Wednesday, March 28, 2018

#Pakistan - Culture of Intolerance in Higher Institutes of Learning

By Aisha Anees Malik
Universities are bastions of learning and research. They are not only supposed to provide quality teaching, promote research but also support an atmosphere where dialogue can take place. This dialogue or discussion and debate among scholars opens new vistas for research. Diversity of opinion is vital to this experience. Unfortunately, universities increasingly are heading the same way as the larger society – into an abyss where such aspirations are not only stifled but also demonised. My observations come from teaching at the leading university of Pakistan i.e. Quaid-i-Azam University.
In recent past the University has been shut down due to strikes on two occasions. On one occasion students went on a strike to restore their colleagues who had been expelled on disciplinary grounds as per university rules. The second time round it was the faculty that brought academic activities to a halt. The second strike is in full swing at the time of writing of this article. The Academic Staff Association (ASA), a representative body of the faculty, demands the resignation of the Vice Chancellor whom they deem incompetent. I will not delve into the righteousness or otherwise of the demands of the protestors during both these strikes but would like to point out how these protests laid bare the culture of intolerance in the university in the process negating not only the democratic spirit of protest itself but more importantly the spirit of free thought (and speech) that is a hallmark of a world class university.
A reading of email exchanges among faculty members at the faculty portal seems like a 3D adventure ride through the dark ages. Accusations, witch hunts, witch trials and burnings at the stake are the order of the day. Ever since Bush gave us the “you are either with us or against us” mantra we have held on to it like our lives depended on it. The Academic Staff Association (ASA) has given it new life by localising it with slogans like, ‘VC ka jo yaar hai who ghadaar hai ghadaar hai’ (friend to VC is traitor to us). And you don’t have to be a supporter of VC to earn this ire. All faculty members who are against VC but do not agree with ASA’s illegal measures of blocking university transportation to stop students reaching university also fall in this category. All neutrals are also boxed in here. Even those who are simply saying ‘ASA has a right to protest and we have right to teach so please let us teach’ are deemed traitors. Whatever ideological position one takes, if it is not in line with ASA’s boycott of academic activities to force the VC to resign is ‘VC ke yaar’. It gets a new meaning when they chant it at female faculty harassing them into either siding with them or staying quiet for who wishes to be labeled as ‘VC ki Yaar.’
A senior faculty who has recently retired from the university and has been reappointed as a Director on contractual basis posted a link from a news report in which students had given their views on the ongoing strike. As these views challenged the totalitarian views being portrayed by the leading lights of the protest, all hell broke loose. Below the belt personal jibes, insults and threats followed email upon email. A large number of faculty members, some part of ASA others from institutes & centers affiliated to QAU and housed in its premises also gave press releases objecting to this threatening environment in the university perpetuated by certain ASA stalwarts and impeding of educational activities. I was going to post these links for others to read and comment upon. Seeing the treatment meted out to a senior faculty, I thought better of it.
The purpose of faculty email portal is to provide a platform for exchange of ideas. If we cannot discuss our ideological and political positions amongst colleagues and improve our thinking processes through their constructive feedback, how are we supposed to advance learning and challenge or add to the already existing knowledge base? This atmosphere of openly threatening opposing views suppresses any possibility of such productive exchange. The threatening emails at the faculty email portal make it clear that intolerance is increasingly being institutionalised in higher institutes of learning even like Quaid-i-Azam University which until now had been a safe haven for progressive thought and speech. It would be a shame if it were to fall prey to the ills of the larger society like intolerance rather than providing hope for a tolerant and progressive society.

A CHANGING NATION - Pakistan’s Silent Majority


 Though little noticed abroad, the political terrain in Pakistan is rapidly shifting as the religious parties lose ground to the moderate middle class. Can the trend make a difference in the long run?
On March 3, 2018, Pakistan marked a historic milestone, as Krishna Kumari became the first-ever Hindu Dalit woman to become a member of the Upper House of Parliament in the predominantly Muslim country. The same day, Pakistan witnessed another historic electoral outcome: the unexpected defeat of Maulana Sami ul Haq, the leader of a faction of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Party and a man who proudly declares himself “the father of the Taliban.” Haq failed to earn the necessary votes to become a Senator despite the backing of one of the country’s most influential politicians, Imran Khan, who heads the Tehrik-e-Insaaf (Justice Movement) Party and harbors ambitions to be Prime Minister.
While Kumari’s victory was widely celebrated on social media by leading commentators, politicians, and activists, there were no tears shed for Haq. A self-proclaimed defender of Islamic causes in Pakistan, Haq has championed the country’s notorious blasphemy laws, cheered on the fighting in Indian-controlled Kashmir, and voiced support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, while vociferously criticizing the United States.
Ironically, it was huge sums of money that played the key role in Haq’s defeat. Imran Khan had backed Haq in the hopes that his religious and jihadi credentials would carry the day, and to shore up his own support among religiously-minded voters for the upcoming parliamentary elections. But even Haq’s pro-Islam credentials and his swaggering claims to be the “Taliban Father” failed to convince legislators from Pakistan’s conservative northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to use their votes in his favor. In the wheeling and dealing that often characterizes Pakistani Senate elections, money trumped Islamic piety, as the region’s parliamentarians were lured by the monetary offers of Haq’s opponents to vote against him. The outcome was hardly a triumph of pure democracy, then—but it was also a sure sign that religiosity doesn’t go as far as it used to in Pakistani politics.
To the outside world, Pakistan and its majority middle-class population is often presented as hopelessly radicalized, with a clear preference for a Taliban-style government run by religious leaders who endorse jihad against the “infidels.” This impression is enhanced by the deliberate efforts of some elements in the security establishment: as, for example, in the case of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a religious parties’ alliance they hastily cobbled together soon after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
But this popular image has always been a simplistic one, belying both the diversity of public opinion in Pakistan and recent trends that are transforming its political landscape. For all the highly visible gatherings and demonstrations by religious parties, participation in such groups has actually shrunk considerably over the past decade and a half.For all the highly visible gatherings and demonstrations by religious parties, participation in such groups has actually shrunk considerably over the past decade and a half. And though little noticed abroad, the political terrain in Pakistan is rapidly shifting, as the religious Right loses substantial ground to the moderate middle class. One may rightly call this cohort the silent majority of Pakistan. Pakistan has witnessed a palpable change in public sentiment over the past sixteen years. In the wake of September 11, when the international coalition first launched Operation Enduring Freedom to eliminate the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Pakistanis made no secret of their resentment. The religious parties routinely held protest demonstrations against the United States and its partners and in support of the Taliban.
As a reporter based in the city of Peshawar at that time, I regularly sent dispatches to my editors abroad about the protests every Friday afternoon, when activists of the religious parties spit, kicked, and burned effigies of then-U.S. President George W. Bush after the congregational prayers. In the same period, I witnessed and reported the crossing of hundreds of Pashtuns—many of them armed with British-era .303 rifles, others with even older weapons—crossing into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban against American and NATO forces.
Apart from praise and prayers for the Taliban’s so-called Commander of the Faithful, Mullah Muhammad Omar, the protesters used to equally extol and lionize Osama bin Laden. But come May 2011, there were few protests or rallies when U.S. Special Forces raided Bin Laden’s highly-guarded compound in Abbottabad and killed him. Though the leaders of the hardliner religious parties protested and uttered funeral prayers in absentia, only about 1,500 protested nationwide, a small showing constituting only Pakistan’s most extreme Islamists. No funeral prayers were heard at all when the news about the mysterious death of Mullah Omar was leaked to the media in August 2015. And no one was seen on the streets, not even the hardliners, when Omar’s successor Mullah Akhtar Mansour was targeted by a drone while traveling from the Iranian border to Quetta in May 2016, less than a year after his succession.
Likewise, the political fortunes of the religious parties have been declining for years. The MMA religious alliance reached the height of its popularity in the 2002 parliamentary election, when it cashed in on popular pro-Taliban sentiments and the support of Pakistan’s security establishment to win the maximum number of seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. But the return of popular political leadership to Pakistan—specifically Nawaz Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto—changed the scene. The vast majority of Pakistanis rallied behind two major political parties, Pakistan Muslim League and Pakistan Peoples’ Party, headed by leaders who had been forced to stay out of the country by the military ruler General Pervez Musharraf. Even after Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007, her party retained the maximum number of seats in the parliament needed to form the government. They outperformed the religious parties on the basis of popular vote in 2008.
The religious parties once again failed to perform in the May 2013 parliamentary election, when the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) formed a centrist government. That election also saw the emergence of the Tehrik-e-Insaaf (Justice Movement) of former cricket star Imran Khan, who became a trendsetter in using music and star power to attract huge crowds of women and young men to his political gatherings. Pakistan is just months away from another parliamentary election, scheduled to be held in July or August 2018. The major aspirants for the seat of power in Islamabad this time are the ruling Muslim League and the opposition Tehrik-e-Insaaf, with Peoples Party standing in third place. None of the religious parties are seriously in the running. “The traditional religious parties are feeling insecure in face of the changing trends in Pakistan,” Afrasiab Khattak, a former senator and columnist with the Pakistani English-language newspaper The Nation, told me. “It is [due to] the fear of losing ground that their leadership is now desperately trying to revive the 2002-era MMA alliance,” he added. (Soon enough, the announcement came that the alliance would indeed be restored.) Another analyst and former Pakistani bureaucrat, Ghulam Qadir, told me that the “Mullahs are always sponsored by the state. Moderates in Pakistan are not enjoying that sort of support. Some religious parties will lose [their] foothold the day the state (read: security establishment) withdraws its support.”
State support for the religious parties and leadership has its roots in the emergence of Pakistan in 1947, when the country was established as a homeland for the Muslims of India separate from the majority Hindus. Back then, however, Pakistan’s founding leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah could still speak of a unifying national idea. In his famous speech to the Constituent Assembly in 1947, Jinnah declared, “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of 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.” It was only later, particularly under the reign of General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s, that the country became so entrenched in religiosity that even Shi’a Muslims began to feel like a minority. (Ahmadis had already been excluded from official definitions of Islam in the 1973 constitution.)
By supporting religious parties and leadership, General Zia planned to achieve short-term gains to sustain his own dictatorship while browbeating the much more powerful India and supporting jihad in Afghanistan. Support for the Afghan jihad not only helped keep the Soviet Union away from the borders of Pakistan, but also ensured military and cash assistance from the United States. The Pakistanis blended Afghan nationalism with religion to put an end to Afghanistan’s claim over the Pashtuns located across the present-day border in Pakistan. (Afghanistan had a history of supporting them to strengthen the Pashtunistan Movement.) During the Taliban era, the religious seminaries provided a steady stream of human resources to the militia. And in the post-Taliban era, the security establishment still depends on the religious Right to humble the civilian authorities whenever they try to cross the military’s red lines.
This past fall, for example, the 22-day long protest by the Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, or Movement for the Call of Allah’s Prophet (TLYR), ended only when a serving officer of the Pakistan Army, in addition to top civilian authorities, became a signatory to the agreement. “On the assurance of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, we are calling off the sit-in,” Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of the protest, told his supporters. Rizvi’s fanatic supporters had already forced the federal law minister to tender resignation following an inadvertent mistake in the wording of the oath regarding the finality of the Prophet Muhammad.
As a majority of Pakistani analysts and commentators argued, this protest at the entry point to Islamabad was a tussle between the military and civilian authorities. The military was widely suspected of using—and even bribing—the TLYR protesters to undercut the authority of the civilian government. Hours after the protest was ended, a video went viral on Twitter showing a senior army officer distributing envelopes with cash to TLYR activists. Although the civilians lost that round of tug of war, however, there is some hope on the horizon. For the first time, the silent majority is raising its voice for the supremacy of the constitution and the authority of the parliament and elected government over the military. In the context of today’s Pakistan, that means placing hope in one man in particular: the country’s thrice elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif has become the vanguard of civilian supremacy. Though disqualified by the courts last year on charges of corruption, he is disputing the charges alongside his daughter Maryam Nawaz—and both are continuing to play a major role in the public spotlight. The duo, backed by the hawks of the PML party, are openly challenging the role of the military and its intelligence agencies in matters pertaining to foreign policy, which they believe is solely the domain of the elected authority.
The high crowd numbers that Sharif and his charismatic daughter attract wherever they appear, despite threats from the courts and their opponents in the military establishment, is an authentic proof that the public tide is turning. Indeed, Pakistani analysts believe that Sharif’s popularity has gone up since his disqualification mainly because he opted to speak openly about the flaws in the system, and challenge what many Pakistani rulers and politicians avoid discussing in public: civilian supremacy over the military.Sharif’s popularity has gone up since his disqualification mainly because he opted to speak openly about the flaws in the system, and challenge what many Pakistani rulers and politicians avoid discussing in public: civilian supremacy over the military. “Mr. Sharif was the one who sincerely tried to change Pakistan’s policy direction from geo-strategic to geo-economic,” Afrasiab Khattak told me. “He stood up for peace with India and Pakistan and tried to assert the civilian authority in terms of Pakistan’s foreign policy.”
While it is encouraging for Pakistanis that someone is finally standing up for their rights, there are many other top politicians who eagerly sacrifice the principle of democracy in favor of their individual, group, or party interests. The silver lining, however, is the social awakening among Pakistan’s educated youth, who have recently shown their capacity to mobilize on issues of human rights, politics, peace, terrorism, and extremism.
Manzoor Pashteen is the face of this social change. The 24-year-old hails from a backward village of Waziristan, once the headquarters of the Pakistani Taliban and other affiliated militant groups.
In early February, Pashteen led like-minded youth from Waziristan and adjacent tribal areas to rally support for an end to security check-points in Waziristan; the removal of landmines, which often kill and maim civilians; an end to illegal detention of people (called “enforced disappearances”) by security agencies; and the abolition of the burdensome identity system of Watan Cards for the tribesmen of Waziristan.
Within days, a caravan of 25 youth from Waziristan became a rally of thousands that reached Islamabad, Pakistan’s federal capital, where they staged an unprecedented 10-day peaceful sit-in protest. The youth dispersed only when their representatives sat face-to-face with Pakistan’s Prime Minister in Islamabad and top military officers in Rawalpindi, who assured them of a coming resolution of their problems. “We raised those issues in front of the top military officials that our people were scared discussing within the four walls of their houses,” Pashteen told me in a brief interview. His advocacy has already moved the needle on several fronts. The number of check-points have now been reduced, some of the missing people have been returned to their families, the Watan Card has been abolished at the direction of the army chief, and landmine clearing operations in Waziristan have now begun. Pashteen’s activism has made him a public and widely celebrated figure. Like Pashteen, a majority of the Pakistani tribesmen want their rights under the Constitution of Pakistan. Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, called FATA by short, are still not treated on a par with the rest of the country, as the Collective Responsibility Clause of the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) remains in force. Under the FCR, the people of the tribal areas have no access to regular Pakistani courts and they have no right for an appeal against the decision of the Political Agent, the administrative and judicial head of a tribal district. (Locals often sarcastically call these agents The King.)
Over the past few years, tribal residents have begun to advocate for their rights more actively. This is largely a result of Pakistan’s anti-Taliban military operations, which have displaced hundreds of thousands of tribesmen and their families from their native towns. For the first time, a majority of FATA residents have now been exposed to urban areas with well-equipped hospitals, easy access to clean drinking water, developed roads, communication networks, job opportunities, and schooling for their children. Many of them have opened their bank accounts to receive compensation from the government for the losses they suffered. They have come into contact with smart bank cards that can withdraw money, telephone and internet services, and media and information outlets that are simply unavailable to them back home.
This experience has enabled them to ask questions about the corresponding facilities in their native towns. After coming into close contact with their countrymen in the cities, they want the same quality of life for themselves. Many city dwellers, meanwhile, want something more. Flying high on the wings of social media, urban youth and women are breaking their silence.
In April 2017, when students of a university in Pakistan’s northwestern region killed a fellow student on false charges of blasphemy, his parents could not find a Mullah to lead his funeral prayer. However, the issue was raised on social media, and within hours, people gathered to arrange the funeral. In the next few hours, the slain student Mashal Khan’s innocence was widely discussed, which forced the government to arrest the accused killer on charges of murder.
More recently, the killing of an aspiring male model in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi galvanized activists. Social media picked up on the case and the courts ordered the arrest of the police officer who allegedly killed Naqeebullah Mehsud. The cop has since gone into hiding.
The late Asma Jehangir, the iron lady of Pakistan, was a powerful pro-democracy, pro-human rights, and anti-establishment voice in Pakistan, who always challenged taboos both in politics and social life. Her funeral in February provided another such occasion. Disregarding social and cultural norms, many women, for the first time, were seen shouldering her funeral cortege while standing side by side with men offering the funeral prayer. Although her funeral was an isolated event, even this single incident points to the changing trends and the public’s growing willingness to break taboos.
But this rosy account is only one side of the picture.

Pakistanis have a long way to go before they can hope to break the shackles of the states’ imposed religiosity, maintain real political stability, and achieve a balance in the power and authority of key institutions of the state. 

Nawaz Sharif and his daughter may be seen as the harbinger of change, but the military remains the most powerful organ of the state, able to prevail wherever and whenever it deems suitable. The generals still enjoy the support and goodwill of the bulk of politicians, religious leaders, and courts as compared to the ruling civilians. The March 3 Senate election and the election of Senate Chairman on March 12 provided a fresh example of the military’s power. To counter the candidate of Sharif’s ruling Muslim League, Pakistan’s leading opposition parties—Tehrik-e-Insaaf and the Pakistan Peoples Party—opted to elect a less-known independent senator, Sadiq Sanjrani from Balochistan province, as Chairman. A majority of Pakistani commentators and political experts believe the alliance between PPP and PTI, typically staunch rivals, was engineered by the powerful security establishment to counter Sharif’s party.
When it comes to the press, the supposedly free media is not so free. None of the 24/7 television channels dared to cover the protests by tribal youth in Quetta on March 11, when they highlighted alleged human rights violations in FATA, Balochistan, and other parts of Pakistan perpetrated by the country’s security agencies. And on January 19, the Interior Ministry of Pakistan, on the recommendation of the country’s prime intelligence agency ISI, closed the bureau office of Radio Mashaal in Islamabad, calling its broadcasts “in line with [a] hostile intelligence agency’s agenda.” The U.S.-funded radio channel (full disclosure: I am its senior editor) is mostly focused on countering extremist propaganda in Pakistan’s tribal areas by providing accurate, uncensored news and facilitating open-ended debate.
On the social front, change is visible, but still distant. When a court on February 7 acquitted some people accused in the aforementioned blasphemy killing of a university student, some in the neighborhood flocked to the houses of the freed men to kiss their hands and faces, because “they had taken part in the killing of a blasphemer.” The grave of Mumtaz Qadri, the police officer who killed the outspoken governor of Punjab province Salmaan Tasser in Islamabad in 2011, is still visited by pilgrims in search of blessings. Qadri’s funeral prayer, after his hanging, was one of the largest in recent years.
Discouraging as these anecdotes are, however, new social dynamics are empowering those who used to stay silent. Although the religious side is more visible due to their street protests, proclivity for violence, and occasional behind-the-scenes support, it is the moderates who win the sympathy of the silent majority when it comes to issues such as human rights, education, terrorism, extremism, and civilian supremacy. After all, it was not only Manzoor Pashteen’s fellow tribesmen who joined the sit-in he organized in Islamabad in early February. It was also visited by human rights defenders such as late Asma Jehangir, prominent journalists such as Hamid Mir, religious leaders such as Maulana Fazlur Rahman, and leaders from almost all political parties. Female participation from the conservative FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was conspicuous. This cross-section of Pakistanis demanding a better life offers a hopeful vision for the future. Increasing social and political awareness, education, and the expanding role of social media is shifting the power from the traditional elites to the emerging youth who have stronger contacts with the outside world. The promise of this vision will not be realized tomorrow: Pakistan’s democracy remains a carefully controlled one, subject to perpetual interference by the military generals.

But a continuation of these trends can, in the longer run, facilitate a more moderate and peaceful Pakistan.

Video Report - Malala Yousafzai Reaches Pakistan, Welcome Back Home after 5 years 29 March 2018

Malala returns to Pakistan after six years

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has returned to Pakistan for the first time since being shot by Taliban militants.
Ms Yousafzai, now aged 20 and a vocal human rights activist, was shot in the head by a gunman for campaigning for female education in 2012.
Details of the trip have been kept secret "in view of the sensitivity", an official told AFP news agency.
She is expected to hold meetings with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
Pakistani television broadcast video that appeared to show her with her parents at Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International Airport under tight security.
Following her shooting she was transported to the UK where she received treatment in Birmingham, where her family continue to live.
Since winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, she has continued campaigning while pursuing studies at Oxford University.
She has repeatedly expressed her wishes to return to Pakistan, including at the World Economic Forum in January this year.

39th martyrdom anniversary of Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on April 04

The 39th death anniversary of founder-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and former prime minister Quaid-e-Awam Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would be observed with great reverence and respect across the country tomorrow. Pakistan Peoples Party is finalizing arrangements for 39th death anniversary of its founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on April 4 at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, Larkana.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a statesman who served as the 9th Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1973 to 1977, and prior to that as the 4th President of Pakistan from 1971 to 1973.He is revered in Pakistan as Quaid-i-Awam. He was also the founder of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and served as its chairman until his executionon 4th April 1979. Educated at USC, University of California at Berkeley and University of Oxford, Bhutto trained as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn in London. He entered politics as one of President Iskander Mirza’s cabinet members, before being assigned several ministries during President Ayub Khan’s military rule from 1958. He was appointed Foreign Minister in 1963.