Tuesday, March 6, 2018

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#Pakistan - Curriculum and education system fuels religion based discrimination a recent report says

A report compiled by an international NGO Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), non-Muslim Pakistanis are enjoying a status of second-class citizens. The report is based upon finding related to violations of freedom of religion or belief in the educational setups. The study includes four other countries Burma, Iran, Mexico and Nigeria along with Pakistan.
Religious minorities in Pakistan
The report titled “Faith and a Future: Discrimination on the Basis of Religion or Belief in Education”, says that the textbooks and curriculum are playing a pivotal part in inculcation of religion based discrimination and intolerance in the minds of Pakistanis. The report declares that such an environment is prevailing which bestows a status of second class citizenship to non-Muslim citizens. Non-Muslims’ patriotism is questioned while their contribution towards the betterment of the country is disregarded.
Specifically in Pakistan, the report says the textbooks are fashioned in a way “to create a monolithic image of Pakistan as an Islamic state and of Pakistani citizens only as Muslims.” Thus non-Muslim Pakistanis are successfully deprived of acknowledgement and national identity these textbooks also fail to “recognize and celebrate Pakistan’s religious and ethnic diversity”.
The report points out to the 1980s era, when the then-ruler General Zia-ul-Haq started systematic process of Islamization of the nation, tainting education with an ideological angle. It was observed that the consequences of this step “are still felt everywhere in society, particularly within the educational system.”
It was stated that the Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other religious communities face violations of freedom of religious freedom in this perspective. The content of the textbooks is sometimes full of insulting material while oftentimes the language used is derogatory. Non-Muslim teachers and students face discriminatory attitudes. The ill-treatment is source of psychological abuses for the minority students.
Situation is alarming despite the fact that freedom of religion was guaranteed by the Founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah who said in his address on August 11, 1947, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.
We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State.”

#Pakistan - Senate committee recommends punishment for false accusations of blasphemy

Two witnesses mandatory for anyone to get blasphemy case registered at police station.
The Senate’s Special Committee on Human Rights on Tuesday recommended that perpetrators of false accusations of blasphemy be given the same punishment as set for those convicted for blasphemy.

“Anyone falsely accusing someone of blasphemy should be subjected to the same punishment as a person convicted of blasphemy,” the recommendation stated.
The punishment for blasphemy in Pakistan ranges from several years in prison to a death sentence. Under existing laws, a person making a false accusation can only face proceedings under Section 182 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which entails a maximum punishment of six months, or a mere Rs 1,000 fine.
It was claimed that Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) had also recommended the same punishment in its annual report of 2000-2001 and 2003-2004.
Section 295-C was added by an act of parliament in 1986 during Gen Zia’s regime, making the use of blasphemous remarks about the Holy Prophet (PBUH) a criminal offence punishable by death. The recommendation also stated that anyone looking to register a blasphemy case at a police station should have to bring two witnesses to support their accusation.
However, committee member Senator Mufti Abdul Sattar, who belongs to the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, opposed the recommendations, terming them “an attempt to sabotage the blasphemy law”.
“Are there no other laws in the country that are being misused?” the legislator complained. “We are not trying to make any changes to the blasphemy law, we are trying to keep people from misusing it,” Senator Farhatullah Babar clarified.
The committee has decided to forward its recommendations to the CCI.
Last year in October, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had suggested parliament to make the blasphemy law tougher by fixing the same punishment for any person misusing it or falsely accusing someone of blasphemy.
IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui had said in his order that due to the misuse of the law, critics even demanded abolishing it, adding it was better to stop exploitation of the law rather than abolishing it.
At the time, the judge had referred the matter to the legislature.
On February 16, the Interior Ministry submitted a draft of proposed amendments to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 to Justice Siddiqui. The amendments had sought to equate punishments for a false accusation of blasphemy to the punishment for actually committing blasphemy. The matter had first been brought before the IHC by the Lal Masjid-led Shuhada (Martyr’s) Foundation, which had initially accused five bloggers of sharing blasphemous content on social media last year. However, the Federal Investigation Agency had later informed the IHC that the bloggers, who had been forcefully disappeared early last year, were not involved in blasphemy and the investigation agency had not found any tangible evidence against them. Justice Siddiqui had subsequently proposed invoking the blasphemy-related Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with those who falsely accuse another of blasphemy.
In his116-page verdict, Justice Siddiqui had discussed in detail the criticism against the blasphemy law and said that due to misuse of this law, critics were demanding its abolition, adding that it would be better to stop the exploitation of the law rather than abolishing it.
The committee also discussed the Youhanabad lynching case and said that the charges against those arrested in the case should be reconsidered.
Recapping the case for the committee, Babar said: “Three years ago, two churches were targeted in Youhanabad as a result of which at least 150 Christian citizens died. People in the area conducted protests to condemn the deaths of their fellow citizens – as is their right. These people were charged with terrorism and have been rotting in jail for three years.”
“Terrorism charges against the people arrested should be dropped and they should be tried in civil courts,” the committee recommended, while adding that charging innocent people with terrorism is unfair.

Why Pakistan has troops in Saudi Arabia – and what it means for the Middle East

Pakistan recently announced that it will send military personnel to Saudi Arabia. The details of the deployment remain elusive, but a composite brigade of the Pakistani military will reportedly fulfil advisory and training roles. It seems Islamabad and Riyadh’s longstanding relationship is getting stronger – so what are the implications?
First of all, Pakistani troops have been deployed in the Saudi kingdom before. Pakistani military engagement started when its special services participated in the operation to eliminate fundamentalist elements that seized the Grand Mosque in Makkah in 1979. Afterwards, tens of thousands of Pakistani troops remained in Saudi Arabia during the Iran-Iraq war. Most were recalled after the war ended in 1988 – but a smaller contingent stayed on.
The two countries’ close ties were tested in 2015 when the Pakistani parliament unanimously rejected a Saudi request for Pakistani troops to support its Yemen campaign, but the relationship never quite broke down. Despite the parliamentary rejection, Pakistan still provided some naval assistance early in Saudi’s Yemen operations, and since then, the two militaries have conducted joint exercises.
Former Pakistani Army Chief General Raheel Sharif was made the head of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism, and Saudi troops participated in the 2017 Pakistan Day Parade.

On alert

Reports broke in early 2017 of Pakistan sending a brigade of its troops to Saudi Arabia, but there was never a confirmation from Islamabad. The decision to send troops was finally made in February 2018 and announced in a surprise press release from a Pakistan military spokesperson on February 15, 2018. The military was clearly the decisive authority here, as parliament was apparently not consulted on the deployment. The timing of the announcement also spoke volumes about Pakistan’s current worries.
At around the same time, the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, completed a successful trip to the Middle East. He received a warm welcome in the UAE, and the prospect of a closer partnership between the two states clearly left Pakistan rattled.

On the march for Pakistan Day, 2017. EPA/T. Mughal

Equally, Pakistan has deep reservations about Indian activities on Iranian soil. During Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s recent trip to India, a deal was struck that grants New Delhi operational control of the Chahbahar port in southern Iran. The Indian-Iranian connection has caused problems before: two years ago, Kulbhushan Yadav, an alleged operative of the Indian intelligence agency’s Research and Analysis Wing who ran his operations from Chahbahar, was arrested as he entered Pakistan from Iran.
So Pakistan’s military has been prompted to counterbalance Indian influence in a more vigorous manner, safeguarding its strategic interests. The Pakistan military’s footprint within the Saudi kingdom is growing in proportion to its sense of security in the Middle East writ large – and that’s especially apparent in its ever more vocal support of Riyadh’s war in Yemen.

Sense of insecurity

Pakistan is also worried about its own deteriorating relationship with the US. Washington has not only withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid to Islamabad, but is taking further punitive actions to press Pakistan to do more over alleged Taliban sanctuaries.
At the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force meeting in February 2018, the US, the UK and France jointly moved a resolution that sought to place Pakistan on an international terror-financing watchlist. The move met resistance from Turkey, China and Saudi Arabia – and while US pressure finally prevailed in putting Pakistan’s name on the list from June 2018 onwards, the episode showed that an array of states are emerging as Pakistan’s new supporters at international forums.
According to the Pakistani defence minister, the latest troops sent to Saudi Arabia have embarked on a training and advice mission, and will not be dispatched onward to Yemen. The Pakistani army has apparently developed significant expertise in mountain warfare and counter-insurgency during recent military operations in Pakistani tribal areas and the Swat Valley, and will be transferring these skills to Saudi forces. And the only mountainous region within the kingdom that’s currently a conflict zone is on the Yemeni border.
But whatever specific role this deployment plays in Saudi Arabia’s Yemen campaign, it’s part of something bigger. This new chapter in the Pakistani-Saudi relationship is part of a story unfolding across the Middle East, where political, economic and security partnerships are being realigned and tested. The region’s balance of power will soon look very different indeed.

Krishna Kumari — From bonded laborer to Pakistan's first lower caste Hindu senator

Krishna Kumari became Pakistan's first Hindu-Dalit senator after she was elected to the upper house of parliament Saturday. In an interview with DW, Kumari talks about the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan.
DW: You are the first lower caste Hindu senator in Pakistan's history? How do you feel about it?
Krishna Kumari: I still cannot believe that I have become senator. It feels like a dream. Even male members of our community [Dalit] haven't made it to parliament. We are a community that has not been given many opportunities to excel.
As daughter of a peasant in Sindh province, it was unimaginable that I could become member of the upper house of parliament one day. As a child, I had to work very hard as a bonded laborer. So when the Pakistan People's Party (headed by Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto before her assassination in 2007) chose me for the Senate seat (reserved seat), I was really surprised. Not only me, but the whole Hindu community in Pakistan was excited.
My election to the Senate means that even those who were opposed to girls' education are now thinking to put their daughters in school. I have become a role model for so many people in my country.
Can we say that your election to the Senate is a step toward a liberal and progressive Pakistan?
It bodes well for Pakistan. An oppressed and backward community that could only vote for the majority candidates can now choose their own members of parliament. It is definitely a progressive step.
There are now three members of the Hindu community in the Senate. We need to make efforts to work for the oppressed communities. I am sure we can make a difference.
There are laws for the protection of minorities and other marginalized communities in Pakistan. We need to make sure that they are properly implemented. Also, we need to work for more legislation to help these communities.
But the election of one or two minority members to the Senate doesn't guarantee a structural change. What do you say about it?
I am optimistic. I have worked hard to be where I am now. For years, I have been involved in campaigns to create awareness about education and other social issues. We must continue with these efforts to improve our political and social systems. I firmly believe that we can bring about a change.
There have been many cases of forced conversions of Hindus to Islam in your Sindh province. Why has the PPP's provincial government not able to put an end to it?
It is fine if a Hindu girl marries a Muslim out of her free will, but it is not acceptable if she is forced to do so. Forced marriages and religious conversions happen in some parts of Sindh and the PPP government has made efforts to stop them.
I will try my best to ensure the implementation of laws on forced Hindu marriages and explore ways to pass new legislation.
What needs to be done to ensure more political empowerment for women in Pakistan?
I think education is key to female empowerment because with it comes awareness, a larger share in jobs and more representation for women in parliament. At present, the representation of women in parliament is not satisfactory. I would like to see at least 50 percent representation of women in parliament because they constitute more than 50 percent of Pakistan's population.
You are also a rights activist. What are you currently working on?
I have been working on campaigns to create awareness about health, education, human rights, bonded labor and some other issues in my constituency in Thar district. Girls' education is not a priority for many people in Pakistan. Underage marriage is another a pressing problem in many areas, including Thar. With my Senate position, I will be in a better position now to make a difference.