Wednesday, November 28, 2018
“My criticism of Imran Khan’s politics has been that I don’t see any conversation with women in his politics. I don’t see a conversation that empowers the provinces. I see a lot of opportunism in it,” she said in an interview to NDTV.
“We have a lot of cases of a lot of fear and intimidation and unfortunately I don’t really see that this government is taking any steps to reverse that. If anything its furthering that,” said the daughter of Benazir’s slain brother Murtaza Bhutto.Fatima, unlike her cousin Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has stayed away from politics, preferring writing instead. Her fifth book, a novel called “The Runaways” is likely to hit the shelves later this month.
“I was encouraged from a young age by my father to write and to read a lot. I don’t think it is a divorce from politics, I think a lot of what I write is very political,” she said. “He’s a young man. He has been through a lot of trauma and violence. I hope he will be well and I wish him only well as a person. I prefer not to really comment on the politics of it all,” Fatima remarked when asked to comment about politics of her cousin Bilawal.
The young writer said she was averse to social media.
“Twitter has become so murky… It has become a platform for a lot of aggression and a lot of hate. Instagram I mean I don’t really understand what its redeeming qualities are because it is basically just people competing with each other and you know this terrible narcissistic one-upmanship. Facebook – I want nothing to do with it ever.”
By News DeskPublished: October 12, 2018
Beyond U-turns and knee-jerk reactions, the government of the day is doing something far more dangerous, which has gone largely unnoticed in the ‘tweet of the day’ culture we currently live in. Under its slogan of a ‘new Pakistan’, an overzealous government is slowly chipping away at our constitution’s core principle of parliamentary sovereignty and the democratic values that flow from this.
Winston Churchill once famously said, “When the facts change, I change my mind.” Perhaps that is whom the prime minister should have referred to, when giving examples from history to justify the numerous U-turns he has become synonymous with. The problem for our prime minister, however, is that the underlying facts do not change, only the level of pressure from various quarters does.
The prime minister’s U-turn on seeking assistance from the IMF illustrates this point well. The premier, and the government, were fully aware of Pakistan’s economic situation when they announced, while in opposition, that, if elected, the PTI would not take any loans from international donors, and in particular, from the IMF. Yet, last month the government formally sought financial assistance from the IMF. There were no significant changes in the economics facts to warrant such a volte-face. We have seen a similar story play out with CPEC. The government initially halted CPEC projects, saying, in the first instance, that the projects will be assessed before taken forward. Without carrying out the assessments they said were necessary to assess the economic efficacy of the project, the government now says CPEC will go ahead more or less as planned under the previous government. Again, the underlying facts have remained the same. If some of the CPEC projects represented poor economic value three months ago, they still do so today. As with the IMF volte face, what has changed is the level of pressure the government has felt from various quarters.
As a result of the government’s consistency in being inconsistent, people are now arguably more wary of outright and immediate praise of the PTI — waiting instead to see, if and when, the government changes its mind and reverses its position. Unsurprisingly, and for good reason, people are calling the government out because decisions are being taken and then reversed. In the government’s defence it could be said that political parties always make promises in opposition, which then have to be reversed when faced by the cold reality of being in government, or a change of policy is a sign of a government that is prepared to listen. However, the problem is that there have been so many significant U-turns in such a short space of time that one cannot help but think this is a government, which after only three months in office, is controlled by events and is not in control of events.
However, beyond the many U-turns there is something worse, far more dangerous, that this government is doing, even if unwittingly. That is its disregard for, or perhaps the non-recognition of, the sanctity of parliament and the democratic traditions that are attached to it. Dicey, the well-known English constitutional theorist, said that “the sanction which constrains the boldest political adventurer to obey the fundamental principles of the constitution and the conventions in which these principles are expressed, is the fact that the breach of these principles and of these conventions will almost immediately bring the offender into conflict with the courts and the law of land.” Pakistan is still a young democracy, structurally looking for reinforcement through convention, tradition and norms based on democratic values. The government, however, is not playing by those rules, instead priding itself for being different from the rest of the political elite. And in that shows its lack of years and wisdom, because it fails to acknowledge and understand that no matter how far it pushes for change the framework in which it can succeed can only be and remain constitutional and democratic.
An important part of any properly functioning parliamentary democracy is the recognition by the government of the day of the need to continue those policies or projects of the previous government that work. The current government’s failure to take forward the previous government’s initiatives, which have proven to work, is another example of a government that needs to rethink the nature of the change they seek to bring about. The most significant example of this lack of continuity is Multan’s violence against women’s centre. Despite the centre’s shortcomings, it was an unprecedented and undeniable success, providing abused women with a ‘one stop shop’ access to the formal system. In circumstances where the government should clearly continue previous successful programmes, the government does everything in its power to put an end to them — seemingly to demonstrate that there will be change for change’s sake. On the other hand, when the government gets an across-the-board applaud for showing leadership and speaking to the religious right, it reverts to exactly what the previous government did — surrender to chaos and further uncertainty. All in the name of bigotry and rhetoric. A prime example of the bruises parliamentary democracy is taking is the fact that the chairpersonship of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, the most important committee in the House, is still vacant. Under recent parliamentary tradition, the Leader of the Opposition should be appointed as chairperson of the committee. The current government’s apparent anxiety over this issue shows that this government is not entirely ready for its parliamentary role. Perhaps what is most troubling is the government seeming disdain for parliament and its proper role in our democracy. The prime minister’s addresses to the nation should, in fact, be on the floor of House, and seldom on television or Twitter, particularly ones that give weight to the writ of the state. Important members of the cabinet leaving parliament in the middle of a session should be under extraordinary circumstances, not an everyday occurrence. Parliamentary language should now move on from “you are corrupt and we will prove it” to the introduction of legislation, policy, tough decisions and being held accountable as the government of the day. Knee-jerk reactions are the work of unseasoned politicians — and Pakistan on the brink of economic crisis and in the depths of the repercussions of ‘golden handshakes’ with ‘religious representatives’ — cannot afford those. It seems clear that due to its lack of experience, this government is ‘learning on the job.’ Unfortunately, in the process of its ‘learning’ period, democratic foundations are being harmed and the various institutions of government are being further damaged. Attempting to push boundaries for the sake of it and at the expense of further shaking the fragility of democratic values is dangerous waters to enter into. And breaking rules that do not reinforce the constitutional framework makes us all losers in this Naya Pakistan.
Dear Prime Minister, it’s looking worse than we thought, isn’t it?
The case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who was recently freed from a blasphemy death sentence, was discussed at a conference in London, prompting activists and scholars to analyze Shariah law in general.
Should Shariah, the Islamic religious law, be blamed for the injustices faced by Muslim women and children or its rigid implementation? Can Shariah be adapted to the needs of secularism? Pakistan's blasphemy laws and their political use that resulted in Asia Bibi's death sentence prompted the discussion at a conference on Shariah, segregation and secularism in London on November 25.
The case of Bibi, a Christian woman who was recently acquitted of blasphemy charges by Pakistan's supreme court, is a widely discussed topic all over the world. Earlier this month, Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih requested asylum for his wife and the rest of the family from a number of European countries, including the UK, but some reports claim that British authorities were reluctant to offer it to avoid "religious disharmony" in the country.
Although released from prison, Bibi cannot still leave the country due to protests by hard-line Islamist groups against her acquittal and a pending review petition in the Supreme Court.
The conference also featured Saif ul Mulook, Bibi's lawyer, who fled Pakistan to the Netherlands soon after the court overturned his client's death sentence, which had kept her in prison for nearly a decade.
Mulook praised the Pakistani constitution for its "secular credentials" and cited its Article 25 that guarantees equality to all citizens. He also spoke about his childhood when Christians and Muslims lived peacefully together in Pakistan.
"Small groups of mullahs (Islamic clerics) gained prominence after General Zia-ul-Haq [a military dictator who ruled Pakistan in the 1980s] and the US intervened in Afghanistan, a peaceful country at the time," Mulook told the audience, as he was given a standing ovation by the attendees for his long struggle to get justice for Bibi.
The conference participants urged the British government to grant asylum to Bibi on humanitarian grounds. They also urged authorities to abolish all laws that are against the spirit of freedom of conscience and expression.
Equal rights for all
The participants of the international conference, organized by Maryam Namazie, marked the 10th anniversary of the One Law for All Campaign, which campaigns for equality irrespective of background, beliefs and religions. They demanded "one law for all' in opposition to those in Europe who are calling for more autonomy for the arbitration of religious courts and religious judges, especially over matters related to family law, inheritance, divorce, child custody and domestic violence.
In her speech, Yasmin Rehman, a women's rights campaigner, criticized British authorities for the "mess" they have created by categorizing minority communities "between good and bad migrants."
Rehman alleged that the British government tends to support any organization that speaks against Muslim radicalization without analyzing its credentials.
The rights activist argued that authorities pander to the demands of right-wing Muslim organizations, giving them legitimacy by allowing Shariah courts to have authority in divorce cases, adding that these measures are tantamount to creating parallel legal systems in the country.
Conference organizers shared Rehman's views, saying that often the victims of parallel legal regimes in the UK are the most vulnerable people, such as women, children and minority communities.
"We must acknowledge equal rights for all and stop dividing people into communities. We must all abide by human rights laws that are man-made and are subject to change, of course," said Fariborz Pooya.
Interpretations of Shariah
In February, a report submitted to the British parliament recommended regulation of Shariah courts in the country. It was, however, rejected by the government.
Gita Sahgal, director of the Center for Secular Space organization, accused the British government of legitimizing a parallel legal system in the UK by allowing a dual divorce procedure — one civil and one religious — for British Muslims.
Sahgal explained that the interpretation of Shariah laws is different in Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries. In Muslim-minority countries, Muslim organizations campaign for "cultural conservatism" and a more rigid form of Shariah law. Shariah, she said, has undergone a reformation over a period of time, depending on the political views of the Muslims organizing themselves in different societies or as different communities.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws, for instance, are used politically by the ruling class of the Muslim-majority country. Their interpretation, experts say, is problematic. Scores of people have been killed by angry mobs or sent to the gallows on charges of insulting Islam or Prophet Muhammad, they say. Bibi's case, thus, sheds a light on this aspect.
The conference declaration said that "both racist and fundamentalist discourses, whether they appeal to Shariah, facism, anti-semitism, casteism or any ideology, deny the universal dignity of a human being."
By Diaa Hadid
When at 19 Mehnaz became pregnant for the fifth time, she panicked. She already had four daughters, and her husband was threatening to throw her out if she had another. So she did what millions of Pakistani women do every year: She had an abortion.
Like many of those women, her abortion was partly self-administered. "I kept taking tablets — whatever I laid my hands on," she says. "I lifted heavy things" — like the furniture in her tiny living room. She drank brews of boiled dates — many Pakistanis believe the beverage triggers labor. Mehnaz says she felt "a terrible pain in my stomach." Her husband took her to a midwife, who told him the baby was dead. "She gave me injections and it came out," Mehnaz says.That was eight years ago. Since then she has had two more abortions, each time because she feared the baby would be a daughter.
Mehnaz, whose last name is being shielded to protect her identity, is one of millions of Pakistani women who have abortions each year. The deeply conservative Muslim country is estimated to have one of the highest rates of abortion in the world, based on a 2012 study by the New York-based Population Council, a nonprofit that advocates family planning. The rate that year was 50 abortions for every 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 — roughly four times higher than in the U.S. According to family planning researchers, abortion provisions in the country's penal code are vague. The procedure is "legal only in very limited circumstances," notes the Guttmacher Institute.The circumstances include a pregnancy that is dangerous to a woman's health — or if there is a "need" for abortion, according to Zeba Sathar, the Pakistan director of Population Council, and Xaher Gul, a Karachi-based public health policy expert and lecturer who advises nonprofits. But what constitutes a "need" is not defined, they say. What's more, hospitals generally refuse to perform an abortion because most doctors believe it is illegal, Sathar and Gul say. Even when doctors know abortion is allowed in certain circumstances, they cite their own cultural beliefs to not undertake abortions except in urgent cases — for example, if a woman walks in with "an incomplete abortion," Gul says. That has left Pakistani women at the mercy of back-alley abortion providers.
Some of these women, like Mehnaz, will abort a fetus if they fear they are carrying a female child, who can be seen as an economic burden. But that's not the only reason.Pakistani women largely seek abortions because they either don't know about contraception or cannot access reliable contraception — or they've stopped using contraception after suffering complications, Sathar says. According to her research, most of the women who seek abortions are married, poor and already have children. Only 30 percent of fertile-age women use modern contraceptives, according to a 2017 U.N. report."We found to our surprise that most of the women had more than three children, maybe as many as five," Sathar says. "They were almost all — 90 to 95 percent — married. They were older, so they tended to be poorer, less educated." Pakistan's high abortion and low contraception rates reflect a family planning policy in shambles, says Abdul Ghaffar Khan, director general of Pakistan's population program wing. His office is meant to set the national family planning agenda, but Khan described the situation as "a bureaucratic mess." Family planning used to be the job of the federal government, but approval for a national policy languished for years. In 2011, national authorities passed the matter to provincial governments. But at the provincial level, family planning is not part of the health ministry's portfolio. It is part of a different office and has long been neglected and underfunded, Khan says. That means women aren't advised about contraception or supplied contraceptives when they are most amenable: after childbirth, receiving postnatal care or immunizing their babies, says Sathar of the Population Council. She described it as one of the chief "structural flaws of how we provide family planning." The issues with family planning are partly why Pakistan has one of the world's fastest population growth rates, says demography expert Mehtab Karim, vice chancellor at Malir University of Science and Technology in Pakistan. That population boom has strained Pakistan's land and water resources, crowded its schools, outstripped development plans and may lead to more instability in this nuclear-armed state. "It has a tremendous impact," Karim says.But changes may be coming. On July 4, Pakistan's Supreme Court demanded hearings into the country's family planning failures. A national policy may be put into action in the coming months, Khan says.All this is too late for Mehnaz, who was married at 13 to her cousin in their tiny village and had four daughters in quick succession and seven children in all — six girls, one son. And three abortions. She is illiterate and said she didn't know anything about sex or contraception early in her marriage. In a group interview with NPR, about a dozen midwives who also provide abortions said they would only help a woman who already appeared to be miscarrying — like Mehnaz, who induced her own abortion before seeking help.
"I don't help with murder," says Mumtaz Begum, a 60-year-old who lives in a slum in the port city of Karachi. She has no medical qualifications but says a midwife taught her how to induce abortions decades ago, using medications freely available in Pakistan. On a recent day, Begum showed NPR those pills and injections. They were clustered on a dusty table alongside religious texts and a bag of onions in a dank room with peeling paint. The gurney where she treated women was littered with clothing. "I wipe it down before women come in," she says.Because many providers aren't properly qualified, researchers estimate about a third of all women who undertake abortions in Pakistan suffer complications, ranging from heavy bleeding to a perforated uterus and deadly infections.health workers do reach out to women to provide information about family planning. Some 130,000 women are employed by provincial health ministries to do house visits across the country, teaching about birth control.
But Gul says health workers are poorly trained and in short supply. Budgetary shortages, supply problems and corruption mean they often don't have contraceptives, or distribute expired contraceptives — and that there's little follow-up on how to use them.
Mehnaz was paid a visit by two such workers. She says they gave her an injection meant to prevent conception for three months. She became pregnant again anyway. As before, she tried taking pills to induce an abortion but says they made her sick so she stopped taking them. Three years ago she had her seventh child, a girl. She then tried taking the pill, offered by the visiting health workers.
She says it made her dizzy and she stopped taking it.
She again became pregnant but miscarried — and pleaded with doctors to sterilize her.She says they told her she had to wait until she was 40 — or get a permission slip from her husband. He refused: "He says he can't sign this, it's a sin."She says he also refuses to use condoms or to stop having sex with her.If she has another girl, her husband may well abandon her. If she tries to induce another abortion, her health could deteriorate.
"I am stuck," she says.