least Indian strategists should sit up and take notice of breathtaking developments across the western border in Pakistan.

It is no-gainsaid that the Pakistan Supreme Court has passed the test of dispensing justice to blasphemy victim Aasia Bibi with flying colours. Indeed, this is what the Supreme Court as an institution stands for all over the world: dispensing justice without fear or favour. Next to the Supreme Court, Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan has done proud to his office. His national address warning protestors not to threaten state institutions and functionaries and to expect state reprisals for breaking the law and indulging in violence couldn’t have come sooner.

Not surprisingly, the army chief, General Bajwa, has come for criticism for not siding with the protesters and his allegedly non-mainstream Islamic affiliations have been denounced. Protest leaders have also sought to incite the Pakistan army leadership to oust General Bajwa. Imran Khan has reacted strongly to the call to the army to rebel and the next few days are sensitive for Pakistan. In its chequered history of coups and civilian dismissals of elected governments, Pakistan has also witnessed two instances of the army going against a superior military authority. They cannot be classed as counter-coups but come close. The first incident concerned Ayub Khan who was nudged by army chief Yahya Khan to quit after uncontrollable internal political ferment in the years after the stalemated 1965 war with India. The second incident implicated Yahya himself against who the army ganged up for the loss of the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh.

Would General Bajwa suffer Yahya’s fate? There is no comparison in the circumstances but the pressure on the army from external and internal Islamist elements must be severe. If Aasia Bibi leaves Pakistan for a European sanctuary as is widely expected, it will not contain the anger and outrage of extremists but only fan their fears and hatreds further. The Aasia case has already claimed two lives: that of the Punjab governor who took her side and his guard and assassin who was hanged. Would Imran Khan stick with the spirit of the national address? One hopes so but one cannot be sure. In fact, Imran Khan faces danger to his life from extremist infiltrators in his secretariat. If the government submits to protesters and fails to secure the state institutions that have supported Aasia Bibi, Pakistan helplessly will slither down the slope.

The opposition PPP leader, Bilawal Bhutto, courageously has backed Imran Khan and the Supreme Court. External powers should also, according to their instincts, openly or quietly come in support of Imran Khan. Pakistan stands at a crossroads. The external environment has never been less conducive to Pakistani extremism as now. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s principal backer, is engulfed in an existential crisis with the Jamal Khashoggi murder. The crown prince may go. China does not normally interfere in the internal affairs of Pakistan but its CPEC investments and ambitions would go up in smoke if the extremists riding on Aasia Bibi anger come to power. Washington will actively target Pakistan if the extremists win. And a victory for extremists would further imperil India in Kashmir and elsewhere.

This is a public forum so no guidance would be issued for Indian action in Pakistan’s fluid situation. But it is advisable to avoid hard talk for a while. There is every reason to believe that rogue establishment elements may incite trouble in Kashmir as a means to divert extremist attention. It is highly unlikely that Imran Khan or General Bajwa would back such brinkmanship. They would least desire external trouble at a moment of grave internal emergency. Pakistan is poised for a cleanup with or without Imran Khan. A cleansed Pakistan would be in India’s long-term interest. Political extremism on both sides of the border has to be fought.