Saturday, July 28, 2018

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Stop the ‘weaponization’ of religion in Pakistani politics

This week, as hundreds of religious leaders, nonprofit heads and government officials gather in Washington for the State Department’s first-ever ministerial on religious freedom, an election about to take place in Pakistan shows why the cause of religious freedom is as important as it has ever been in modern history.
For Pakistan’s Christians and minority Ahmadi Muslims, the run-up to Wednesday’s (July 25) vote has been terrifying. New hard-line Islamist political parties, such as the Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek and the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, have risen, focusing on denigrating the Ahmadis.
Last November, the TLP organized a violent protest that called for Ahmadi Muslims to be removed from high positions in Pakistani society, and demanded that a list be created of all Ahmadi Muslims working in the government. Ahmadis have long been subject to targeted killings, bomb attacks and vigilante violence, and the prospect of being publicly identified cast an even darker shadow over the community’s future.
This kind of harassment is not isolated to extremist political parties. Earlier this month, Imran Khan, the celebrated cricketer and the establishment Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party’s candidate for prime minister, announced his support for controversial blasphemy laws, which have long been used to target and punish religious minorities. Khan’s hard-line approach has further marginalized religious minority communities.
Meanwhile, on July 4, the Islamabad High Court ruled that citizens must declare their faith when applying for any government-issued identification, a necessity for government employment. By stating that all citizens “have a right to know the religious beliefs of civil servants,” the IHC has laid the path for extremist groups to physically target and eliminate anyone who doesn’t fall in line with the political establishment’s ideology.
The Federal Minister for Information appealed the court’s decision, but when Pakistan’s most popular leaders and highest courts signal that certain religious communities are second-class citizens, the damage has already been done. Take, for example, an attack on the 100-year-old historic Ahmadi mosque in Sialkot in May. Though the Ahmadi community was granted permission to make renovations, a mob attacked the mosque and the historical residence of the faith’s founder under the eye of the municipal authorities. The mob was allegedly led by Hafiz Hamid Raza, who is affiliated with Khan’s PTI. Despite widespread international condemnation, a resolution in Pakistan’s Sindh province condemning the attack was rejected by legislators. The participation of a political leader in the attack on the mosque and the subsequent refusal to denounce such acts by a provincial assembly affirm that the Pakistani state is itself a major part of the problem.
As a consequence of the increasing discrimination, incitement and violence targeting Ahmadis, the community has decided to boycott the elections entirely out of fear that its members may be attacked.
Similar examples could be drawn from Pakistan’s Christian community, whose citizens have been frequently, unjustly imprisoned without proper due process and whose churches have been regularly attacked by extremists to the neglect of the nation’s security forces. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we both serve, has also been monitoring alarming efforts within Pakistan’s military establishment to encourage politicians to stoke interreligious hate and violence in order to gain campaign funding and electoral support from religiously intolerant voters.
Pakistan’s decline has been consistent and entirely predictable. Every year since 2002, USCIRF has recommended to the State Department that Pakistan be designated a “country of particular concern” due to “ongoing, systematic, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
The international community and the U.S. government must put unrelenting pressure on whoever wins Wednesday’s election to immediately stop the harassment of the country’s religious minorities. The State Department should work collaboratively with its European partners, including the European Union and United Kingdom, to put Pakistan on notice that its failure to address these concerns will impact aid and trade.
Without sustained pressure from the U.S. and international community, the already dwindling population of religious minorities in Pakistan will soon face an existential threat.
The shame of our world’s record on religious freedom is that the story of any of a dozen minority groups could be told just by changing the names and country in this article. In a dozen more, the situation has so degraded that the persecuted minorities would like nothing more than to be in the situation of the Christians and Ahmadis in Pakistan today. The success of this week’s ministerial will be determined not by the quality of sentiments shared by those present but by the strategic change made because of it. All eyes will be on Pakistan as the first of many places in which much must be done, fast.

Ahmadi Muslims Fear Attacks After Imran Khan Victory In Pakistan

By Amardeep Bassey

British followers of a minority Islamic sect have expressed fears of violent persecution after cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan announced victory in Pakistan’s general election.
The Ahmadiyya community is considered heretical by orthodox Muslims because its followers do not believe that Mohammed was the final prophet.
Their stance means they are not recognised as Muslims and its adherents can be put to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Khan, 65, has been accused of risking bloodshed for electoral gain after he offered a defence of the strict laws in the run-up to the country’s general election this week.
“We are standing with Article 295c and will defend it,” said the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party at a gathering of Muslim leaders in Islamabad, referring to a clause of the constitution that mandates the death penalty for any “imputation, insinuation or innuendo” against the prophet Muhammad.
Now Britain’s 30,000 strong Ahmadis say they fear Khan’s election victory will embolden Islamic extremists in this country to target them for attacks.
Last year British Ahmadi mosques were forced to introduce airport-style security to screen worshippers for knives and firearms after receiving death threats from other Muslims around the country.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK (AMC) brought in walk-through metal detectors, identity checks and bag searches at its prayer centres after threats were made on the life of its leader, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, and other group members.
The severe security measures came just months after an Ahmadi shopkeeper Ahmad Shah was murdered by an orthodox muslim in Glasgow.
His killer Tanveer Ahmed, 32, from Bradford, later said he murdered the 40-year-old as he had falsely claimed to be a prophet.
Mahmood Rafiq, spokesman for the AMC said: “We are hopeful that Mr Khan will withdraw his support for the anti-Ahmadi laws but his rhetoric so far has not been convincing..
“Ahmadis are literally outlawed in Pakistan and even in the UK we have had incidents where orthodox muslims serving as local councillors have refused to sit alongside Ahmadis on interfaith committees.”
Rafiq explained how in 1974 Pakistan’s military dictator further targeted Ahmadi Muslims by making it a criminal offence, punishable by three years imprisonment (or by death under the Blasphemy Laws), for any Ahmadi who “directly or indirectly poses himself as Muslim.”
This meant that Ahmadis could no longer profess or practice their Islamic faith in any way without facing prosecution.
Rafiq said: “Consequently, thousands of Ahmadis have been charged under these laws and have continued to face harassment, intimidation and persecution on a daily basis.
“Ahmadis are routinely referred to as infidels and apostates with open calls for them to be killed. The persecution is institutionalised with harassment and intimidation rife in education, public services, the judiciary and Ahmadi graves have also been vandalised and bodies exhumed.”
He added: “The effects of such persecution is not limited to Pakistan alone as anti-Ahmadi hate has also surfaced in the UK as well. The most extreme example of this was the brutal murder in Glasgow of Ahmadi shopkeeper Asad Shah in 2016, who was killed on grounds of faith.
“There has also been a worrying development of hate preachers coming to the UK and a stream of hate speech on satellite television, the internet and social media and that is promoting intolerance and extremism.”

Contaminated blood transfusions spreading hepatitis in Pakistan, experts warn

Health experts have warned that one of the most important modes of transmission of hepatitis in Pakistan is unsafe, contaminated blood transfusions.
The Safe Blood Transfusion Programme (SBTP) organised a seminar in Islamabad on Friday to mark World Hepatitis Day, which is observed worldwide on July 28 to highlight the global spread of the hepatitis epidemic.
The day holds significance for Pakistan as it is among the high-burden countries for hepatitis.
The seminar participants included a large number of representatives of blood banks, blood donor organisations, NGOs, university and college students and other partners.
National Coordinator SBTP Professor Hasan Abbas Zaheer, in his presentation, briefed about the global, regional and national aspects of the hepatitis epidemic, and described in detail the global strategy and response to halt and prevent the spread of hepatitis.
The international effort led by the World Health Organisation is supported by all the member states, he said.
Pakistan, he noted, is also a signatory to these international commitments made in the UN General Assembly in 2015 which adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which called on the international community to eliminate hepatitis.
These commitments were articulated in the ‘Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis’ presented in the World Health Assembly in 2016, he added.
Prof Zaheer enumerated the efforts of the SBTP to make transfusions in Pakistan infection-free and strengthen the blood transfusion services.
These efforts included the development of a new nationwide blood transfusion infrastructure (construction of regional Blood Centers) with the support of the German government through KFW Development Bank grant, where blood transfusion services are being provided according to the international recommended guidelines adopting good laboratory practices for the screening of infections including hepatitis.
Other SBTP initiatives include developing technical manuals, guidelines, SoPs and training of the human resource which strengthen the blood screening systems.
SBTP has also revived the blood regulatory authorities in all the provinces and regions which are now strictly enforcing quality screening systems in the blood centres.
The regulatory authorities have also managed to curb and significantly reduce the rampant use of substandard manual screening devices, a major source of spread of hepatitis in the country.

World Hepatitis Day observed at SIUT

A large turnout of public representing all walks of life was witnessed at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT), Karachi, on Friday to avail the free screening and diagnostic facilities for hepatitis as part of World Hepatitis Day.
The theme announced by the WHO for this year, "Eliminate Hepatitis", pledges to wipe out the disease globally by 2030.
During the day-long proceedings, visitors were screened for hepatitis C, received hepatitis B vaccination and went through ultrasound of the abdomen to ascertain the possibility for any liver disease.
The visitors were also shown awareness videos in different languages to educate them about the mode of transmission, treatment and preventive methods for hepatitis.

Video - - کچی آبادی کے بچوں کے لیے تعلیم کی روشنی

A solar-powered night school for Pakistan’s child labourers

Ananya Bhattacharya

Nearly 23 million children are out of school in Pakistan. Rohayl Varind wanted to bring them back.
So, in December 2016, the 23-year old social activist and educationist set up two branches of Slum School in Faisalabad, around 323 kilometres south of capital Islamabad, offering night classes to children.
The school does not accept cash donations. Instead, it seeks food, stationary, and laptops.

One other thing on Varind’s donations list, interestingly, is solar power-related equipment. Since its inception, the school has relied on solar energy to power its lights, fans, and IT equipment. “Where my Slum School is located, there is no electricity so I considered solar energy the best alternative,” Varind said. “It’s free and easy to install and use.”
A typical school evening runs from 7pm to 9pm, with Varind teaching the kids English, Urdu, math, and science. Each week, he splits his time equally between the two branches of the school, which have a total of over 100 students. Sometimes, volunteers—his friends and other activists in Pakistan—come in to teach computers, Taekwondo, graphic design, and other subjects.
Many of the children Varind teaches are child labourers. “They start working as house helps or maids. Many boys start working at paan(betel leaf) shops or tea stalls, cafés or restaurants as waiters or cleaners,” said Varind. “One thing is common in majority of child labourers is that they work the whole day and get free at night.”

Slum School
Students attending Slum School.(Rohayl Varind)
Slum School
The outdoor school runs every day, weather-permitting. (Rohayl Varind)
Meal time. (Rohayl Varind)
Slum School
Many children come here to study after a long day of work. (Rohayl Varind)
Slum School
Everything is solar-powered.(Rohayl Varind)
Slum School
Using visual aids to teach English.(Rohayl Varind)
Slum School
Self-defence and Taekwondo training via Skype. (Rohayl Varind)
Bridging the digital literacy gap for girls.
Teaching girls how to use laptops.(Rohayl Varind)
Bridging the digital literacy gap for girls.

#ElectionIrregularities - Pakistan’s hardline religious right helped elect a world cricket champion to office

By Angad Singh and Meher Ahmad 
Imran Khan, the world champion cricketer, claimed victory in the Pakistani elections on Thursday. He wants to turn Pakistan into an “Islamic welfare state” — something like Scandinavian socialism with an Islamic twist. But his Islamic support also has a twist.
Khan’s past lends him some credibility to making Pakistan a “welfare state.” He’s gathered funding to build a charitable cancer hospital, and successfully framed himself as a trustworthy candidate after nailing the last Prime Minister on corruption charges.
Still, the “Islamic” aspect of his vision comes more from political necessity than any deeply held religious conviction.
Khan was educated in the West, married multiple times, and had made a reputation for himself in London’s nightclubs during his youth. But since then, he’s spent 22 years in politics learning that the religious right is a powerful voting bloc in Pakistan that can’t be ignored.
Before the election, Khan’s party had 34 seats against the ruling party’s 178, and they needed to pull off a major upset to win. Khan cobbled together a winning coalition largely by on-boarding “electable” politicians, who command large and loyal bases.
In Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous state, many of these “electables” represented voters who felt the old government failed to represent their religious values. Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, for example, built his political career on the defense of Islam. On election night, he delivered a win for Khan’s coalition from Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s fourth largest city.
“Influential people, in the end, come with me, when they know the poor people have gone with Sheikh Rasheed. They have no option” he told VICE News.
In this case, Khan was the one with no option. Now he’s answerable to Sheikh Rasheed’s constituents, like Maulana Hafiz Iqbal Rizvi, the Imam of Rawalpindi’s largest mosque. Rizvi and his followers back candidates like Sheikh Rasheed because they prioritize defending Islam as a matter of politics.
They felt the previous government made decisions that were anti-Islamic, like the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, an assassin who had murdered the governor of Punjab in the name of Islam.
Shahbaz Taseer, the son of the assassinated governor, believes Khan’s strategy of pandering to religious conservatism is dangerous, because it mainstreams religious fundamentalism. “My father died fighting against this mentality,” Taseer told VICE News. “If a mainstream political party wants the votes of a killer, it will come back to haunt every single Pakistani.”
He thinks Khan might not fully understand the people to whom he’ll now be held accountable.
“It's this intolerant atmosphere that PTI has created for this election. It's basically to win. But what they don't understand is this hate will consume them.“

Video - #ElectionIrregularities - #ElectionResults2018 - Mian Iftikhar Hussain explaining how elections were rigged

Video - #ElectionIrregularities - #ElectionResults2018 - Asfandyar Wali khan Rejected Election Result 2018

#ElectionResults2018 - #ANP rejects poll results, calls protest on 30th

The Awami National Party (ANP) on Friday rejected the election results and announced protest over allegedly “rigged” results on July 30.

The ANP also announced that they will stick to the joint strategy devised by the all parties conference (APC) called by the Pakistan Muslim league-Nawaz and Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal. Party leadership gathered at Wali Bagh, Charsadda to discuss the post-election situation and decide the future strategy. After the meeting, the ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan with senior leaders held a press conference and announced that it “totally rejects the results” and demands for “fair and free re-elections”.
They also assured that as followers of Bacha Khan philosophy they will not resort to violence and will keep the protest as peaceful as possible. “They want to keep Pakhtun leadership out of parliament so that there may be no one to criticise the puppet government,” alleged the party chief.
Lamenting over the poll results obtained by bigwigs such as Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, and Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Wali alleged that “the target was not just the ANP but Pakhtuns.” The ANP chief warned that the way elections were conducted would never result stable and prosperous Pakistan.
Wali added that everyone knew that way is being cleared for a puppet party before elections, but ANP did not know they will go to such extent and commit such an “open election rigging.”
“The polling agents were expelled from the polling stations after voting time for hours during which they filled all the ballot boxes,” Wali alleged.
He revealed that the voters were told until they removed their party bags, party flags and red caps they will not be allowed to go near the polling stations. He also questioned the delay in results announcement, saying the results of far-flung areas of the country have been received, but results of polling stations in Peshawar valley could not be released even after 30 hours of the Election Day.
The ANP leader alleged that thousands of his party workers, who were wearing red caps, were not allowed to enter the polling station to cast their votes.
He added that his party will participate in APC and will make the next course of action after the joint decision taken in conference.
He said, it is not just the fight of ANP or JUI-F, but the fight of all the political parties and therefore, a joint strategy must be devised.
Wali also thanked all the party workers and voters who despite threats alerts issued by the interior minister to the ANP came out in huge numbers on the polling day.

چیف الیکشن کمشنر استعفیٰ دیں، پارٹیاں سیاسی عمل سے باہر نہ نکلیں پارلیمنٹ ضرور جائیں، بلاول

پیپلزپارٹی کے چیئرمین بلاول بھٹو نےانتخابی عمل کے دوران اور بعد میں ہونے والی دھاندلی کی بنیاد پر الیکشن مسترد کرتے ہوئے چیف الیکشن کمشنر کے فوری استعفیٰ کا مطالبہ کرتے ہوئے تمام سیاسی جماعتوں کو مشورہ بھی دیا ہے کہ وہ سیاسی عمل سے باہر نہ نکلیں پارلیمنٹ ضرور جائیں۔ انھوں نے کہا کہ ہم انتخابی نتائج کو تسلیم نہیں کرتے انتخابات میں دھاندلی کی گئی ہم جمہوریت پسند ہیں تمام جماعتوں کو ساتھ لیکر چلیں گے، ایوانوں سے باہر نہیں رہیں گے، الیکشن کمیشن ناکام ہوگیا، چیف الیکشن کمشنرمستعفی ہوجائیں، پیپلز پارٹی مرکز میں حزب اختلاف کی بینچوں پر بیٹھیں گے اور ڈٹ کر اپوزیشن کریگی، مراد علی شاہ کودوبارہ وزیراعلی بنائیں گے۔ ان خیالات کا اظہارانہوں نے بلاول ہاؤس کراچی میں پریس کانفرنس سے خطاب کرتے ہوئے کیا۔ قبل ازیں پیپلزپارٹی کی مجلس عاملہ کا اہم اجلاس بلاول ہاؤس کراچی میں منعقد ہوا سابق صدر آصف علی زرداری اورپیپلزپارٹی کے چیئرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے مشترکہ صدارت کی۔