Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Pakistan - Judging Pashtuns

Stereotypically identifying Pashtuns with violent extremism will have dreadful consequences in store.
Despite accusations and prompt denials of any sort of racial profiling of Pashtun in various part of Pakistan, the reality today is people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are generally subjected to a particularly derogatory view by many in public and private. Indeed it is most condemnable attitude as it is corrosive for any society because it teaches people to make judgments about a particular group on the basis of the way they look or assumptions that they might make about a particular people. This then lead people to justify all sorts of discrimination and indignities against a particular ethnicity or group of people.
However, in case of us it is just not condemning but also a tragic consequence of the follies that the state and successive governments in Pakistan committed to pursue their elusive project of nation building and foreign policy objectives. It is no accident that a layman and the one with beard from KPK are stereotypically identified with the abettors, if not the very members of any of the Islamist violent groups such as TTP. It is so ironic to know how we have come full circle in case of Pashtun people.
The circle starts from the years soon after independence of Pakistan when Afghanistan, rejecting hitherto agreeable Durand Line, started fanning and supporting secessionist Pashtun groups which continued for the next almost a quarter of a century. Not only that, first, Afghanistan voted against Pakistan’s membership in the United Nations but so much so that, for instance, when One Unit model of parity with East Pakistan was adopted in Pakistan, the Afghan government found it necessary to openly criticise it.
It was during the height of early stressful years after independence that in 1951 an ultra-nationalist Pashtun Said Babrak assassinated the first prime minister of Pakistan. Had this murder been executed in the current milieu of global politics, Afghanistan would have been held directly responsible for the heinous crime. Throughout this period, Pakistan saw on multiple occasions its embassy and consulates in Afghanistan attacked, vandalised and Pakistan flags there replaced with Pashtunistan flag by so-called protesters who enjoyed covert support of the Afghan government.
Against the backdrop of all these years of adversarial policy from Afghanistan, Pakistan had to suffer the greatest blow to its existence when in 1971 East Pakistan seceded after a brief civil war there which had covert Indian support. This was followed by emboldened National Awami Party (NAP) in Balochistan and KP, where they formed coalition governments, to demand for more autonomy than the federal government was ready to give at that moment.
Around same time came the Sindhi Language Bill 1972 controversy in Sindh, which caused bloody riots, hundreds of deaths and sharpened the ethnic identities between rural Sindhis and Urdu-speaking Mohajirs of the province. Within two years of the regrettable separation of East Pakistan, these parochial developments in the leftover provinces of the country and a hostile Afghanistan meddling with Pashtun and Baloch sentiments must have turned the state of Pakistan jittery.
Pashtuns have been overfed with the impression that they are best fit only to fight. This is in stark contrast to Pashtun cultural heritage which is so full of softer aspects such as romantic folklores.
This was manifested with actions locally and across Durand Line. The state’s intense desire to dunk ethnic identities in the solution of Islam can be sensed from deliberations of the First Congress on the History and Culture of Pakistan, held in Islamabad University in 1973. Its proceedings were published as “The Quest for Identity”. In his editor’s note, prominent academician Waheed-uz-Zaman stated, “If the Arabs, the Turks, the Iranians, God forbid, give up Islam, the Arabs yet remain Arabs, the Turks remain Turks, the Iranians remain Iranians, but what do we remain if we give up Islam?”
At political level while the NAP-led provincial government of Balochistan was dismissed which soon led to an intense military operation there, the government in KPK, where JUI held the chief ministry in coalition with NAP resigned in protest. To counter the continuous Afghan meddling, finally ZA Bhutto had to give a nod to an intelligence policy to support the discontent Islamic groups in Afghanistan and ISI roped in the ilk of young Gulbuddin Hikmatyar and Ahmed Shah Masood, who would later play such a decisive role in Afghanistan. In short term this move from Pakistan deterred the Afghan government from continuing with fanning Pashtunistan sentiment in Pakistan.
Later, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and installed a communist government of Babrak Karmal, who publicly supported Pashtun separatists in Pakistan. With Soviet Russia already across Durand Line and its sponsored government there so openly hostile to Pakistan, the situation had left perhaps no option for Pakistan but to collaborate with US and support Afghan resistance movement led by Hikmatyar, Ahmed Shah Masood and other Mujahideen to fight the Soviets.
This background provided an opportunity to the Islamists to take roots in all parts of Pakistan under state patronage. In particular, the Pashtun in KPK, Fata and northern Balochistan had to be given a consistent and heavy dose of political Islam. This was not only to neutralise local Pashtunistan sentiments but also recruit the foot soldiers to go and wage a Jihad against Soviets and their local communist regime in Afghanistan.
The nation-building project which was not only inspired by but had obvious overtones of Jihadist Islam was implemented across the length and breadth of the country through promotion of conservative values and attitudes. The print and electronic media were manoeuvered to play an instrumental role in influencing popular opinion in favour of religion-based nationalism. However, a far more strategic role was assigned to sectarian Deobandi and, to some extent, Ahle Hadith clerics and their Madrassas who were already close to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These clerics and their likeminded men in academia and bureaucracy were also given a role to reform formal education system and syllabus in line with Islamist jingoism.
It is pertinent to know how vigorously it was pursued. There were no more than 300 Madrassas in Pakistan at the time of independence. The enrollment rate in Madrassas until 1980 in fact showed a negative trend. However, with pro-Jihad religion oriented nation-building project, which also served foreign policy interest across Durand Line, the establishment of religious seminaries was proactively pursued along with financial support from GCC countries led by KSA.
A recent study titled as “The Madrassa Conundrum — the state of religious education in Pakistan” informs that there was an unprecedented spike in both numbers of Madrassas and enrollment there during the years of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While it took over three decades during 1947-79 to have the number of Madrassas tripled from less than 300 to 900, in the next decade, their number further grew by more than three times to over 2800. As much as 64 per cent of this was for Deobandi Madrassas. With Jihad in Afghanistan, Madrassa Jamia Haqqaniyya, a Deobandi seminary 30 miles from Peshawar, became virtual headquarters of Jihad and Fata a sanctuary of Jihadists with full support from the state.
However, by 1989 with the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s objective vis-à-vis neutralising Pashtun secessionist sentiment and fighting against Communist threat, and having an affable Afghanistan were largely achieved.
General Zia, who presided over Pakistan’s Islamisation and Afghan policy, died in an air crash in 1988. This was a perfect time to gradually rollback the nation-building through a jingoistic view of Islam and private Jihad. Unfortunately, the establishment within Pakistan preferred to continue with this policy to keep a deep influence in Afghanistan and to support the cause of Kashmir. Incidentally, around same time a purely indigenous insurgency had spiked in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir following widespread protests against rigged elections to state assembly in 1987.
Consequently, KPK and adjoining Fata region particularly continued to serve as a sanctuary for the growth of intolerant and militant narrative which, to make the matters worse, got sectarian and Arab Salafist undertones too. It is for this fact that research study mentioned earlier noticed increase in the number of madrassas between 1988 and 2002 with significant rise in Deobandi seminaries, which increased from 1779 to 7000! As many as over 4000 of these seminaries today are located in KPK and Fata. Continued for decades, all this just mutilated the Pashtun outlook.
Geographic traits and Pashtunwali values of Pashtun aside, Pashtuns have been overfed with the impression that they are genetically best fit only to fight. This is in stark contrast to Pashtun cultural heritage which is so full of softer aspects such as romantic folklores of Adam Khan-Durkhanai, Yousuf Khan-Shehrbano, Sher Alam-Mamonai, and poetry, especially ‘tappay’ so famous with rural Pashtun women. And who can deny the contribution of Pashtun legendary artists to film industry in India and Pakistan.
Without meaningful investment from the state of Pakistan towards health and education development in KPK and Fata, these areas were left to the indoctrination of intolerant narrative of the religion through Madrassa, mosque and formal schools which only helped the rise of militaristic attitudes.
Certainly, there is no dearth of violent extremists within other regions and ethnicities of Pakistan, but Pashtuns are so stereotypically identified with violent extremists who pose a threat to the state and society of Pakistan. This in turn, and so rightly, offends the ethnic identity of Pashtun. It is similar to how all Muslims in the West and other non-Muslim countries are generally seen with a suspicion for fears of terrorism, obviously though not even a fraction of Muslims in the world subscribe to violent extremism.
It goes without saying that letting this perception grow unchecked is homicidal to a democratic country with dreadful consequences in store.
Certainly, sustainable solution lies in revisiting the state narrative which will require reforms in governance, education policy, Madrassa education, and foreign policy.

Pakistan's Christains - Yuhannabad: seeking justice

Naumana Suleman
Two years ago, Lahore’s Christian community was targeted. It is time to think of all marginalized communities of Pakistan. 

Two years earlier, I was in California pursuing my Masters degree. It was close to midnight and I was about to sleep when my phone rang. It was unexpected to receive another call from home as I had talked to them only a few minutes ago. Picking up the phone, I heard my younger sister crying. I kept on asking what had happened and after a few moments, she told me that two Churches in Yuhannabad had just been bombed. “Oh my God! Where is Mum?” I asked immediately, as she happens to be a regular churchgoer, as compared to the rest of the family members. She answered that Dad had gone to look for her. At that moment, my whole world turned upside down. However, I still needed to be strong, if not for me, for the strength of my younger sibling.
After a few minutes, fortunately, my dad came back with my Mum. However, the extent of her trauma after witnessing all the bloodshed was unexplainable. This was not an end to her misery as many of her acquaintances had lost their lives. My parents lived in the vicinity for nearly 40 years. The 2015 bombings claimed 21 lives, injuring about 100 other residents of Yuhannabad, presumed to be the largest Christian community settlement in Pakistan with more than 100,000 inhabitants.
In July 2015, Centre for Social Justice published a fact-finding report, which portrayed a holistic picture of the incident and its consequences, along with some quality recommendations. These suggestions have, however, not been implemented so far.
Today, March 15, 2017, marks the second anniversary of the blasts. Lent (fasting) season is still being observed by the Christian community, as was the case two years previously. The Christian community, specifically the residents of Yuhannabad, are offering special prayers; remembering victims of these bombings; praying for the solace of the victims’ families and friends; and waiting for the end of their sufferings. They are saying a special prayer for the sufferings of 43 individuals--and their families--alleged of lynching two suspected accomplices of the terrorists. Many of those in police custody happen to be the sole breadwinners of their families that have been left impoverished. Families of persons under the trial claim that no credible evidence has yet been found against the individuals.
Of course, mob justice is unacceptable. The rule of law must prevail and no one should be above the law. However, seeing this lynching incident in isolation from the prevailing trends of mob justice in our society would not be of much help. In fact, it would lead to punitive justice rather than restorative justice, adding to the miseries of the already marginalised community. Unfortunately, the suffering of Yuhannabad residents that started on March 15, 2015, continues and has been overshadowed by the lynching incident.
The government’s monetary compensation to the victims’ families from the taxpayers’ money is not enough. These compensations need to go beyond money and should also address the psychological and emotional trauma that the incident brought to the already marginalised community. Damages of this kind need emotional and psychological restoration of the victim community. Rigorous conflict resolution and peacebuilding initiatives between Yuhannabad and the nearby majority community settlements would be helpful in rebuilding the trust between the communities and their social restoration. A few civil society organisations have invested in such initiatives despite limited resources. But this is not sustainable in the long term as civic initiatives cannot replace government-sponsored programmes.
One way to avoid such incidents in future is working towards a comprehensive implementation of the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s orders in its June 19, 2014, judgment. This verdict had ensued in the wake of the Court’s suo moto intervention concerning the 2013 bomb blast at All Saints Church, Peshawar.
Two years after the carnage, the community of Yuhannabad still seeks justice. Beyond Yuhannabad, the minority and marginalised communities await justice for being discriminated against--either in the name of religion, sect, ethnicity, gender or language. They are still struggling hard for their rights, largely, educational and economic opportunities, on the basis of equality and equal space in the social and political life.
An immediate opportunity at hand to address the long-standing grievances of these marginalised communities is the population census, which starts from today. An impartial, transparent, accurate and dependable process of data collection would help determine the allocation of socio-economic resources; affirmative action for political representation; educational opportunities; job quotas; preferences for developmental plans (rural and urban); and administrative initiatives to address the marginalization of minority communities. Instead of splitting the vote bank or minimising the strength of the already marginalised communities, a sensible demarcation of electoral constituencies for the upcoming elections would help include the deprived communities into the political mainstream.
Nearly twenty years ago, I was studying at Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore. My family found temporary residence at Jail Road so that I could commute to the college. During our stay there, my mother and an aunt (Muslim by faith) from the neighbourhood gradually developed a bond of sisterhood. On March 16, 2015, the very next day after the Church bombings, roads were blocked by the protests. Despite the risks, my Muslim aunt and her son endangered their lives and reached our place to support my family. They even offered to host my family at their place for security purposes until the situation got settled. The bond of humanity, love, and respect knows no faith.
Our state needs to rebuild the fabric of society by guaranteeing equal rights of all Pakistanis in every sphere of life. This can be done through simultaneous initiatives ranging from constitutional, legal, political, and educational reforms to affirmative administrative initiatives in order to eliminate discrimination and inequality in our society.

Bilawal Bhutto ... Ban on freedom of speech is a attack on Democracy

Ban on freedom of speech is a attack on... by arynews

What went wrong in Pakistan


Pakistan was meant to be a model, an example for other nations to emulate. It was founded after World War II, as the sun was setting on the British Empire and India was preparing for independence. India’s Muslims, though glad to see the end of the Raj, were apprehensive about becoming a minority in a Hindu-majority land.
They envisioned instead what might be called a “two-state solution”: the establishment of a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims in areas where Muslims were in the majority. Their new nation was to be free, pluralist and tolerant. “We are starting with this fundamental principle,” Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader) declared in 1947, “that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”
What went wrong? In an excellent new book, “Purifying the Land of the Pure,” Farahnaz Ispahani both recounts and laments Pakistan’s “descent” into what it has become today: unfree, undemocratic, intolerant and both a sponsor and victim of terrorism.
A Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, Ms. Ispahani spent years as a journalist and high-ranking Pakistani official. She clearly loves the land of her birth. It’s doubtful that she’ll ever be able to safely return.
Pakistan, she writes, started out “as a modern state led by secular individuals.” But it was not long before important “religious and political leaders declared the objective of Pakistan’s creation to be the setting up of an Islamic state.”
This tension reveals itself even in the country’s name. Pakistan is an acronym for Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh and Baluchistan. But in Urdu, the country’s lingua franca, the word means “Land of the Pure.” To what Ms. Ispahani calls “Islamist activists,” that implied a state that would embrace Muslim values and Islamic laws — as they defined them.
Following partition in 1947, millions of Indian Muslims moved to Pakistan while millions of Hindus moved in the other direction. This was not unique: After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire earlier in the century, Christians fled Turkey and Greek Muslims resettled in the Turkish heartland. A population transfer would occur also among Jews and Muslims in the Middle East. All these transitions from the colonial era caused suffering, but on the subcontinent both the scale and the lethality were greater: up to 12 million people displaced and as many as 2 million killed in intercommunal violence.
Despite the migrations, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians and Jews constituted 23 percent of Pakistan’s population at independence. Perhaps their rights would have been better protected had Jinnah not died in 1948. The following year, however, Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly officially declared “the objective of Pakistan’s constitution to be the creation of an Islamic state.”
In 1956, Pakistan became, Ms. Ispahani notes, “the first country to declare itself an Islamic Republic.” Nineteen years later, Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq took power in a military coup. Until his death in a plane crash in 1988, his primary mission was to further Pakistan’s Islamization.
As a consequence, minority communities today constitute only 3 percent of Pakistan’s population — but in a population of 195 million that’s still a large number. The prejudice and persecution they face continues unabated. It’s probably worsening.
Consider the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian who, Ms. Ispahani writes, in 2009 worked as a farm laborer and was “asked by the village elder’s wife to fetch drinking water. Some other female Muslim farmhands reportedly refused to drink the water, saying it was sacrilegious and ‘unclean’ to accept water from Asia Bibi, as a non-Muslim. Asia Bibi took offense, reportedly saying, ‘Are we not human?’ “
That led to an argument following which she was arrested, convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Salman Taseer, the (Muslim) governor of Punjab advocated on her behalf and against blasphemy laws. Mullahs issued fatwas condemning him and he was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards. Asia Bibi remains in prison.
I first visited Pakistan in the early 1980s. I even met briefly with President Zia, though I can’t tell you I was savvy enough to understand the harm he was doing. My last visit to Pakistan was in 2009. I recall an acquaintance in Karachi telling me how cosmopolitan the city had been when he was young.
“It was a better place then,” he said wistfully. And forcing out those who had made Karachi diverse, he added, has not improved relations among the more homogenous demographic that has remained. On the contrary, there is now serious discrimination and frequent attacks against non-Sunni Muslims, including Ahmadis (who have been officially declared non-Muslims), Sufis and Shias.
I raised these issues during a lecture at the University of Karachi. One student threw a shoe at my head. It didn’t make contact but the next day, on the front pages of the country’s newspapers, he was depicted as a hero, standing up for Pakistan’s honor. I was presented less sympathetically.
A subsidiary point: Ms. Ispahani could not have written this book had she observed the strictures of “political correctness.” The belief systems that have led Pakistan to where it is today cannot be adequately described as “violent extremism.” She talks instead of “Islamism,” “jihadism,” “Islamist militancy” and “Islamist terrorism” — terminology that begins to open a window into the ideologies and theologies that now threaten free peoples (and those who might like to be) around the world.
I would argue that Pakistan’s history teaches at least three lessons. The first: Elections alone do not produce democracy. The second: Majority rule without minority rights leads to egregious illiberalism. Third: A state committed to the pursuit of religious “purity” will always find some of its subjects in need of “cleansing.” Down that path despotism lies.

Wahabinization Of Pakistan - The Social Media Ban

The issue of blasphemous content on the internet does need the attention of the government, no one denies that. But the response to this problem must be reasonable and proportionate above all else. Recent statements by the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which is hearing a petition on this matter indicate that the judge – Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui – may have allowed religious sentiment and a zealous mindset to take precedence over his legal duty to exercise dispassionate logic. There is real danger that he may return an absurd verdict, and his fairly extreme comments have already done irreparable damage to years of hard won progress on this sensitive narrative.
The petitioner seeks the ban of social media for displaying blasphemous content – not just a site or two, a complete ban on sites like Facebook and Twitter used by millions of Pakistanis and people across the world. While this is obviously a ridiculous demand, more rhetoric than a serious one, the honourable justice has given it credence, saying that if the government is unable to block access to suspect sites, the court may have to order such a complete ban.
This would clearly be a travesty of the principles of proportionality and a mockery of common sense. Blocking the entirety of social media – one that provides information, connectivity, education and a platform for business – for such a minor issue is overkill, and severely harmful to the people of Pakistan’s daily activities. Like the Youtube ban, it will only stifle intelligent discourse and access of information, and will be eventually reversed when the authorities realise the futility and foolishness of such an action.
The better route is to ask the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to review sites that viewers find objectionable – a system that the body already has in place – and rely on it to weed out the actual problem. Even so, the more logical course is to ask the petitioner to practice circumspection. The internet is a vast place full of all kinds of material; people usually exercise their discretion and wisdom to stay away from sites that might offend them, as should the petitioner. Instead of asking the court to delete social media, maybe he should simply refine his internet practices. No one can ban everything objectionable on the internet unless one bans the internet itself – a prospect that the court must consider.
There is a need to dial back his religious fervour and act as a federal judge cognisant of his role and the power of his words. The Youtube ban stunted the growth of Pakistani society and made it a laughing stock of the world, the social media ban will repeat it – only it will be so much worse.