Monday, May 7, 2018
By Pamela Constable
By voting last week to revoke an honor bestowed on the first Pakistani to receive a Nobel Prize in science, Pakistan’s National Assembly opted for political expediency in the face of a fast-rising Muslim group that denounces members of the late physicist’s faith as blasphemers. ISLAMABAD, Pakistan.
Abdus Salam, who died in 1996, was a member of the Ahmadiyya minority sect, and no politician was eager to challenge the Muslim group, known as the Movement in Service to the Prophet. So lawmakers decided to take his name off a renowned physics center.
But on Sunday, when a young member of the movement shot and severely wounded Pakistan’s interior minister at a public gathering, there was immediate condemnation across the political spectrum and a flood of horrified comments on social media.
“This menace of hatred will destroy everything,” tweeted former foreign minister Khawaja Asif. “For God’s sake, we have to work together for our country.” In another tweet, Afrasiab Khattak, a retired senator and a human rights activist, warned, “Weaponizing religion is a path to horrible disaster.”
While Pakistani officials claim to have eradicated Islamist extremism and terrorism from their country after years of conflict, a new threat to public order and religious peace has risen in their place. The Movement in Service to the Prophet, which professes the benign agenda of defending Muhammad as the final prophet of Islam, also exhorts followers to violence in that cause and targets members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, called Ahmadis, as dangerous heretics because they believe in a later prophet. Neither the legislative resolution against Abdus Salam nor the assassination attempt on Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was openly supported by officials of the movement. But analysts here said there was no doubt that the group’s emotional fervor, widespread appeal to mainstream Sunni Muslims, demonization of Ahmadis and relentless attacks on political opponents had played a role in both.
And while insulting a long-dead scientist did no actual harm, the close-range attack on Iqbal, who was hospitalized with a gunshot wound in the shoulder, was a terrifying response to his official role in trying to quell aweeks-long sit-in in November by the movement. The 23-year-old attacker said the idea to kill the minister came to him in a dream.
The protest leaders charged that an election law had been stealthily changed to give more political rights to Ahmadis; officials denied this and apologized. But the protests persisted until police were sent to quell them and failed. Later, the army was called in to negotiate and agreed to many of the group’s demands. “When State surrenders before bunch of extremists and political parties try to exploit” religious causes, “then attacks like #AhsanIqbal happen,” newspaper columnist Mubashir Zaidi said in a tweet Monday. “Now the monster is out.” The attempt on Iqbal’s life also brought a chilling reminder of the 2011 death of Salman Taseer, who was governor of Punjab province. He was killed by his own bodyguard for criticizing the country’s harsh blasphemy laws. The guard was hanged in 2015, but many Muslims viewed him as a martyr to Islam, and the Movement in Service to the Prophet was created around his example.
Pakistan’s uncertain leadership situation has added fuel to the combustible mix of religion and politics as the Muslim-majority nation heads toward national elections later this year. The most bizarre aspect concerns the contradictory roles played by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his son-in-law, Safdar Awan. Sharif was ousted by the Supreme Court last year after facing corruption charges.
It was Sharif, then a popular premier, who decided 16 months ago to honor Abdus Salam by naming a physics center at the prestigious Quaid-i-Azam University after him. Human rights groups hailed the gesture as a hopeful turning point in the history of discrimination and violent attacks against Ahmadis in Pakistan. “The government should be congratulated for correcting a historic injustice,” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physics professor and rights activist, said at the time. Now, he added, perhaps Pakistan is “ready to move ahead in science, irrespective of faith. It will help soften Pakistan’s image” as “intolerant and terrorist.” But one of the most outspoken critics of the honor was Awan, the husband of Sharif’s daughter Maryam. Last year, Awan gave a vituperative speech against Ahmadis in Parliament, and he sponsored the resolution to remove Abdus Salam’s name from the building and give the honor instead to 12-century Byzantine astronomer Abu al-Fath Abd al-Rahman al-Khazini.
Some Pakistani commentators said Awan had come under political pressure from the Movement in Service to the Prophet. Others suggested that he was playing a good cop/bad cop role to appease the group and help the sagging fortunes of the Sharif family’s political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, which will face stiff competition in the upcoming polls.
But the shooting of Iqbal, a well-liked and longtime aide to Sharif and the Muslim League, seemed to eclipse party politics and bring the potential dangers of fomenting religious hatred into sharp national focus. While the Movement in Service to the Prophet has galvanized fervent support from Muslims across the country, the attack has also aroused popular concern that the group may have gone too far. Among Ahmadis, already accustomed to being ostracized and misunderstood, there is a growing sense that their place in Pakistani society is even more perilous — and that the increasing influence of the Movement in Service to the Prophet is making antagonism to Ahmadis an unprecedented litmus test for millions of mainstream Muslims.
“The fight against Ahmadis has become a struggle for the soul of the country,” Ahmad Usman, a photographer and journalist based in Pakistan, wrote in the online Naya Daur Media. “The good Pakistani and the good Muslim [are] increasingly defined by their hatred of Ahmadis.”
Abdus Salam and others like him “are exactly the kind of heroes Pakistan needs,” Usman added. But when public life is infected by the “virus of hatred, they are not the heroes the country deserves.”
The state has a responsibility to give satisfactory and justifiable answers to the questions being raised by the locals of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). There is no family from the tribal region which has not lost a beloved member or suffered significant financial losses. These are wounds which time cannot heal. They have suffered at the hands of terrorists — both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, attacks from abroad such as drone attacks, and have even been a part of the ‘collateral damage’ of our own army’s operations in their homeland. The state must also explain the numerous missing person’s cases from FATA.
I wrote the aforementioned few lines with all possible punctuation. But, the tribal people speak without any comma or full stop about the atrocities they have suffered over the decades. Two parliamentarians were on my television talk show. They remained quite composed on the camera, but they were quite blunt off the camera. The opening paragraph is the moderate crux of the off camera conversation. Both parliamentarians had strong reservations on complete media blackout of the protests carried out by the Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) that is also known as Pakhtun Protection Movement.
The Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), formerly known as the Mahsud Tahaffuz Movement (MTM), is a social movement demanding human rights for the Pakhtuns of Pakistan. The movement originally started in 2014 to demand the removal of land mines from Waziristan.
It later rose to prominence in January 2018 when aspiring model and shopkeeper Naqeebullah Mahsud was killed in Karachi by the ‘encounter specialist’ police officer Rao Anwar. Following the heinous crime, the PTM protested against Naqeebullah’s murder very strongly, and now have launched a movement for the rights of Pakhtuns in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Karachi and Balochistan. Many FATA elders believe that the state is answerable to the questions being raised by the PTM. They also believe that the complete media blackout of the PTM protests is on the directions of this country’s strong military establishment and other undemocratic forces.
When people are deprived of their rights and their voices are not heard, it creates unavoidable chaos, and the situation goes out of control
The state can kill the protesting Pakhtuns, but cannot silence their voices. Though according to the official state narratives Zarb-e-Azb has ‘cleansed’ FATA of terrorism, but in truth the insurgency has only been suppressed. Peace will not come to FATA until its locals are provided with the solace they want and need. Lets not forget, the epicentre of America’s ‘Jihad’ against the Soviet Union was in FATA, and it was the people of this region who sacrificed their lives and land for the American cause.
Despite their sacrifices and suffering, the promises of rehabilitation of the tribal Pakhtuns largely remained unfulfilled. A special package of Rs 100 billion was announced last year for FATA, but it is not clear how much they received. A few initiatives were taken up by the military. The question is if they are sufficient. Now once again the government has announced Rs 100 billion special package for them. Who will ensure the dissemination of funds?
What is it that keeps the FATA reforms package from being implemented? Soon — but perhaps several decades too late —the Supreme and High courts’ jurisdiction may finally be extended to FATA territory. However, this is much less than what the tribal people were expecting. They opted to be a part of Pakistan decades back. We cannot give them the status of Pakistani while treating them as outsiders. Yet, the merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remains in doldrums. Bravo.
Lets not forget, the epicentre of America’s ‘Jihad’ against the Soviet Union was in FATA, and it was the people of this region who sacrificed their lives and land for the American cause
Meanwhile, we do not even allow them to broadcast their grievances in the media. It seems we have learnt nothing from the fall of Dhaka in 1971. When people are deprived of their rights and their voices are not heard, it creates unavoidable chaos, and the situation goes out of control. How long the state can control the uncomfortable voices of the people? Certainly, they cannot stop them for very long. If there is any history of conquering the Pakhtuns or who would be able to do it.
When the state fails to listen to dissenting voices, their rage spreads like a forest fire. The state can snub or kill dissidents all it likes, but their slogans will live for centuries. Bhagat Singh and Dullah Bhatti’s voices remain alive in Punjab today. They are an inspiration for all those who believe in the struggle against tyranny. Who can forget the Kashmiri freedom fighter Maqbool Bhat? A more recent example is Burhan Vani — who lives on in the hearts of the Kashmiris. It matters not whether he was a terrorist or not, what matters is that the Indian security forces turned him into a martyr.
Pakistan was divided in 1971 primarily because it ignored the dissenting voices of a big chunk of its population. Instead of ensuring their rights and accepting their lawful and legitimate demands.
Those who undermine the voices of the PTM need to recheck their strategies, and once again analyse the content of the speeches of the PTM leadership. The media blackout won’t serve the state objective. The state institutions should prepare itself for rational and truthful responses to their questions. That is the only viable way forward.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Monday said an alliance with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was not possible before the upcoming general elections.
Addressing a press conference in Mandi Bahauddin, the PPP scion said, “We want security for everyone during elections. Even when there is violence, it doesn’t mean we postpone elections,” Bilawal said. “Even Afghanistan and Iran conduct elections.”
“Imran Khan expressed his own wishes to delay elections, but I don’t see any reason to do so,” Bilawal said, adding that there is no constitutional clause calling for delayed elections.” The PPP chairman also called for the eradication of politics of hatred. “We need to ensure that the youth don’t get effected by these politics.”
Bilawal also condemned the attack on Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal.
Commenting on the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Bilawal said that ousted premier Nawaz Sharif is a propaganda expert. “Even after the Panama case, he went on passing odd remarks everywhere he went,” the PPP leader added.
“PPP members are in jail but no member of the PML-N is in jail. Their propaganda will not be successful,” said the PPP leader. “This region doesn’t belong to a single man. Bahauddin is the main constituency of the PPP.”
Iqbal survived an assassination attempt in his home constituency during a corner meeting at the hands of a 23-year-old man on Sunday evening. A bullet hit Iqbal’s right arm from a 30-bore pistol from at least 15 yards.
Doctors said that the minister was out of danger and in a stable condition. He underwent medical treatment at the Lahore Services Hospital. The accused, Abid Hussain, a resident of Kanjror, a village in Tehsil Shakargarh, opened fire at Iqbal just before he stepped inside his vehicle after addressing at Kanjror.
Hussain, who was overpowered and disarmed by security guards before he could fire another shot, was later handed over to police. Later, the suspect was shifted to an unidentified location for interrogation.