Tuesday, January 24, 2017

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Bring Back Our Girls: Pakistan’s Hindus Struggle Against Forced Conversions


A number of girls from the minority communities have been abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and married off, a trend that legal sanctions have failed to curb.

Reporting on the abduction and forced conversion to Islam of young Hindu girls in Pakistan’s Sindh province has never been easy. After hearing the heart-rending stories told by parents of  daughters as young as 12 snatched away married off in dargahs to adult men within hours, you see the same pattern repeat itself in case after case – a triumphant  clergy, a lax or complicit police force, ineffective courts, an often passive civil society and largely an uncritical mainstream media.
For  those who try to track the cases, even worse than the slurs and accusations – we are called “kafirs” (infidels), accused of tarnishing the country’s name abroad or making up ‘fake news’ – is the reality of a girl just disappearing from view in a burqa, even when the legal proceedings have gone all the way to the Supreme Court. Handed over to her new ‘household’, she turns into – who knows? – a sex slave, a glorified domestic worker, a compliant wife cut off forever from her roots and her maternal home. I have often tried to meet young women who were once called Rinkle Kumari, Asha Kumari or Anjali Kumari Meghwar, but with no success.
It is not as if  one anti-conversion law would have vanquished overnight the criminal-clergy nexus that powers many of these abductions and ensures they prevail despite legal challenges. But there is no doubt the Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Act 2015, passed by the Sindh assembly on November 24 last year, was a progressive law that would have emboldened the minorities, whether Hindu or Christian, and liberals fighting for minority rights, not just in Sindh, Pakistan’s most diverse province, but countrywide.
The act made forcible conversion a criminal offence punishable with a minimum of five years in jail and maximum of life imprisonment. Importantly, in the context of the abduction of many minor girls especially in rural Sindh, it prohibited anyone under 18 from converting to another religion and said such a conversion would not be accepted as having taken place. Despite the likelihood of this provision being attacked by religious groups – on the argument that there is no restriction on the age of conversion in Islam – all the major parties assented to the private bill proposed in 2015 by Nand Kumar Goklani, a Hindu member of the provincial assembly of Sindh belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional party. It then only required the Sindh governor’s signature to become law.
However, it took the Sindh government just three weeks to backtrack from an Act that was three years in the making. Given that it was the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Sindh that had formed a committee of legal and other experts way back in 2013 to begin work on a forced conversion bill, it is truly ironical that former president and PPP leader Asif Zardari has played a leading role in the new Act being undermined. It is well-known that Zardari has acceded to the demand of  the religious right – specifically, the head of the Jamaat e Islami party, Sirajul Haq – that the Act  be struck down, in order to ensure a smooth re-entry for himself into the political arena after a period of self-imposed exile from Pakistan. It seems that if the Act does now become law, it will be without the clause prohibiting conversion of minors.
In both practical and symbolic terms, this will  cripple the law. One of the most appalling ways in which abduction-conversion cases play out is that even when the girls are found to be minors, and their marriages are therefore illegal under the child marriage law, they are not allowed to go back to their Hindu families because they are seen as converts to Islam. The claims of clerics that these young girls came to them of their own free will to embrace Islam go unchallenged, when they should really invite great scepticism. Moreover, the girls’ statements that they don’t want to return to their families are taken at face value, even when their expressions and their silences tell another story – of fear of actions against them and their families by abductors and their religious patrons, who can be seen swarming the court, sometimes with arms, and shouting religious slogans. (I have personally seen such scenes unfold in the Sindh high court.) Then after languishing in government shelters without access to their families, the girls finally bow to the inevitable and accept their new religion and homes.
In the typical case of Anjali Kumari Meghwar, who, by her Hindu family’s account, was abducted from the courtyard of her home and forcibly converted to Islam in 2014 at the age of  12 at the Bharchundi Shareef shrine in upper Sindh (infamous for conducting such conversions) and married to her abductor, Riaz Siyal, the Sindh high court did not accept her marriage. This was not because the court accepted the birth certificate provided by her parents, but because government doctors estimated her age to be about 14-15 years, making her a minor. She was first kept in a government shelter and is now finally with Siyal, on court orders issued last month, even while there are big question marks over her true age.
Clearly, a law that bans conversion of minors would help to prevent such nightmare scenarios from unfolding – at the very least, it would strengthen the families and human rights activists trying to get the police to register cases and mount legal challenges. On the other hand, a weakened anti-conversion law will only reinforce the sense that it is the writ of the religious right that runs in matters of abduction and conversion. One fears a situation where it may be as hard to politically challenge the religious right on this issue as it is on the blasphemy law.
The role of religious extremism in the increased incidence of conversions in upper or northern Sindh, especially since 2012, has been significant. While there have been abductions and conversions for decades in Sindh (where 97% of Pakistan’s 2.5 million or so Hindus live) the really notorious areas were in southern Sindh – such as Mirpur Khas and Tharparkar – where the Hindus are largely poor and at the margins of society. In 2012, the case of Rinkle Kumari, in particular, brought home the fact that this trend was manifest in upper Sindh too, where Hindus are not lacking in economic clout, and was linked to spreading ‘Talibanisation’. It is no accident that the abductions were preceded by an incident in 2011 in which four Hindu doctors in Shikarpur in upper Sindh were gunned down, and there were also attacks on Hindu temples and on Shias.
Rinkle’s own family is a business family, and, in contrast to many others, too economically weak to pursue such cases. It fought in the courts to challenge to what they maintained was an abduction and forced conversion, naming in particular Abdul Haq (aka Mian Mithu) a PPP parliamentarian  (he was subsequently denied a ticket), and a disciple of the Bharchundi peer. Haq is notorious for promoting and facilitating conversions by young women to Islam. In the end, the case ended badly for Rinkle’s family, with the Supreme Court finally sending her off with the man her parents said had abducted her. For human rights activists and others who tracked the tortuous case on a daily basis (including this writer), there were enough tell-tale signs that rather than Rinkle exercising her “free will”, it was the will of the religious elite represented by Haq that had prevailed. The question of how Rinkle who had, at one point, said clearly in open court that she wanted to go with her mother, ended up in a shelter and then with Shah is deeply troubling.
While there is no reliable data on the volume of forced conversions, since many cases go unreported, 67 cases of kidnappings of Hindu girls were reported in the Sindhi press between 2012 and 2015. The South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-PK) released a report in collaboration with the Aurat Foundation in July 2015 stating that at least 1,000 girls are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year. The report defined a forced conversion as when a person or persons use any sort of pressure, force, duress or threat – whether physical, emotional or psychological – to make another person adopt another religion. In an alarming trend, Hindu families deeply rattled by the abductions have been fleeing from the region. In 2014, a Pakistan Muslim League (N) parliamentarian, Ramesh Kumar Vanwani, told the national assembly that around 5,000 Hindus were migrating from Pakistan to India every year.
This may well be factored into the sinister calculations behind abduction-conversions – abducting a family’s women is a potent way of making them deeply insecure and prone to flee. It is hard to forget what a man from a Hindu Meghwal family whose daughter had been abducted told me in 2013: “When our daughters are not safe, when they are kidnapped, converted, and never allowed to see their parents, what is the use of living in my land?”
One positive fallout of all the attention – in the media, social media and international media – garnered by Rinkle Kumari and other cases during, and after, 2012 was the impetus towards an anti-conversion law in Sindh. Hindu legislators, repeatedly asked by their constituents, what they were doing to protect their daughters, were a driving force behind this. However,  the attention around such cases has also prompted the major shrines that are, in Sindh, the centre of such activities, to become more belligerent and led them to issue astonishing ‘conversion certificates’ that even contain  statements like “Girl has converted to Islam and now it is our responsibility to save her from Kafirs”.  The implication, as Vankwani points out, is that “Now, even her parents have become kafirs”.
Statistics are also being rolled out on conversions, such as the Jamia Binoria Madrassa in Karachi, which claims to have converted 152 Christians, 147 Hindus, one atheist, two Buddhists, five Ahmediyyas, one Ismaili and one Kalash. Housed in a plush bungalow, it has a public address system and CCTV cameras. Yet these trappings of modernity have not filtered down to the young women lodged there who don’t appear to have mobile phones. When I visited this madrassa in June 2016, I met three girls – two Sindhi Hindu and one Punjabi Christian – who had converted to Islam, and for whom marriages were apparently being arranged, I was struck by their stock answers when I sought the reasons for their conversion and they way they kept deferring to the female supervisor in charge of them.
While clerics regurgitate the pieties about Islam being a peaceful religion and giving freedom to both men and women, they tend to be hostile when confronted with probing questions about conversion. When I asked Shaikhullah Rabbani, who heads the conversion department at the madrassa, whether Muslim men and women were free to convert, in the way that those from other religions were converting to Islam, he was outraged. So too was Sahibzada Abul Khair Muhammad Zubair, a prominent religious scholar in Hyderabad, when I met him with a foreign journalist. Controlling his obvious distaste at my question, he tersely responded that that any Muslim girl wishing to convert would have to leave Pakistan. At the end of the interview, he asked, “Are you a Sindhi?” to which I replied that I was.
Clerics are vehement on the argument that there is no age bar against conversion, citing that Hazarat Ali himself accepted Islam as a child. In a conversation with me, Allam Domki of the Majlis Wahadat ul Muslimeen argued that a girl becomes mature at nine years of age, but when I asked whether a girl of that age is able to understand what conversion to Islam even means, he did not respond, yet insisted that an age bar on conversion was unacceptable.
And now, the sad spectacle of religious parties – which do not even have a single vote in the Sindh assembly – being able to overturn the decisions of elected representatives, and to dictate to them what they can or cannot do. Given the difficulties in enacting legislation for non-Muslims in Pakistan – witness the time taken to approve a law that provides Hindus with a legal mechanism to register their marriages – the anti-conversion law was a ray of hope, and hope will be the first casualty if this law is struck down or emasculated.

Pakistan: Government Fails to Ensure Rule of Law

Women, Religious Groups, Refugees Endure Violence, Intimidation.
Threatening activists, lawyers, and journalists who speak out against human right abuses will not solve the problem... 

Brad Adams

Pakistan’s government did little to protect vulnerable groups and religious minorities from attack by militant groups in 2016, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2017. The authorities clamped down on civil society groups for criticizing government policies and human rights violations by state security forces.

In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will. For those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.
Law enforcement and security agencies were not held accountable for serious human rights violations. Secret military courts handed out death sentences, raising fair trial concerns. The government muzzled dissenting voices in nongovernmental organizations and media. In August 2016, the government enacted a vague and overbroad cybercrimes law placing new curbs on free expression and peaceful internet use. In addition, at least 19 people remained on death row after being convicted under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law and hundreds awaited trial.
“Pakistan’s government is failing in its most basic duty of protecting citizens and ensuring the rule of law,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Threatening activists, lawyers, and journalists who speak out against human right abuses will not solve the problem, and the government should instead summon the courage to stand up to extremists and hold those responsible for violence and threats to account.”
In 2016, the Pakistan government failed to protect Afghans living in the country from harassment, threats, and other abuses. Local governments used coercive methods to repatriate tens of thousands of Afghan migrants, including at least 70,000 registered refugees. Statements by senior Pakistani officials raised concerns of new government actions to restrict the rights of Afghan refugees.
Violence against women and girls – including rape, murder through “honor” killings, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage – continued unabated. In October, the Pakistan parliament passed a bill seeking to amend penal law provisions allowing the family of a murder victim to pardon perpetrators, a practice used to evade prosecution that is often seen in cases of “honor” where the victim and perpetrator frequently belong to the same family. The government continued to actively encourage legal and procedural discrimination against religious minorities by failing to repeal discriminatory laws. Violent attacks on transgender and intersex women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province surged in 2016, with unknown assailants frequently targeting those involved in activism.
“The rampant attacks on women and minorities in Pakistan will only end when the government demonstrates that they will hold the perpetrators to account,” Adams said. “The Pakistani government needs to repeal discriminatory laws that encourage and enable such attacks.”


C. Christine Fair

Pakistan continues to burnish its credentials as a state sponsor of terrorism abroad and as a repressive, murderous environment for dissidents at home.  It is a well-known fact that Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies provide a full suite of state support to a deadly menagerie of militant groups proscribed by the United Nations, the United States, and others. Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies fete terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-DawaJaish-e-Mohammad, the Afghan Taliban, and the Haqqani Network, among numerous other groups with state protection as well as  financial, diplomatic, political, and military assistance.  The leaders of these groups are free to assemble and address large groups, under the protection of security forces. They are free to disseminate their views on a variety of social media without any restraint. They appear on Pakistan’s various television shows as popular “talking heads.” While Pakistan disingenuously claims it is waging a war on terrorists with its National Action Plan (known more appropriately as “NAP”) for purposes of receiving assistance from the United State and other partners, Pakistan is waging a real war on its critics at home and abroad.  The United States needs to hold this state accountable. It should apply sanctions,  deny security assistance payments, and limit the provision of military equipment and training to those that are narrowly suited for internal security operations while offering Islamabad no advantages in its incessant warmongering towards India.

War on Civil Society
Pakistani civil society has borne the brunt of the state’s predations for decades.  Since 2005, ethnic dissidents have renewed their insurgency in the western province of Balochistan, following the rape of a Baloch doctor by a military man, which the army tried to cover up.  While the rape triggered the current phase of the insurgency, the people of Balochistan  have also been disquieted by Pakistan’s efforts to make the province ripe for Chinese exploitation under the guise of the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).  Since 2005, the Pakistani state has waged a conventional war against the Baloch and has disappeared, tortured, and murdered Baloch ethnics who oppose the state’s policies. Pakistan claims that these Baloch activists are terrorists who enjoy support from India. While some of the Baloch dissidents do engage in terrorism (i.e. targeting Punjabi teachers and other civilians), Pakistan has not marshalled convincing evidence for its claim that India is behind the unrest in the province. (Pakistan claims that it captured an Indian spy  in Balochistan in March 2016.  Indian intelligence claim that the former naval officer — turned businessman — was abducted from Iran and that he was not actually a spy.)
Pakistan’s army and the intelligence agencies it controls have also targeted civil society activists who report on human rights violations in Balochistan.  In April 2015, Sabeen Mahmud, a prominent Pakistani social and human rights activist, was shot dead after she hosted an event in her Karachi café that discussed Balochistan’s “disappeared people.” Previously, the army pressured LUMS, a prestigious university in Lahore, to cancel a similar event intended to educate students about the state’s actions in Balochistan. The state has also brutalized other foes of CPEC in the northern areas of Gilgit-Baltistan.
In August 2016, Pakistan passed a new law, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. This law broadened Pakistan’s ability to crackdown on its critics rather than terrorists and criminals. The law allows the government to “censor online content and to criminalize internet user activity under extremely broad and vague criteria. The law also sanctions government authorities to access data of internet users without judicial review or oversight.” While in principle this is a civilian affair, the government acquiesced to the ISI’s demand for “legal cover for action against those allegedly committing online crimes against the state and undermining the national security and [law makers] had to agree with the proposal.” Consistent with Pakistan’s war on civil society, this law is not being used to  restrict the myriad Pakistani terrorists who avidly use social media to spread their messages of “jihad” and other violent fatuity.
The first victims of this law were, in fact, civil society activists who were well-known for their reformist views exposited through social media.  Pakistan’s security agencies disappeared Waqas Goraya and Asim Saeed on January 4,  Salman Haider on January 6, and Ahmed Raza Naseer on January 7. Their “crimes” included promoting progressive, inclusive, and secular views that undermined the state-sponsored narrative of exclusivist definitions of Sunni Islam, support for Islamist terrorism and insurgency as tools of state policy, while also decrying the lack of protection for religious minorities and members of Muslim sects in Pakistan.  To make matters worse, Pakistan’s religious fanatics have filed charges of blasphemy against these men. This effectively ensures that when these men are released, they will face a serious death threat. Persons in Pakistan accused of blasphemy are frequently murdered by vigilantes who are never punished for their bloody crimes.
This is surely an underestimate of the numbers of persons taken by Pakistan’s agencies. Naseer was taken along with a friend who recently came from Holland.  In August 2015, Pakistan disappeared Zeenat Shahzadi, a 24-year-old female reporter who had been investigating the case of Hamid Ansari, an Indian citizen who disappeared while in Pakistan in November 2012. In May 2011, Saleem Shahzad, a journalist who exposed security lapses as well as infiltration of the armed forces by the Islamists, was murdered by Pakistani intelligence. After these attacks, as well as an attack on a popular television host, Hamid Mir, dozens of journalists told Amnesty International about the threats they endured. According to Amnesty International:
[J]ournalists are particularly at risk when exposing security lapses by the military, or the army’s alleged links to banned military groups such as the Taliban. Also highly sensitive are stories about abuses committed by security forces fighting separatist rebels in the province of Balochistan.
Not only has Pakistan’s premiere intelligence agency waged a war on critics at home, they have also waged a war on critics abroad. In addition to threatening me with gang rape by an entire regiment in 2011 because they were unhappy with the research I was doing on the Pakistan Army, the ISI has waged a sustained information operations campaign against me, including this recent video.  In February 2016, they placed an article in The News, accusing me of supporting militants in Balochistan.  Also in February 2016, a known ISI-writer planted a story about me and my colleagues in the Pakistan Observer after Georgetown hosted Ambassador Husain Haqqani to discuss his most recent bookAfter I wrote about the ISI’s war on scholars, the Pakistan Observer removed the noxious and slanderous article.  In addition, the Pakistan Embassy has insisted that neither Husain Haqqani nor myself be invited to the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington when Pakistan military delegations visit. Shockingly, the NDU acquiesced. These ruses are examples of the myriad efforts by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies to manipulate Pakistan’s print, radio, and televised media as a part of the state’s discourse construction and efforts to manage information produced about Pakistan abroad. In fact, the ISI, has a media management wing dedicated to such efforts.
What Should the United States Do?
At first blush, one may ask why is this America’s responsibility? The answer is simple:  The United States has aided and abetted the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies through its ample provision of security assistance. It is therefore responsible for how these funds are used. Of the $33 billion spent on Pakistan since 2001, $22 billion went to security assistance and military payments through the lucrative Coalitions Support Fund. In addition, the United States is supposed to deny security assistance to  security forces that engage in human rights abuses per the Leahy Amendment.  According to current American law, the U.S. government is required to impose Leahy Amendment sanctions on any unit engaging in human rights violations. Despite outrageous human rights abuses by Pakistan’s military, the United States has turned a blind eye with one exception in 2010 when a video showing mass execution went viral.  However, the import of this punishment was obviated by the simultaneous announcement of a $2 billion aid package.  The United States has fostered the environment of impunity in which the army and its intelligence organizations currently operate.
Given my belief that the United States has done much to encourage the conditions in which the army operates, it needs to act swiftly to address the immediate crisis of these activists whose lives are in jeopardy. The United States needs to get these men released and arrange for their safe resettlement out of Pakistan. With blasphemy charges hanging over their head, they are unlikely to survive long even if the ISI were to release them.
Next, the United States needs to punish Pakistan’s armed forces and intelligence agencies for these and other crimes such as the unending campaign of violence in Balochistan.
During his confirmation hearing, Secretary of Defense James Mattis questioned the wisdom  of placing conditions on security assistance to Pakistan. Mattis argued that conditionalities have not incentivized positive Pakistani behavioral changes. This is a dangerous conclusion.  The real problem, in fact, is that most of the assistance has not been conditioned. In other words, Pakistan has suffered no significant penalties for its suite of noxious policies most notably Islamist terrorism under its nuclear umbrella that endanger the region and the world. If the past is prologue, the new administration may not learn the drivers of Pakistan’s behavior until it is too late.
In light of Pakistan’s persistent intransigence, the time has long come to cease reimbursing Pakistan for its security operations. Pakistan is obligated under U. N. Security Council resolution 1373 to ensure that terrorists do not act on its soil. Why should the United States reimburse Pakistan for following through on this obligation? Moreover, such payments do not incentivize Pakistan to shut down all terrorists operating on its soil. Rather, these disbursements incentivize Pakistan to continue recruiting new terrorists who will do its bidding in India and Afghanistan, while conducting partial operations against those that oppose the state.
Second, the United States should restrict its security assistance to Pakistan to include only the narrowly selected weapons systems and training programs that are best suited for internal security operations which offer no significant added capability in Pakistan’s perduring interest in fighting India.  Given that the majority of American and allied deaths in Afghanistan are due to the Pakistan’s proxies (i.e. the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba), how can the United States continue viewing Pakistan as an ally? The evidence is clear: Pakistan’s army and the intelligence agencies it oversees are enemies of the United States and should be treated as such.
Finally, the United States should apply Leahy Amendment sanctions to those units that have engaged in human rights abuses.  The United States should work through the defense attachés at post to vigorously collect information on those units engaging in these abuses. There is no question that such abuses are ongoing. The only question is which units are doing it. The U.S. government should take its own laws seriously and apply them as required.  It is simply not acceptable to continue ignoring this legal obligation while pandering to Pakistan’s security forces and intelligence agencies whose perfidy is illimitable.
The Pakistan military is waging a war on democracy at home and wars in Afghanistan and India with the subsidy of the United States. So far, Washington has shown nothing but pusillanimity and cupidity in contending with Pakistan even though Pakistan is the root cause of American failures in Afghanistan as well as insecurity throughout South Asia and beyond. Unless the United States stops somnambulating in its management of the threats that Pakistan’s army and ISI pose to itself and to its neighbors, more people will die. And, Washington will bear considerable responsibility for those deaths.

Pakistan is the crisis flying under the radar

By James Stavridis

The set of foreign-policy challenges headed like a freight train at the Trump administration is obvious: the Islamic State and the associated tragedy of Syria; a bubbling North Korea led by an unpredictable dictator with a fistful of nuclear weapons; an angry China hypersensitive about Taiwan and the South China Sea; and Russian cyber-activity roiling domestic political waters alongside Moscow's ongoing occupation of Crimea and destruction of Syria. But flying under the radar is a dangerous problem not receiving a great deal of attention: Pakistan.
As the sixth-most-populous country in the world (ahead of Nigeria, and behind Brazil), Pakistan is home to more than 200 million people and, by some accounts, the world's second-largest city, Karachi. When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was elected in May 2013, the country marked its first democratic transition between political parties since partition in 1947. Recently, the strength of the country's nascent democracy has been questioned as Sharif confronts protests in response to the Panama Papers, which revealed that his family hid wealth in overseas accounts to avoid paying taxes. This highlights the ongoing challenge of corruption (Transparency International rates the country 117 out of 168 on its Corruption Perception Index) that threatens Pakistan's democratic stability and long-term growth potential. The nation also faces a virulent terrorism problem from the Pakistani Taliban, which has killed tens of thousands of civilians and troops over the past five years. Since 2006, more than 60,000 Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist events - essentially two 9/11 tragedies per year in a country with a population much smaller than the United States.
Looming over all of this are the issues associated with Pakistan's long, unsettled relationship with India. Tensions between India and Pakistan have been especially high since September, when Pakistani terrorists attacked an Indian army base in Kashmir, leaving 19 soldiers dead; the two countries have since exchanged daily cross-border fire, leading to the deaths of soldiers and civilians on both sides. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal probably contains over 100 warheads, existing as a hedge against a similar Indian arsenal. While under a reasonable level of military security at the moment, the nuclear weapons represent the world's least-stable nuclear capability - with the possible exception of North Korea.
Given this tableau of political instability, terrorism, and nuclear weapons, the United States should be thinking hard about how to help create a more stable situation in Pakistan, a nation that is a friend and partner, but with whom we have had significant differences over the past decades.
First, the Trump administration should recognize that our levers to influence Pakistan are limited - but not entirely impotent. While we can and should be working to strengthen national ties with India, this must be done in a way that is not threatening to Pakistan. Thus, the first best option to help achieve stability in South Asia is to do all we can to encourage India to try to resolve differences with its neighbor. Washington's role could include top-level official visits to both capitals; offering unofficial "Track 2" negotiating programs; and explicitly making peace and stability in South Asia a U.S. strategic interest, identified in our national strategic planning documents.
Second, the Trump administration should increase military assistance to Pakistan in the counterterrorism fight on the Afghan-Pakistani border. A long source of frustration for U.S. military planners - including during my time as NATO's supreme allied commander responsible for combat operations in Afghanistan - has been Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban. Developing a package of counterterrorism incentives for Pakistan that requires a quid pro quo of their reducing and eventually dropping support for insurgents within Afghanistan is key. Such incentives could include more robust intelligence sharing; better surveillance and strike technology; and joint operations. Washington's efforts to sell weapons, surveillance, and intelligence systems to Islamabad have been uneven to say the least. Setting out a coherent, reliable pipeline of military assistance and sales would be very helpful.
A third idea would be to increase soft-power support in Pakistan. When the United States and NATO led relief efforts following the massive earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, it had a significant and positive impact on America's image in the country. Providing more financial aid tied to education, medicine, and humanitarian projects could help. This is an area where much suspicion lingers following medical programs that are perceived to have been tied to intelligence gathering. We need effective strategic communications alongside the aid to help recover.
A question that arises in the context of soft power is whether to impose conditions on Pakistan in return for the aid it receives. While Republicans in Congress have pushed a more conservative approach to use aid as a tactic to pressure Pakistan, it is unclear how the new administration will approach this. In general, it would be wise to consider both our short- and long-term priorities in the region: Too often, a focus on eradicating terrorism today fails to address the circumstances that drive people to extremism in the first place. Using aid to strengthen democratic stability, create opportunities for citizens, and increase investments to grow the economy will translate into long-term benefits that help minimize incentives to turn to extremism.
Fourth and finally, it would make sense to internationalize our efforts. Working with other nations - Britain or Germany, for example - could leverage the impact of our efforts. There are also international organizations, such as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, that exercise considerable influence in Pakistan. Strategizing jointly with international partners can help.
For the Trump administration, the first set of challenges will come fast and furious, and responses will tend to be tactical. Spending some strategic time analyzing the possibility of a classic Black Swan event (low probability, high impact) like the destabilization of Pakistan would make sense. Investing time and effort early with this huge and important nation, while working closely with India, could pay significant dividends in global stability during the next few years.

Pakistan - ANP asks govt to fulfil promises or face protests

The Awami National Party on Sunday accused Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of not fulfilling his promises on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Addressing a public gathering at Charsadda, ANP leader Ásfandyar Wali Khan warned the government of protests if it backed out on its promises on CPEC.
He expressed his concerns on the stark contrast between the claims that the provincial Khyber-Pakhtunkwa and the federal government were making on the Army Public School and Bacha Khan University attack.
The ANP leader also called for the merger of the federally administered tribal areas with K-P and demanded a special grant for Fata.
He also said a census should be carried out in Fata so the region could be given its due share in the National Finance Commission Award. He further criticised the K-P government and added that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf had compromised over the provincial government’s rights.
Speaking on the occasion, former K-P chief minister Amir Haidar Khan Hoti said the K-P government had failed, adding that it is running over pension funds. He also blamed the provincial government of corruption.

Pakistan - Amending the blasphemy law

The recent statement of Senator Farhatullah Baber and revelation about a quarter-century-old report on the blasphemy law has reignited the dimming hope that a purposely debate about its amendment could be held.
Despite acknowledging its growing misuse by all sections of our society, including religious scholars, politicians, government, judiciary and civil society, our leadership has failed to show the guts and raise a consensus to have the debate in the parliament over this most misused, criticised and controversial law in Pakistan.
Although some parliamentarians made attempts to have a debateon this issue, their endeavours remained unsuccessful. Either they were silenced with death threats from extremists, or discouraged by their fellow parliamentarians. In May 2007 when Minority MNA Mr M P Bhandara presented a private bill, it incensed many parliamentarians and the then Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Khan Niazi articulately warned Mr Bhandara that Pakistan is Islamic country and such a bill cannot be discussed in parliament.
In November 2010, PPP’s MNA Sherry Rehman dared to submit a private member’s bill to amend the blasphemy law, but she was also threatened with death, as her act was considered equal to blasphemy by some people. Thousands of people related to different Islamic groups rallied and protested nationwide against her proposal of dropping the death penalty. At last, the then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was forced to announce the government was not considering to amend the blasphemy law and no committee had been formed to suggest changes in the law, in order to calm Islamic extremists.
Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and General Pervez Musharraf also tried to amend the law but failed, with even the police not following their directive. By the passage of time and obliviousness of our politicians now it has become a complicated and sensitive issue, and whenever such statement comes from anybody, Islamic groups vehemently oppose any amendments. Last time, in March 2016, Islamic groups only ended their four-day sit-in in Islamabad after assurance from the government that the blasphemy law would not be amended.
Now PPP’s senior politician Senator Farhatullah Babar’s statement about reforming the blasphemy law has raised our hopes of seeing an end to the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan. So far, I saw no strong objections or protests from the Islamic groups. Perhaps it is not to my knowledge, or they might be waiting for further developments, but one thing I am sure about, is that it is not going to be easy.
According to Senator Babar, Senate Committee on Human Rights’ discussions about blasphemy laws will be based on recommendations from an old report that remained untraceable for 24 years. He recently discovered the document, told by Mr I A Rehman, Director HRCP a strong critic of the blasphemy law.
Senator Baber says it is a mystery how the Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Bill 1991 — making the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy — was passed, despite the relevant committee seeking clarification.
I think it all happened after Advocate Ismail Qureshi, and some other people had a meeting with the then PM Nawaz Sharif. What a coincidence that he is the prime minister now when the amendment is being recommended again. It is often said that PM Nawaz Sharif has changed since then and is a different person now. I can say his speech at the recent inauguration of a water filtration plant at Katas Raj temple complex was a slight glimpse. The aspiration to make a Pakistan minority friendly country and promoting its soft image in the world is not possible while we have the blasphemy law on our statute book. The Senate Committee on Human Rights is providing another opportunity, and it’s time for the prime minister to take this matter and prove that what he said was not just a political statement, but his vision for Pakistan to make this country Quaid’s Pakistan.
The committee had raised remarkable questions like what punishment was given to blasphemers during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) or during the times of caliphs, or afterwards, and in other Muslim countries. Though most Muslim scholars prescribe capital punishment for blasphemers, there are several reputable scholars like Javed Ahmed Ghamdi and Dr Khalid Zaheer who are of a different opinion. They find no direct references to such punishment in the Holy Quran. There are also some scholars who have a different view about punishment for non-Muslims including those jurist consultants who helped the Federal Sharia Court in 1990. The worst thing in blasphemy cases is that most of the time cases are registered by the local leader or Imams, based on hearsay. Sadly, because of the inaction against the perpetrators of our government, a very dangerous mindset continues to develop. As soon as any person is accused of blasphemy, he or she is already considered a blasphemer. Instead of handing over that person to the authorities, they are often killed by vigilantes, and several people have been killed in police custody too.
Though Senator Baber said the committee would consider a proposal making it binding to investigate complaints before registering a case, to ensure “genuine blasphemy” had been committed and the law was not being used to settle personal vendettas, my concern is how the committee is going to stop those who believe that killing a blasphemer is their religious duty and do not wait for justice.
And most dangerously, as soon as anyone is accused of blasphemy the local imam gets involved and makes fiery and provocative announcements from the mosque’s loudspeakers. People become emotional, and take the law into their own hands, attack the churches, burn Christians’ towns and even kill innocent people with impunity.
If I am not wrong, for the first time five people have been sentenced to death and another eight imprisoned for two years for killing Shama and Shahzad, while victims of Shanti Nagar, Gogra, Joseph colony and several other attacks are still waiting for justice.
Because of the long delay in having a debate, we have lost so many innocent people, especially those who raised their voice against the misuse of blasphemy law, like Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer, who took up the case of a poor and illiterate Christian lady Aasia Bibi, and Shahbaz Bhatti the only Christian minister who demanded changes in the blasphemy law. What an irony that the blasphemy law, which was introduced by the British government in united India as a secular law, is now considered a divine law by many and even discussing it is considered blasphemy.
This is despite the supreme court saying that discussing the blasphemy law is not blasphemy. Though at numerous times in the past we read news about reviewing and changes in the blasphemy law, nothing ever happened. I hope that this time the Senate Committee on Human Rights will succeed in its task.
The world has changed so much since 1991, and therefore we need to change too. Political rhetoric, not enough. We are not living in isolation, but our interests are linked to the international community. Apart from our domestic law, we are also under the obligation of international law as we have ratified dozens of international conventions and treaties related to the right to life, freedom of religion or belief, freedom of speech and expression and several others, which condemn the punishment prescribed by the blasphemy law. We need to prove to the world that we are a responsible nation that cares about our minorities and believes in equality, peace and justice.

Pakistan - Failing Parachinar - The blast that killed 25

The people of Parachinar have witnessed bloodshed, violence and persecution. The blast that killed 25 people and injured another 50 was not its deadliest yet. In its long and painful history, Parachinar was made the subject of vicious attacks in December 2015 when 25 people were killed and in July 2013, which killed over 50 people and injured 122 more. An area so scarred from the militancy, faces an acute shortage of adequate medical supplies, hospitals and trained medical staff, worsening the horror these people that have to deal with after the loss of their loved ones.
Students and youth hailing from Kurram Agency took to the streets and held a protest demonstration against the lack of medical facilities in Agency Headquarters Hospital, Parachinar where several of their friends lay injured from the January 21 blast. The federal government has been held responsible for the criminal neglect, as the hospitals lay vacant without proper medical facilities and trained staff to assist the only surgeon present to deal with the incoming victims. Medical facilities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have been found consistently inadequate and it is clear that funding has not reached the few hospitals in the area.
The local people had demonstrated against the lack of facilities in the Kurram Headquarters Hospital in June 2016 as well. A team visiting the facility had confirmed a shortage of medical staff, as well as the fact that lifesaving equipment like incubator machines were lying non-functional due to lack of electricity.
While it can be conceded to the government and security agencies that violent attacks are hard to predict and deter, what cannot be forgiven is the lack of facilities in these crisis wracked areas to help those who have suffered. Many lives could have been saved if the government had prioritised the safety and well-being of the people of Kurram Agency, not by just military operations, but by welfare programs and facilities.

سانحہ پاراچنار پر وفاقی وزیر داخلہ کی خاموشی معنی خیز ہے

پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی کے رہنما سینیٹر سعید غنی نے کہا ہے کہ سانحہ پاراچنار پر وزیر داخلہ کی خاموشی معنی خیز ہے۔ سانحہ پاراچنار کی ذمہ داری ایک کالعدم تنظیم نے قبول کی ہے جس کا تعلق فرقہ واریت سے ہے۔ اپنے ایک بیان میں سعید غنی نے کہا کہ گزشتہ روز سانحہ پاراچنار ہوا اور 25کے قریب معصوم انسان شہید ہوگئے اور درجنوں زخمی ہوئے جس پر وزیرداخلہ نے ایک لفظ بھی نہیں کہا بلکہ پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی پر الزام تراشی کی۔ سینیٹر سعید غنی نے کہا کہ وزیرداخلہ کا ذہن صاف نہیں انے ان کے نفسیاتی علاج کی ضرورت ہے۔ جس شخص نے یہ بصیرت ہی نہ ہو کہ فرقہ واریت کا تعصب زہر ہے جو معاشرے اور ملک کے مضر ہے۔ سعید غنی نے کہا کہ جب بھی کوئی سانحہ ہوتا ہے چوہدری نثار چھپ جاتے ہیں اور پھر اپنی نااہلی کو چھپانے کے لئے پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی کو تنقید کا نشانہ بناتے ہیں۔ انہوں نے کہا کہ نیشنل ایکشن پلان ہر طرح کی دہشتگردی کے خلاف تھا لیکن چوہدری نثار نے اپنی مرضی کے مطابق اس پر عمل کیا ہے۔ انہوں نے کہا کہ جس شخص میں یہ بصیرت ہی نہ ہو کہ دہشتگردی کیا ہوتی ہے، کا ملک کا وزیر داخلہ ہونا بہت بڑا المیہ ہے۔ انہوں نے کہا کہ سانحہ پاراچنار کے متاثرین کو انسان اور پاکستانی تصور کیا جائے۔ فاٹا انتظامیہ نے شہیدوں اور زخمیوں کی مالی امداد کا اعلان کرکے غمزدہ خاندانوں کے زخموں پر نمک پاشی کی ہے۔ سعید غنی نے کہا کہ پاراچنار کے متاثرین کو خیرات نہیں ان کے ساتھ انصاف کیا جائے۔ انہوں نے ایک بار پھر اپنے مطالبات کو دہرایا کہ نااہل وزیر داخلہ کو برطرف کیا جائے۔



Mr. Zardari, the only elected Pakistani president ever to have completed a full term in office, told The Washington Times in an interview that Mr. Trump’s critics should not dismiss him out of hand but rather give him a chance to make his mark in the region, beset by conflicts in Afghanistan, jihadi terrorist movements and the increasingly tense Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir.

“It’s too early,” Mr. Zardari said on the eve of Mr. Trump’s inauguration last week. “Wait for the first 90 days at least, and then we see how the cookie crumbles, or talks and walks.
“The man has managed to get a majority in states where it was never imagined that the Democrats could lose,” he said. “So how do we underestimate him?”

It’s a sobering question from a man whose own journey through politics might best be described as Shakespearean. Mr. Zardari spent 11 years in prison on corruption charges. It was in 2008 — just months after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, his wife of 20 years — that Mr. Zardari spearheaded a coalition that forced Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf from power before rising to the presidency in Islamabad.

Mr. Zardari filled a top-level suite at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in downtown Washington on Thursday with the charisma of a man who knows a thing or two about withstanding criticism and pursuing his own vision. His advice for Mr. Trump, he said, is simple: “[Do] what [President] Obama never did — Obama never had proper interaction with any Pakistani chief executive.”