Monday, December 17, 2018

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#ANP's Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar - Suspension as good as expulsion

What does the future hold for the ANP, in the absence of Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar?
When the Awami National Party (ANP) notified the suspension of the membership of two of its former parliamentarians, Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar, on November 12, it was seen as a belated effort to enforce discipline in the party by silencing the voices of vocal critics of its policies.
A week earlier, the two known ANP politicians had been served with show cause notices that accused them of carrying out activities against the party policy and discipline. The notices said they were spreading confusion among the ANP ranks and causing irreparable loss to the party.
The charges were serious even if somewhat vague. Both replied within the one-week period given to them. As expected, the replies failed to satisfy the party leadership and their membership was suspended.
The suspension was as good as expulsion. Under the party constitution, the decision would have to be ratified by the ANP central executive committee whenever it meets. Needless to say it would be a mere formality.
There was almost no chance of acceptance of the demand by Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar for discussing the allegations against them in the relevant forums of the party. That stage has passed and it is apparent that the parting of ways between the party and the two dissidents is now complete.
Afrasiab Khattak is the former ANP President for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while Bushra Gohar was the senior vice-president. The former had remained a Senator and the latter Member of the National Assembly. They were senior and experienced enough and had held important positions in the party not to know about the ANP policies and requirements of discipline, but the two pushed the limits due to their belief that the issues being highlighted by them were in line with the party’s principles. It is possible they weren’t expecting such a tough action against them. To their credit though, they have generally refrained from criticising the ANP leadership.
Afrasiab Khattak was circumspect in his reply to the show cause notice as he didn’t go into details in the absence of a charge-sheet detailing the allegations of breaching the party discipline against him. Nevertheless, he used the opportunity to mention his 50 years long association with the Pakhtun Students Federation and the ANP to argue that this gave him a fair idea about the party’s policy and discipline.
Bushra Gohar raised pertinent questions in her reply to the show cause notice. She questioned the transparency of the decision-making within the party at the highest level and wondered why the issue wasn’t taken up in the recent ANP central and provincial councils’ meetings. Bushra Gohar maintained that she followed late freedom-fighter Bacha Khan’s philosophy and worked for democracy, human rights, merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, demilitarisation of the state and society, justice for Pashtuns and other oppressed nations and campaigned against Talibanisation, religious extremism, patriarchy and tribalism. A section of the media quoted her comment that ANP took action against them due to ‘external’ pressure. It wasn’t elaborated, but it could mean certain powerful state institutions.
Tweets are the favourite form of expression nowadays for Afrasiab Khattak, and also for Bushra Gohar. In fact, their frequent tweeting was the main reason for them to earn the anger of the ANP leadership. Both have been hyperactive on social media, tweeting the whole day on issues close to their heart.
This must have been a very difficult decision for the ANP as it meant losing two stalwarts and risking further rift in the party ranks. However, the decision was made in the hope that keeping them in the party and allowing them to say things not liked by the ANP leadership wasn’t a good option. The ANP parliamentary party leader in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, Sardar Hussain Babak, was quoted as saying that the opinion of Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar was known to everyone and it was clearly not in line with the party policy. He made it clear that there would be no negotiation for their return to the party as the decision against them was final.
Though the ANP President Asfandyar Wali Khan had the power under the party constitution to take action and suspend the membership of Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar, he was abroad visiting Russia when the action was taken on his behalf by the party’s central General Secretary Mian Iftikhar Hussain. This point was highlighted by Bushra Gohar in her reply to the show cause notice when she questioned the directions issued from outside the country by the party president, particularly when the ANP at the time was supposed to be led by an acting president.
Afrasiab Khattak tweeted after his suspension from the ANP that “Political workers can be unfairly expelled from political party but they can’t be expelled from politics. We shall steadfastly continue struggle against all forms of oppression, suppression and exploitation.”
Though he thanked all his friends for expressing solidarity with him in his tweet, he didn’t immediately respond or accept the request by some of his supporters to create a new political party. Afrasiab Khattak knows pretty well that running a political party isn’t easy as it requires resources and big names. He had fallen out with the Wali Khan family in the past as well and founded the Qaumi Watan Party, which was later merged with the Pakhtunkhwa Qaumi Party before rejoining the ANP.
Tweets are the favourite form of expression nowadays for Afrasiab Khattak, and also for Bushra Gohar. In fact, their frequent tweeting was the main reason for them to earn the anger of the ANP leadership. Both have been hyperactive on social media, tweeting the whole day on issues close to their heart.
The suspension notification issued by the ANP mentioned this point when it noted that the two continued to violate the party discipline on social media despite being cautioned.
Many of the tweets by Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar have been in support of the Manzoor Pashteen-led Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which is seen by the ANP leadership as a potential threat to the party and a rival for seeking support from the ethnic Pashtuns. Asfandyar Wali and other party leaders have been emphasising the point that the ANP is the original and oldest Pashtun nationalist party with a history of unmatched struggles and sacrifices. His son, Aimal Wali, has been particularly critical of the PTM and even alleged that Manzoor Pashteen is being used as bait by the state institutions to identify and eliminate anti-state elements.
Though some ANP activists were saddened by the suspension of Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar’s party membership, only one known party leader, former lawmaker Jamila Gilani, publicly protested the move and resigned from the party’s position of central deputy general secretary. She was quoted as saying by a section of the media that expulsion of progressive members of the ANP would damage the party. However, she didn’t quit the party, preferring to adopt a wait and see approach.
It is interesting to note that all three had been elected members of parliament on reserved rather than on general seats. Afrasiab Khattak, Bushra Gohar and Jamila Gilani owed their positions to the party which guaranteed their victory by nominating them to contest election on reserved seats. Afrasiab Khattak had once contested for the National Assembly seat from Karak district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 1990 but was defeated. The other two didn’t have any constituency and were accommodated on seats reserved for women.
One may ask as to what does the future hold for the ANP, still led by a member of the late Bacha Khan family, and Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar. The ANP has been on the decline in its Khyber Pakhtunkhwa stronghold since the rise of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). In particular it has failed to attract the young people who have been flocking to the PTI banner. Though the ANP gave an improved electoral performance in the 2018 election compared to 2013, it still lagged far behind the domineering PTI. The ANP would have to work really hard and keep the party intact and motivated to be able to mount a serious challenge to the PTI in the next polls.
For Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar, there aren’t many parties that would suit them or would accept their strong nationalist, progressive, secular and liberal views on various issues. Both are intellectuals in their own right and have their admirers, but the one party that suited them the most in the prevalent circumstances was the ANP. That option is now closed. Is the PTM an option? Perhaps they could continue supporting it, largely through social media, but formally joining it would require some serious thinking.

Balochistan - Poverty-hit area with hundreds out of school children, unnoticed disables

By: Rafiullah Mandokhail
 “In union council Tang Sar hundreds of children do not go to school besides dozens other unnoticed disable living in the extremely poor hilly area.”
This was reveled in a recent survey conducted by Balochistan Rural Support Program under its Brace program in the district.
Surrounded by dry mountains the union council Tang Sar of sensitive Murgha Kibzai area some 110km in the southeast of Zhob city, always remained backward and neglected.
The survey revels that the union council is a cluster of eleven villages and comprising around seven hundred households. Half of the population estimated over four hundred house holds fall under the poverty line in the first three bands of HHs poverty classification.
The survey shows that 56% people of the total population belong to lower calls in terms of poverty. That is why 1742 children out of total 2774 children (5-16 of age) in the union council do not go to school. Moreover 732 children have never ever attended the school, either due to poverty, strict tribal and cultural barriers or lack of awareness.
Although neither a non-governmental organization had ever approached the area nor an official had set foot in these villages, however BRSP’s social mobilization staff led by field unit-3 in-charge SSO Naqeebullah Babar stepped into the area for the first time and accessed the community members including religious scholars and notables to support their BRACE program. The staff members left no stone unturned to complete the Potential Control Persons (PSC) survey effectively.
Following the survey a workshop was also organized in the area that was attended by over one hundred community members, elected representatives, Ulema and poor disable persons in a large number.
Naqeebullah Babar said the European Union funded Balochistan Rural Development and Community Empowerment (BRACE) is a rural development program that would benefit 1.9 million people in 249 Union Councils of nine Balochistan districts including Zhob, he said.
“The program focuses on the empowerment of communities and enabling them to implement community-driven socioeconomic development interventions,” he added.
When contacted, Social Organizer Afzal Khan to shed light on the formation process of local organizations and role of community towards the program and its activities, while Planning Monitoring Evaluation and Research officer Abdul Rasheed termed the BRACE program very beneficial for the poverty-hit remote area and unprivileged community.  

Two Pakistani Christians sentenced to death for blasphemy

By Robin Gomes
Two brothers, Qaisar and Amoon Ayub have been in Jhelum Jail since 2015. Their death sentence was delivered in prison on Dec. 13 for security reasons.Two Christians have been sentenced to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges, the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) said on December 14. Qaisar and Amoon Ayub, from Lahore, were arrested in 2015 after one of the two was accused of posting offensive material against Islam on their website.Qaisar and his wife Amina have three children, whilst his brother, Amoon is married to Huma, a teacher at Lahore Cathedral School.
The allegations surfaced in 2011 when they were accused of posting disrespectful material on their website; however, the accused say that their website has been inactive since 2009.
The two brothers have been held in Jhelum District Jail since their arrest. Their case was heard on December 13 inside the jail due to security reasons. Additional Session judge Javed Iqbal Bosal found them guilty and sentenced them to death.
CLAAS, an interdenominational organization dedicated to the victims of religious intolerance, has been representing the accused and now plans to appeal the sentence before the Lahore High Court.
Blasphemy a volatile issue in Pakistan
According to the blasphemy laws in Pakistan’s Penal Code, insulting the Prophet Muhammad is a crime punishable by death, while offending the ‎ Koran, Islam's holy book, incurs life imprisonment. The laws remain an extremely sensitive issue in ‎the predominantly Muslim nation and they have ‎drawn intense criticism even within the country. Blasphemy charges tend to trigger violent reaction among Islamic radicals, who interfere with the proper operations of the court system and threaten judges.
Unfortunately, “because of threats from hardliners lower courts pass their responsibility to the higher court and then it takes years to prove the accused innocent,” said CLAAS-UK director Nasir Saeed. “We have seen this in the recent case of Asia Bibi who was similarly convicted by the lower court and it took her years to reach to the Supreme Court to get justice. I am afraid now Qaisir and Amoon will have to wait years to get justice," Saeed said.
Asia Bibi
The death sentence of Qaisar and Amoon Ayub comes close on the heels of the acquittal of Asia Bibi, perhaps Pakistan’s most famous blasphemy case. The Catholic woman was arrested and imprisoned in June 2009 on allegation of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, which she and her family have always denied. In 2010, she was sentenced to death.She was acquitted by Pakistan's Supreme Court on October 31 and ordered free, but she remains under high security in an undisclosed location in the country for fear of extremists who want her hanged.
Islamists have also threatened the Supreme Court judges who declared Asia Bibi innocent. Asia Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Mulook has fled Pakistan and sought asylum in the Netherlands.
 (Source: AsiaNews/agencies)

‘This all started long before Bin Laden’: Why Pakistan is kicking out foreign charitiesAdam Withnall

By Adam Withnall,Mohammad Zubair Khan
 Diplomats and charity workers fear another raft of NGOs will be kicked out soon - and millions of the poorest Pakistani citizens will suffer.
Pakistan’s government has kicked out a group of international charities who, in 2017 alone, helped an estimated 11m of its poorest citizens. It has done so without providing any explanation, and left many of those remaining fearing they could be next.
Diplomats and charity bosses spoken to by The Independent described the ejection of the 18 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) not as a knee-jerk decision, but as the culmination of years of hostility from the state towards such bodies.
The charities were told at the end of September that they had exhausted all options to appeal their wrapping-up orders, and given 60 days to cease all operations and withdraw from Pakistan.
All the INGOs, including the UK charities ActionAidInternational Alert and Plan International, have been told they can “re-apply” for registration in Pakistan in six months’ time.

But their prospects do not look good, given they have not been told the reasons for their expulsion – and therefore what they must rectify. They, like the Western governments that have been lobbying on their behalf for years without success, are left second-guessing the true reason they have been kicked out.
Many reports have linked Pakistan’s hostility towards foreign charities with the 2011 US military operation that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden. Then, a fake vaccination programme run by the CIA was used to pinpoint the hideout of the 9/11 mastermind.
Few would dispute that this set back genuine vaccination programmes years if not decades – Pakistan remains one of only two countries in the world where polio is endemic – and contributed to a sense of distrust towards INGOs.
But “this all long started before [Bin Laden]”, said a senior official at the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, an umbrella organisation of which most of the 18 organisations were members, who asked not to be named due to the sensitive nature of the subject.
“The strand had already developed where NGOs are seen as foreign agents,” the official said. “It was led by [state-friendly] media, and anyone who questioned it was targeted with very broad criticism.”
Few people will actually be leaving Pakistan as a result of the crackdown on international charities. That’s because even before it began the new NGO registration process, the state had been denying visas to foreign workers. Both ActionAid and Plan International confirmed their teams in the country already consisted of Pakistani nationals.
Nonetheless, the public image of INGOs as malevolent agents of foreign powers has persisted: the media narrative seems to have worked.
On the streets of Islamabad, people generally seemed to support a move away from reliance on INGOs. Naeem Awan, a shopkeeper, said foreign charities were “involved in destabilising Pakistan, they are destroying Pakistan’s culture and society”.
Raja Moshin, a government employee, said he believed Pakistan “doesn’t need INGOs’ services”.
“These INGOs are involved in implementing a Western agenda in Pakistan, [as well as] in the spread of nudity and vulgarity.”
It is a perception that many believe has been fuelled by Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, which backed the former cricketer Imran Khan in his successful bid to become prime minister and maintains an effective apparatus for quelling dissenting voices in civil society.
Independent journalists might criticise a government decision once, but they won’t push it too far, and domestic NGOs are tightly controlled.
Foreign charities operating in Pakistan were the last piece in the puzzle – frequently speaking out about what they were seeing on the ground.
“The decision by the government of Pakistan to close down these charities is a huge disappointment,” one western diplomat told The Independent. “Sadly it comes as no surprise and is the latest step in several years of disruption of charities, journalists and social activists.
“We expect more to come. Each time it is the poor people in Pakistan that suffer the most.”
Of around 140 INGOs that applied for registration, 80 were granted permission to continue their operations. The fate of the 40 or so who still haven’t heard is not looking good, with sources close to the process suggesting that another raft of 20 could be told to pack up in the coming weeks.
The government of Pakistan has defended its moves to regulate the charity sector – up until 2015, there were no stringent mechanisms to ensure that NGOs, whether foreign or domestic, were well governed.
Pakistan would hardly be the first country to seek to move from an aid-based model of crisis intervention to direct action as its economy develops. India has been through a similar process, repeatedly cracking down on foreign funding for NGOs and just this year refusing offers of millions of pounds for victims of flooding in Kerala.
Shireen Mazari, Pakistan’s minister for human rights, said the 18 were “denied for non-compliance viz what they had defined as their work”. “They must leave. They need to work within their stated intent, which these 18 didn’t do.”
In other words, the charities were not being charged explicitly with spying, or furthering the agenda of a foreign power. None, in fact, was accused of anything specific at all.
The Pakistani branch of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations was one of two among the 18 which has fought the decision in court, and is awaiting a decision.
Its Pakistan head Dr Saba Khattak told The Independent the charity will argue in court that the government cannot prove any misconduct on their part.
“We received notice to stop working, but in that notice we were never told what charge is being brought against us. We are not involved in any illegal work,” she said.
Collectively, according to the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, the 18 charities employed more than 1,100 people in country.
“They employed local resources, working with local partners to forge a link with communities which the government cannot,” a spokesperson for the forum told The Independent.
“From health to water sanitation to the construction of shelters, they were working on the welfare and development of hard-to-reach communities. Eleven million were benefiting every year from these organisations, and at the moment it seems there’s nothing in place to replace them.”
Not everyone The Independent spoke to took a dim view of INGOs. Naseba Bibi, a widow and mother of three, said she had first-hand experience of the work charities do in the country.
“My husband passed away seven years ago, and afterwards me and my children were facing serious financial issues. My parents and in-laws were not in a position to support us,” she said.
Naseba was introduced through a friend to an NGO offering women training in sewing and embroidery. She said it was something she never would have considered before the death of her husband, a taxi driver and the only bread-winner in the family.
“I never used to go outside, but I worked hard in training and the NGO knew what had happened [with my husband] so they offered me a job as a trainer. The job pays me enough to feed my children. Now they have all started going to school.”
Naseba said she did not know what to do now the NGO was winding up. She urged the government to reconsider its decision.
Plan International said it alone had supported 26m people during two decades of projects in Pakistan. In a statement, the charity said it was “deeply saddened” to announce it was being forced to close in the country on government orders. “No reason was provided” for the decision, it added.
“We are extremely concerned about the impact this will have on communities, particularly hundreds of thousands of children, that Plan International supported through its development work,” the statement read.
ActionAid’s general secretary Adriano Campolina said the charity would be “honoured to return” if the government changed its mind. “Our dedicated team of Pakistani nationals supported more than 1.4 million people over the past decade,” he said.
“The end of their vital work with marginalised groups is a worrying development for civil society in a country where a fifth of the population is still living in poverty.”
International Alert said it had ceased operations after being denied registration and was “waiting to hear from the government on the reapplication process”.
“In the meantime, we are trying to minimise negative impact on our partners and beneficiaries in this process,” a spokesperson said.