Saturday, December 16, 2017
The Pakistani government’s decision to shut down at least 10 organizations without providing valid reasons violates rights to freedom of expression and association, Human Rights Watch said today. Organizations affected include prominent groups working on human rights, humanitarian assistance, and development issues.
On December 14, 2017, several international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), including Open Society Foundations and ActionAid, told the media that they had received letters from the federal government rejecting their applications for registration. The government has not published the list of affected groups, but according to media reports, none have been provided with reasons for the decision.
“The Pakistani government’s closure of international organizations without allowing these decisions to be contested shows disturbing disregard for the well-being of ordinary Pakistanis who benefit from them,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government should be facilitating the vital work of independent groups, not obstructing it with intimidation tactics.”
The “Policy for Regulation of INGOs in Pakistan,” announced on October 1, 2015, contains vague and overly restrictive regulations that have harmed the work climate for many international groups. The regulations require all INGOs to register and obtain prior permission from the Ministry of Interior to carry out any activities in the country, and restrict their operations to specific issues and geographical areas. The ministry is broadly empowered to cancel registrations on grounds of “involvement in any activity inconsistent with Pakistan’s national interests, or contrary to Government policy”—terms that have vague meanings and can be used for political reasons to target critical organizations or individuals.
Pakistan’s government has the responsibility to prevent fraud, financial malfeasance, and other illegal activities by INGOs, but Pakistan already has other laws and regulations that address such concerns. The INGO regulations severely restrict rights to freedom of association and expression for Pakistanis working for INGOs, as well as for foreign nationals. These rights are protected under the Pakistani constitution and international human rights law. International groups make significant contributions to Pakistan in safeguarding and promoting health, nutrition, education, sanitation, food security, and the rule of law and human rights, among many other areas. International humanitarian and development organizations working in Pakistan employ thousands of Pakistanis, contribute hundreds of millions of US dollars to the national economy, and, working alongside their local partners, reach an estimated 20 million Pakistanis with assistance and services every year.
Under the regulations, all international organizations are required to obtain permission in advance from a government “INGO committee” chaired by the secretary of the Ministry of Interior before carrying out any activity in Pakistan. The committee has the power to rescind that permission at any time, for vaguely defined reasons.
The regulations provide for a right of appeal only on decisions by the INGO committee to cancel registration. The appeals process, to a Special Ministerial Committee, will be final, denying the groups any recourse through an independent judicial process. The Pakistani government should revise the policy for INGOs so that it does not contravene the rights to freedom of expression and association, and cannot be misused for political reasons to restrict the peaceful activities of nongovernmental organizations.
“The recent action against nongovernmental organizations comes amidst a shrinking space for free expression and dissenting voices,” Adams said. “Placing arbitrary restrictions on international groups is likely to increase the climate of fear for domestic organizations.”
It began with sweets and pocket money when he was 10 years old — special attention from the religious cleric who ran the Pakistani madrassa, or Islamic school, the boy attended.
And it escalated to rape and months of sexual abuse, the now 28-year-old young man says.
“I feel rage now when I think after he raped me he took a bath and right away he left to lead the prayers,” the man, an economist who lives in Islamabad, told The Associated Press. “After that I came to know from three or four of my classmates that the mufti used to do the same with them.”
Speaking English, at times searching for the right words and at others apologizing for the explicitness of his conversation, he described the cleric’s advances: how he took him to another mosque that was not associated with the madrassa the boy attended and then raped him.
He said he suppressed memories of the abuse for years, but after reading an AP report last month revealing widespread abuse by clerics in Pakistan’s thousands of madrassas, they all came tumbling back.
“I read the story two times. The first time I was shocked. The things that were written there were everything I had lived. The second time I read it, the whole of my body was trembling because of the memories it brought back,” said the man, speaking on condition of anonymity, not only because of the shame he felt nearly two decades later but because he feared Pakistan’s religious leaders could retaliate against him either with violence or charges of blasphemy or being an apostate, both of which, he said, were tantamount to a death sentence.
He decided to approach his former classmates, to rally survivors of abuse to band together to speak out. But, he said, he was rebuffed, and firmly. “They said ‘Stop talking. This is not something to discuss.’ It is so common in the madrassas here, but people don’t want to talk about it. We are ashamed,” the young man said. There are more than 22,000 registered madrassas in Pakistan, and many thousands of unregistered ones, often grimy one- or two-room facilities in remote villages. The millions of students they teach are often among the country’s poorest, who receive food and an education for free.
But at the madrassa this young man attended — one of the largest in the Pakistani capital, which attracted students from other parts of the country — many of his fellow students were, like himself, from middle- and upper-middle class families, “sent to the madrassa to win favor for the family from God,” he said.
Naeema Kishwar, a federal lawmaker who last year helped change Pakistan’s laws to close a legal loophole that had allowed those who commit so-called “honor killings” to escape punishment, said that laws exist to tackle sexual abuse of minors, which she called a scourge in Pakistan, not only in madrassas but in public schools, at home and among the army of child workers who are employed in homes as domestic workers and in factories.
“Of course, it is the responsibility of the federal government to prevent abuse of children, but you must keep it in your mind that provincial governments are equally to be blamed for being unable to stop child abuse at all places, including private and government schools and madrassas,” she said. “This is a common problem.”
But Kishwar who is a member of the religious Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, a pro-Taliban party, took umbrage with a focus on sexual abuse in the madrassas. Her party operates thousands of religious schools. But like the clerics who dominate her party, Kishwar, despite data and evidence to the contrary, said the incidents of abuses in religious seminaries were isolated.
Taha Siddiqui, a prominent Pakistani blogger and journalist, who has come under attack by the military and intelligence agencies in Pakistan for his outspoken commentaries, said the AP report was widely shared on social media, whereas the mainstream media stayed mostly silent. He blamed fear among the mainstream media of antagonizing the country’s religious leaders and because sex, even if it involves abuse, is a taboo subject.
“Such topics rarely get any coverage on national television channels. And for that reason, there were discussions on social media which were much more encouraging,” he said.
Two-time Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid, whose documentaries have given a voice to victims of acid attacks and “honor killings” in Pakistan, retweeted the story.
Sherry Rahman, a senator in Pakistan’s upper house of Parliament and a close ally of Pakistan’s slain leader, Benazir Bhutto, tweeted: “This is a subject we need to talk about so our children are better protected. Sexual abuse of children is pervasive at many levels of society across the class divide. We must give courage and hope for victims to speak out. “
Raza Rumi, a Pakistani journalist and policy analyst, who moved to the United States after surviving an assassination attempt by members of the militant Lashkar-e-Janghvi group, tweeted: “This had to be said. For too long we have avoided confronting such brutalities. . . End #child #abuse in #Pakistan.”
But there were also virulent attacks, said Siddiqui. Some accused those who criticized madrassas of blasphemy, while others said it was a Western conspiracy to defame Islam.
Says the young economist and abuse survivor: “In Pakistan the mullahs have two weapons__ they can declare you an apostate or charge you with blasphemy. Both are a certain death sentence.”
The time to try on different terror narratives for size is through. What Pakistan needs are results. Of the tangible kind.
Up until now what we have had is a discourse of deflection. This has centred on commending the resilience of those who somehow managed to survive where terrorists would rather see them slaughtered. From Malala to the children of the APS massacre. We need to stop focusing on their bravery. The latter didn’t sacrifice their lives for this country. For the simple reason that they did not consent to have their bodies riddled with bullets. No, they had their lives violently taken.
The only hope to come out of the murder of some 130 school children was the way in which the state came together from across the political divide to not only talk the talk on terror — but to also walk the walk. By and large that was a defining moment when the entire country came together and expected the state to finally act. Even though some circles seized upon this tragedy to underscore their cynicism. The children of Pakistan Army officers, they crowed, are worth more than the children of FATA who are being bombed by US drones. And while there might be some truth in this given that the US was invited by the state apparatus to rain down their bullets in Pakistan’s tribal areas — the sad reality remains that if children at a military school are not safe, then none of our children are. No matter how secure our nukes.
So, we — the whole country — backed the 20-point roadmap by way of endorsing the National Action Plan (NAP). Yet fast-forward to today and the state appears weaker than ever before. Yes, the military has cleaned up many areas in the northwest and flushed out the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), with the latter having regrouped in Afghanistan. Sure, we have seen the reintroduction of the death penalty as well special military-run trial courts. Yet we have also witnessed the strengthening of extremist forces; many of which don’t even need bombs and bullets to ensure that their will is done. Indeed, we have all seen just how easy it was for the latter to get a certain law minister’s head on a stick.
And all the while is our security apparatus is working overtime to parade before the nation certain ‘reformed assets’. When not busy with this — it is occupied with its much-touted militant-mainstreaming project. On the basis that the only way to curb such outfits is to have their positions moderated. And that this means having them face the people at the ballot box. Thus we have seen two particularly questionable groups contest local by-elections on equal footing with political parties. In other words, throwing into question the NAP’s commitment to its own mandate of banning the glorification of terrorists, outlawing militant outfits operating in the country and ensuring an end to religious extremism and protection of minorities.
And we still wonder why Pakistan isn’t winning this ‘war.’
By Asad Zia
Three years on, relatives of the young martyrs of the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar still look for closure as the painful memories of the loved-ones they lost on that fateful day are yet to fade.
They have constantly been demanding of the government to order a judicial inquiry into the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attack on December 16, 2014 in which around 150 people – mostly young students – were massacred by terrorists.
Tufail Tariq is an eyewitness to the attack, who lost his two brothers. On the eve of the third anniversary of the attack, Tariq shared with The Express Tribune the painful memories that “linger with us”. Tufail’s brothers, Nangyaal and Shamwal, students of 9th and 8th grades respectively, were among the 132 pupils slain by the heartless enemy. “The incident of APS destroyed us,” he says.
Their father, Tariq Khan, is still in shock and the family seeks justice. “My two children were martyred while the remaining three are traumatised,” he told The Express Tribune. Tufail was in the 7th grade. He could be promoted to 8th grade in three years. “Tufail suffers from the mental trauma and left the school,” Tariq Khan said. “My second son fell ill due to shock,” he added.
But the greatest of all the predicaments for the father of the martyrs was that he had to be strong to be able to console other family members. “As an elder of the family, I couldn’t cry [in front of the family]. I showed them that I’m a strong person but actually [I was not] I cried when I was alone.”
Tufail said that December 16 is very difficult day for his family, “We cannot face this day, the memoires of my brothers would not fade,” he said, adding that since that incident, “I hardly go to school”.
APS, trauma, and the scars that never heal.
He continued, “I dropped my younger brother at the gate of school [three years ago]. I don’t have the courage to cross the gate and enter the school again. The APS attack destroyed my life. I have no friends to share my dreams with.”
“Sometimes my grief is overcome by anger… sometimes, I think of joining a group and take revenge for my brothers [murder],” he said.
Like many other aggrieved families, Tariq wants closure.
“We do not want anything from the government. We [just] request the government and the Pakistan Army to investigate the attack, form a judicial inquiry and provide justices to the victim families.”