Friday, April 12, 2019

Kuchi nomads, women - Afghanistan’s Most Vulnerable Women

#Pakistan is under the military jackboot

By Gurmeet Kanwal
The army has effectively ensured that Pakistan’s fledgling democracy is not allowed to take root.
After India’s counter-terrorism air strikes at Balakot in February 2019 and the reactions that these evoked in the National Assembly, Pakistan appears to be headed towards an unpredictable denouement. Accused by India, Iran and Afghanistan of using terrorism as an instrument of State policy,Pakistan has been isolated in the region. With a seemingly uncontrollable insurgency in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK, erstwhile North West Frontier Province), a simmering freedom movement in Balochistan, growing unrest in Gilgit-Baltistan and rampant urban terrorism, the internal security environment is precariously unstable.
Pakistan’s economy is in a shambles: the funds are low, the debts are high, exports have dwindled to a trickle and the Pakistani currency has fallen to an all-time low of 140 rupees to a dollar. Pakistan has for long been dependent on the United States’ largesse to meet its obligations for the repayment of its burgeoning debt. However, due to its intransigence in extending its cooperation in the war against the Afghan Taliban, that source has dried up and Imran Khan, the beleaguered Prime Minister and chairman of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, has had to run to China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for help.
Pakistan’s deep state — the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — has also been facing insurmountable challenges. The army’s counter-insurgency operations in KPK and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have been floundering; its military camps have been repeatedly attacked with some attackers coming from within the rank and file; its relations with the US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies have plummeted to an all-time low; defence preparedness is sub-optimal; and, the morale of the rank and file is low. The only saving grace is that a pliable prime minister, with whom the army’s senior leadership is not at loggerheads, is now holding office. The military jackboot has ridden roughshod over Pakistan’s polity for most of the country’s history since its independence. While Generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf ruled directly as Presidents or Chief Martial Law administrators, the other army chiefs achieved perfection in the fine art of backseat driving. The army repeatedly took over the reins of administration under the guise of the “doctrine of necessity” and, in complete disregard of international norms of jurisprudence, Pakistan’s Supreme Court mostly played along. The army has effectively ensured that Pakistan’s fledgling democracy is not allowed to take deep root. The origins of authoritarianism can be traced back to General Ayub Khan, who promoted the idea of “guided” or “controlled” democracy. The concept of the Troika emerged later as a power sharing arrangement between the president, the prime minister and the chief of the army staff (COAS). The “political militarism” of the Pakistan army imposed severe constraints on the institutionalisation of democratic norms in the civil society.
Some key national policies have always been dictated by the army. The army determines Pakistan’s national security threats and challenges and decides how to deal with them. Pakistan’s policies on Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) are guided by the army and the rapprochement process with India cannot proceed without its concurrence. The army controls Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme and the related research and development. The civilian government has no role to play in formulating the doctrine for nuclear deterrence, the force structures, the targeting policies and the command and control. The army chief decides the annual defence expenditure and all defence procurements. He also controls all senior-level promotions and appointments; the government merely rubber stamps the decisions.
In order to weaken India, as also to further China’s agenda to reduce India’s influence in Asia, the Pakistan army has adopted a carefully calculated strategy to bleed India through a thousand cuts. This has been given effect overtly through irregular warfare manifested in the Razakar and Mujahid invasion of Kashmir in 1947-48 and Operation Gibraltar in 1965; and, the Kargil intrusions of 1999. A proxy war has been waged through ISI-sponsored militancy and terrorism in J&K since 1989-90 and in other parts of India. In the 1980s, Pakistan had encouraged and supported Sikh terrorist organisations in their misplaced venture to seek the creation of an independent state of Khalistan.
The ISI provides operational, intelligence, communication, training, financial and material support to fundamentalist terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) to wage war against India. Similarly, it provides substantial intelligence and material support to various Taliban factions like the North Waziristan-based Haqqani Network to operate in Afghanistan against the elected regime and against NATO forces. The ISI plays the destabilisation card despite the fact that Pakistan is a major non-NATO ally, as evidenced in the killing of Osama bin Laden in the army cantonment of Abbottabad, where he had been housed by the ISI for almost five years.
Realisation must dawn on the army that it has let down the country. Pakistan cannot survive as a coherent nation state unless the army gives up four things: driving the country’s national security and foreign policies from the backseat; seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan; attempting to destabilise India through its proxy war; and meddling in politics. The army must pull itself up by the bootstraps and substantively enhance its capacity to conduct effective counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. In the national interest, the army must give up being a State within a State and accept civilian control, even if it does so with bad grace.

Christian girl sold to Muslim man in Pakistan to return home

A 14-year-old Christian girl who was kidnapped, sold to a Muslim and forced to marry him is to be handed back to her parents in Pakistan.
The underage girl also had to endure a forced conversion to Islam before the illegal marriage to Zafar Iqbal in February.
Police brought the girl into Lahore High Court on 10 April and Justice Tariq Saleem Shaikh ordered she be reunited with her parents.
She was snatched in nearby Faisalabad and having purchased her, Iqbal renamed her “Ayesha”, and married her despite the girl being two years under the legal age, which is 16 for women in Pakistan.
Non-Muslim girls and young women in Pakistan are very vulnerable to kidnap, forced conversion and marriage to Muslims, and authorities rarely intervene. A report compiled by a Pakistani NGO in 2014 estimated that every year about 700 Christian and 300 Hindu girls and young women in Pakistan suffer similar abuse.

In Pakistan, the problem of forced conversions

Mehmal Sarfraz

The recent conversion of two girls from Hinduism to Islam in Sindh has once again compelled the country to explore the possibilities of enacting a law to prevent forced conversions. But it is an uphill task, reports Mehmal Sarfraz
For the Hindus of Sindh in Pakistan, March 20, the day Holi was celebrated, was a riot of colours. But for the Meghwars, it marked the beginning of a nightmare when two sisters, Reena Meghwar and Raveena Meghwar, suddenly disappeared from their home in Daharki, a city in Ghotki district of Sindh. Their disappearance not only brought back the spotlight on a persisting problem in the country, but also led to an online spat between Pakistan and India, which only recently saw simmering tensions reach a dangerous peak.
After a fruitless search for his sisters, Shaman, his father, and others from the community finally decided to go to the neighbourhood police station to lodge a complaint. The Station House Officer (SHO) there assured them on March 20 that the culprits would be caught. But when this did not look likely, the community staged a protest, forcing the SHO to file an FIR the next day against six men, three of them unknown, for abduction of the sisters.
Reena and Raveena, who are popular among their ten siblings, belong to a poor family. Their father is a tailor at a local clothes shop and makes PKR 400 (equivalent to about ₹200) for every suit he stitches. Shaman is a salesman, and earns PKR 10,000 per month. He is the only one in the family who has completed matriculation. A younger brother works at a motorcycle shop and does not earn much. The entire family’s monthly income is between PKR 15,000 and 20,000. Apart from being poor, what further puts them at a disadvantage is that they are Hindus, the largest minority community in Pakistan. Sindh is home to nearly 90% of Pakistan’s Hindu population and has a literacy rate of 55%.
The same day that the FIR was filed, a video of the two girls reading aloud the Kalima surfaced on social media. “We have converted to Islam,” the two of them said, the colours of Holi still on their cheeks. It emerged that both the girls had left home and travelled to Rahim Yar Khan district in Punjab. It is unclear who took them there or accompanied them. There, they got married to Safdar Ali and Barkat Ali, both of whom were already married and have children. Safdar and Barkat’s first wives left them as soon as news of the nikkah became public. The wedding took place on March 22 at an office of the Sunni Tehreek, a religious organisation, after the Bharchundi madrassa converted the girls to Islam. What remains a matter of dispute is the age of the two girls. While Shaman insists that his sisters are minors, the girls have claimed that they are above 18.
In Pakistan, the problem of forced conversions
As though this rapid turn of events was not enough to digest for the Meghwars, the two sisters then filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court on March 25 seeking protection from their family. The court ordered the government to protect the sisters until the matter was resolved.
Meanwhile, a war of words erupted between India and Pakistan, with India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj seeking a report from the Indian envoy in Pakistan on the case, and Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry retorting that this was an “internal issue”. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered a probe to determine if the girls were abducted and then forcibly converted.

The issue of conversion

India’s concern about the case was echoed on April 2 by the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court, Athar Minallah, who, when the sisters were produced before the court, asked, “Why are such incidents repeatedly being reported from one district [Ghotki] of the Sindh province?”
His is a valid question. According to the People’s Human Rights Organisation, seven teenage Hindu girls have been kidnapped from Sindh province in the last two months alone, and forcibly converted to Islam.
The court formed a commission to establish the facts of the Reena-Raveena case. The commission presented its interim report to the court, soon after which the sisters were allowed to go back to their husbands. The court concluded that the girls were not forcibly converted. Das says his family is unhappy with the decision as they were not heard by the court.
Khawar Mumtaz, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women, who was part of the commission, says the sisters were sure about their decision. They knew before getting married that the two men were already married, she says. “These girls were institutionally facilitated. Everything appeared to have been well planned: they were taken to a religious seminary and travel arrangements were made for them. Besides, Dargah Pir Bharchundi Sharif [where the girls were converted] is known for such practices.” The court has asked the commission for a larger report on the issue of conversions on May 14.

The role of madrassas

A 2015 report by the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan in collaboration with Aurat Foundation found that that at least 1,000 girls are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year. The report stated that the conversions take place in the Thar region, particularly in the districts of Umerkot, Tharparkar, Mirpur Khas, Sanghar, Ghotki and Jacobabad. People convert due to financial and economic reasons, the report said. It identified landlords, extremist religious groups, weak local courts and an insensitive administration as working together.
While in south Sindh, particularly in Umerkot and Tharparkar, the Hindus are mostly poor, in the north they are better off. Largely, it is girls from low-caste, poor Hindu families who are forcibly converted.
The Hindus in these regions say that two madrassas — Dargah Pir Bharchundi Sharif and Dargah Pir Sarhandi — are “symbols of terror and fear”. Harris Khalique, writer and Secretary General of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says madrassas provide an “institutional backing and that cannot happen if the state does not allow that. I rest the responsibility of such incidents squarely on the state, which fails its citizens.” These conversions reflect a potent mix of patriarchy, economic deprivation, and religious hierarchy, he says. “Most of these girls come from Scheduled Castes. The men they marry are mostly financially better off. Even if they are just marginally better off, they belong to a more privileged segment of society. It becomes a power dynamic.”
Under-age girls from poor farming communities are especially vulnerable to conversions, says senior journalist Shahzeb Jillani. “Wealthy Muslim farmers see them as fair game for abductions, rape, and prolonged sexual exploitation in captivity. Some notorious religious establishments proudly validate these alleged crimes. State institutions, the police and politicians have encouraged the trend by looking the other way,” he says.
Jillani points out that Mirpur Khas, Tharparkar and Umerkot see the highest number of conversions. “The Pakistani military has traditionally viewed this population with suspicion,” he says. “Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl runs a large well-funded madrassa, especially for new Muslim convert families near Chhor. In recent years, the army has increased its direct and indirect presence in the region by encouraging more madrassas and Islamic charity work. Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation are among those outfits whose presence and field work has expanded in Thar during the last five years.” Therefore, the conversion of Hindu girls in border regions has to be seen in the context of these wider developments and the Pakistani state’s security fears and paranoia vis-à-vis India, he adds.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s lawmaker Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who founded the Pakistan Hindu Council, goes back in history to blame General Zia-ul-Haq for the present plight of minorities in Pakistan. “Minorities started to feel like ‘minorities’ during his time. As a result, low-caste Hindus were exploited by powerful people in the area. From 23% at the time of Partition, Hindus constitute around 5-6% of the total population today,” he says.
Speaking of the role of madrassas, Vankwani says these institutions often give money to people to convert Hindu girls to Islam. “Whenever a Muslim boy runs away with a Hindu girl, the girl is taken in by one of the three madrassas and provided shelter,” he says. “Nobody has taken notice of the threats given to the Hindu community.”
Unlike in countries like Malaysia, where there is a process in place for conversions, there is no such process in Pakistan, Vankwani points out. “In Malaysia, those who want to convert submit an application/affidavit saying they are adults and want to change their religion. The process takes around three months. Then, a statement is recorded by a civic authority. Conversions cannot take place without the consent of the family in case of a minor. What kind of society is this where you convert and then don’t allow them to meet their families and also get them married off within a short span of time?”
Asad Jamal, a lawyer, says madrassas should be prohibited from issuing conversion certificates. “Such an act should be penalised. Any law on forced conversions must have such a provision. Unless this is done, the market of conversions established by retrogressive religious groups will continue to flourish. It sustains their politics,” he says.
Journalist Munizae Jahangir, who has conducted several shows on forced conversions, recalls reporting on a case many years ago in which three young girls from a poor Hindu family were offered boarding by a madrassa after converting to Islam. When Jahangir asked the girls why they had converted, she says they told her that they had done so after watching a popular TV show on ‘Quran TV’. While people have the freedom to convert, there is also a system that facilitates the process, Jahangir says.
Not all conversions are forced though. According to a report by Ayesha Tanzeem published in the Voice of America, “Some minor girls eloped with Muslim men against their family’s wishes and changed their religion since marriage between a Muslim and a Hindu is not allowed in Islam. The parents often claimed kidnapping, since local police were unlikely to take action if it was determined the girls left willingly.” Thus, determining whether or not a case of conversion is forced or voluntary is often tricky.

Preventing child marriage

Many believe that a crucial differentiation must be made between cases of conversion of minor girls and adult women. Legal expert Reema Omer says that in cases of conversion of minor girls, the primary failure is in ensuring the implementation of the law against child marriage. Conversion becomes a secondary issue in these cases, she says. “This includes the lax attitude of families as well as the state on timely birth registrations. It also includes the state’s apathy in ensuring that such marriages are stopped and the perpetrators are penalised.”
Given the conflicting reports on Reena and Raveena’s age, the question to be asked is, why were their births not registered soon after they were born? While Das says birth certificates were “not really a priority for the family”, locals say the process of registering births and deaths is cumbersome. This omission is what allows families to get away with child marriage, says Omer.
A medical report presented before the court stated that the two girls are not minors. In addition, a source in the Sindh government told The Hindu on the condition of anonymity that Reena and Raveena’s call data show that they were regularly in touch with the men they married. The police also claim that the girls married of their own free will. Das and his family refuse to believe this. “We had never seen these men. We saw them for the first time in the nikkahvideo,” Das says.
Sulema Jahangir, an advocate of the High Courts in Pakistan, says that while conversions of underage girls is a cause for concern, there are also instances of older women converting voluntarily to Islam to escape an abusive marriage, hinting at the complexities involved in the issue. When the Sindh Hindu marriage law was being debated a few years ago, a lot of Hindu groups protested against allowing women the right to divorce and remarry. Some experts believe that it is important not to give the state greater control over women’s lives.
Chaudhry says minorities face problems everywhere in the world. “In this case, we have once again proved that the state of Pakistan stands with its minorities and marginalised communities/groups. The state has not abdicated its responsibility. The only problem is that if an adult takes a decision herself/himself, and gives a statement in the court of law, then we cannot interfere in such cases. Our policy, though, is very clear on minority rights — we are against any forced conversions and we will not let that happen,” he says.
A Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lawmaker says on the condition of anonymity that the Prime Minister is not too keen to dwell on this issue fearing backlash from powerful religious groups.

Pending legislation

Three years ago, the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, 2015, which made forced conversions punishable by law. But following a backlash from conservative Muslim groups, the legislation never saw the light of the day.
Asad Jamal, a lawyer, says the main failure lies in preventing child marriage. But what makes the situation trickier is the fact that the the minimum age for marriage varies across regions. In Punjab, it is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. In Sindh, it is 18 for both girls and boys. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the legal marriageable age for girls is 14 in accordance with the original Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929. “There is a law against child marriage, but it is inadequate,” says Jamal. “All child marriages under the age of 18 should be prohibited and declared invalid.”
Murtaza Wahab, adviser on information and law to the Sindh Chief Minister, says that in principle, the Sindh government has decided to reconsider the forced conversions Bill. “We will start the consultation process again. We will have consultations with the Hindu community as well as those from the religious school of thought regarding the age limit for conversions, which was the main bone of contention the last time around,” he says.
Pakistan’s lawmakers are slowly realising that until such time that a law is enacted on conversions and strictly implemented, it will be an uphill task to put a stop to forced conversions.

Amnesty International - #Pakistan: #QuettaAttack #HazaraCommunity #Hazara community must be protected

Responding to the horrific bombing of an open-air marketplace in a neighbourhood where many members of Shi’a Hazara community live in Quetta that killed at least 16 people and wounded several others on the morning of 12 April 2019, Amnesty International’s Deputy South Asia Director, Omar Waraich, said:
This horrific loss of life is a painful reminder of the threats that Quetta’s Hazara community continues to face. 
Omar Waraich, Amnesty International's Deputy South Asia Director
“This horrific loss of life is a painful reminder of the threats that Quetta’s Hazara community continues to face. Targeted for their religion by sectarian armed groups, they have suffered many such tragedies over several years. Each time, there are promises that more will be done to protect them, and each time those promises have failed to materialize.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has made important commitments to protect all religious groups in the country. Those commitments must translate now into policies to effectively protect the Hazaras of Quetta, ending more than a decade of bloodshed that has scarred their community.”

Video - Chairman #PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari address public gathering in District #Ghotki

#Quetta #QuettaBlast #QuettaBleeds #QuettaAttack - Bilawal Bhutto Zardari “Condemn the terrorist attack in #Quetta.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari wrote on Twitter: “Condemn the terrorist attack in Quetta. The government must stop dragging its feet & take action to counter violent extremism. Thoughts and prayers with the families of the victims.”

#Hazaras stage sit-in after #Quetta suicide blast

Hazaras are staging a sit-in at the Western bypass following Friday morning’s suicide blast in Quetta’s Hazarganji area.
At least 20 people, including a Frontier Constabulary officer and two children, were killed in the explosion.
The protesters said that the government has failed to protect the people. The community has been a target of attacks for the last 20 years and over 3,000 of its members have been killed, they said.
They said that they have been restricted to only their areas and can’t even go to the markets to buy anything or send their children to colleges or schools.
Some members of civil society are also attending the sit-in to express solidarity with the Hazaras.
The protesters said that they won’t end their sit-in until their demands are met.

#Pakistan - #Balochistan bleeds again as bomber targets #Hazaras

At least 20 people were killed and over 48 others were injured in a suicide attack targeting members of the minority Shia Hazara community in Quetta’s Hazarganji market on Friday.
The attack claimed the lives of nine Hazara and one Frontier Corps (FC) soldier who was deputed for the community’s security, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Abdul Razzaq Cheema told reporters. The 10 others who lost their lives included shopkeepers, businessmen and citizens working or residing in the area. Four FC soldiers were among the injured.
DIG Cheema said the blast targeted the Hazara ethnic community.
However, Balochistan Home Minister Ziaullah Langove, who held a press conference later in the day, said that the blast was not targeting “a specific community”.
“Our guess is that no specific community was targeted. Marri Baloch and FC personnel were among those killed as well. The numbers of the Hazara community were just greater,” Langove said.
He also described the blast as a suicide attack.
Qadir Nayil, a Hazara community leader, asked the government for provision of better protection.
“Once again our people were the target and once again we will have to bury our dear ones,” he said.
“We demand more security from the government and all those involved in today’s act of terrorism should be found and punished.”
Following the explosion, a high-level meeting chaired by Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal reviewed the security measures.
It was decided in the meeting that the affected families will be given immediate financial assistance and that the provincial government will bear the treatment cost of those injured.
Furthermore, it was decided that closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras will be immediately installed at the Hazarganji market and other public places. Action on terrorists’ hideouts and against their leaders will also be boosted, the caucus affirmed.
The Hazarganji neighbourhood has been witness to similar attacks in the past. Hazara shopkeepers are known to stock vegetables and fruits from the Hazarganji bazaar to sell at their own shops. They are provided a security escort to and from Hazarganji since they are constantly under threat of attack.
The attack came after a lull of at least a year in attacks against Hazaras, though there have been isolated shootings.
Following the bomb blast, the Hazara community, Shia organisations and civil society issued a call of protest in Quetta and Karachi.
In Quetta, the protesters held a sit-in near the western by-pass in the morning which had not ended by the time the copy went to the press.
The participants said the government had failed to protect them in spite of a number of major attacks targetting the community in addition to target killings. They said they won’t end their sit-in until the government provided them justice.
After the attack, Hazara rights activist Jalila Haider, on his Twitter handle, said they would protest outside Quetta Press Club against the persecution and would march towards Islamabad if needed.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari wrote on Twitter: “Condemn the terrorist attack in Quetta. The government must stop dragging its feet & take action to counter violent extremism. Thoughts and prayers with the families of the victims.”

Balochistan Governor Amanullah Khan Yasinzai, Chief Minister Mir Jam Kamal Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar also condemned the attack in the strongest words.

Pakistan Market Bomb Blast Kills at Least 16 People in Quetta

    At least 16 people were killed when a bomb ripped through a vegetable market in Quetta in southwestern Pakistan early Friday, officials said. Eight of the dead were Hazaras, a Shiite Muslim minority group that has repeatedly been the target of Sunni extremists.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which also injured at least 30 people. But Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned militant Sunni group, has often carried out attacks against Hazaras in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province.
    For years, the Hazaras have lived in a state of perpetual fear in Quetta, and promises made by successive governments have failed to ensure their safety.
    While terrorist attacks have declined significantly in the past year across the country, Friday’s attack was a grim reminder that the Hazaras continue to remain vulnerable to militant violence and that the security provided to them remains inadequate.
    A senior police official said the bomb went off in a sack of potatoes, and that the victims included shopkeepers and customers at the vegetable market. One paramilitary soldier was also killed in the blast.
    The police ruled out a suicide bombing and said they were investigating whether a remote control or a timed device had set off the bomb.
    Abdul Razzaq Cheema, a senior police official, said that people belonging to the Hazara group come daily in a convoy to the vegetable market from Hazara Town, a walled enclave on the outskirts of Quetta, and that they are provided with security. The bomb that went off Friday morning ignited when vegetables were being loaded during the early market rush. The attack was widely condemned by government officials and rights groups.
    “This horrific loss of life is a painful reminder of the threats that Quetta’s Hazara community continues to face,” Amnesty International said in a statement. “Each time, there are promises that more will be done to protect them, and each time those promises have failed to materialize.”