Monday, June 3, 2019

Church in Pakistan expresses concern over recent violence against minorities

Nirmala Carvalho

A series of violent incidents against religious minorities in Pakistan has been condemned by the social justice arm of the nation’s bishops’ conference.
In a statement, the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) said that an “alarming increase” in violence has been witnessed over the past few weeks.
“Some of the most recent incidents include the desecration of crosses on the graves in a Christian populated village (Antonioabad) near Okara city. According to a source, on May 12, 2019, when people came for Sunday service, they noticed some crosses on the graves were broken and uprooted. They informed the deacon and following this all the congregation visited the graveyard. They found that the Crosses of 40 graves were vandalized,” the May 29 statement said.The commission also pointed to the May 14 murder of Javed Masih, a 36-year-old Christian man, by his Muslim employer in a village near Faisalabad.
“He faced religious discrimination at the hands of his Muslim boss and his friends because he decided to switch his job,” the NCJP said.
In a third incident taking place on May 27, a Hindu veterinarian named Ramesh Kumar was accused of blasphemy after a man alleged that he had provided modification wrapped in paper that the man claimed had Quranic verses printed on them.
“Following this, riots broke out in the area and a mob burnt down the doctor’s shop, a cabin that belonged to his brother, and a motorbike,” the statement said, adding that the doctor had a criminal complaint registered against him and was taken into custody for fear of his safety.
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Allah, Mohammad, or Islam in general faces capital punishment. These laws are often misused to settle personal scores, especially against members of religious minorities.
Radical Islamists have made the punishment of blasphemy a major rallying cry, bringing tens of thousands into the streets and paralyzing major cities. The Tehreek-e Labbaik party won three seats in last year’s provincial election on an agenda of defending the blasphemy law.
Probably the most famous example is Asia Bibi, an illiterate Catholic woman who spent almost a decade on death-row over blasphemy allegations in Pakistan. She has always denied the charges and was acquitted by Pakistan’s supreme court last October. This month, she was allowed to leave to join her family in Canada.“The National Commission for Justice and Peace strongly condemns the targeting of minorities due to their faith. These attacks on minorities is not acceptable and the state must provide protection and security to every citizen,” the commission said.
“The government must ensure that the perpetrators of these violations are brought to justice,” the statement continued, adding: “Special attention should be given to the security of the properties and worship places of minorities.”
Archbishop Joseph Arshad, the chairperson of NCJP and the president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, called upon the government “to take necessary steps to provide security and to hold those accountable for these incidents.”
Cecil Shane Chaudhry, the Executive Director of the NCJP, said that the recent attacks “indicate that minorities are still considered as second-class citizens.”
“They are still struggling for their fundamental rights that still need to be ensured by the state,” he said.
“The government needs to implement the 2014 order of the Supreme Court,” Chaudhry told Crux.
In that judgement, Pakistan’s Supreme Court called for the promotion and protection of the “legitimate rights” of religious minorities.
Chaudhry also called for the implementation of the National Action Plan for human rights, which was adopted in 2016.
The 16-point action plan calls for action in 60 areas, including the development of national policy on human rights, provisions for free legal aid to the victims of human rights abuses, creating effective measures to curb gender-based violence, the establishment of women protection centers, setting up of a national commission for minorities, justice and prison reforms, and the implementation of international human rights treaties and conventions.
However, human rights groups say the National Action Plan has yet to be implemented.
Last month, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan issued its annual report, which said minorities “continued to face harassment, arrest or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs in Pakistan in 2018.”
Chaudry told Crux, “There is a fear looming in the minority communities.”

Christian youth facing Sexual Harassment in Punjab province of Pakistan

Komal is a young Christian girl resident of a small town Ajniyawala district Sheikhupura about 15 kilomeeters from City Hafizabad. She belongs to a poor family. A Muslim man Attique Shah aged 32 forcefully entered in to her house and attempted to rape in the absence of her mother who was out for some work. Komal began crying and shouting for help, Attique Shah beat her and called her names as she was a Christian girl who has no worth but she is just like a an animal. Later her mother came to home and she heard cries of Komal in the street. She rushed towards the room where Attique Shah sexually harassed Komal, tortured and attempted to rape. 

Komal was shivering in a great fear and she asked her mother to save her. Uzma was aggressive towards Attique Shah, but he started beating her too. Uzma was so laud and the people passing in to the street came through the terrible scene but no one helped this poor family and left quietly because Attique Shah is a rich and an influenced man. On the other side he threatened people for life if they offered any kind of help to the victim family.

Uzma Shahzadi and her old father Iqbal Masih went to the police station to file a complaint against Attique Shah but police was not cooperative. Uzma along with her father approached Christians’ True Spirit - CTS for legal assistance and protection as they are on continue life threats by the accused. 

The case was referred to CTS by Honorable, Fr. Mustaq Piyara Parish Priest Hafizabad District Sheikhupura.    

CTS team headed by Katherine Sapna Director visited the family and also met the locals. The team encouraged the people to be united and supportive to each other in every matter. Katherine Sapna is committed to provide legal assistance as well as

shelter to the family and ensured every kind of support to this vulnerable community to live safe and in protection. 

 The team visited the local Police Station and urged the police to provide security and protection to this poor family to keep their life safe. Police will be responsible in the case of any unpleasant situation said Katherine Sapna clearly. Mohammad Anwar Syaal the Station House Officer (SHO) promised CTS team for providing safety to the victim family.

Pakistan: Christian Girl Facing Harassment and life threats after rape by Muslim

Christians' True Spirit- CTS has taken up the case of Sara Aslam to provide Free Legal Assistance and protection to the victim and her family. Sara Aslam aged 17, was kidnapped on gun point and raped on May 15, 2019. When the family pursues, the very next day Sara took a stand and urged police to arrest ALI Raza and file a case of abduction and rape against him. After the case FIR no 225/19 offence under section 376PPC was registered against ALI RAZA SHAH (a local Muslim) he took the plea of pre – arrest bail and being not arrested he began threatening and pressurizing the family to withdraw the case. The accused openly threatened the family for life to force them for reconciliation. The case was also reported in Duniya News Paper. 

Katherine Sapna director CTS along with a fact-finding team visited the family at their home village Ajniawala district Sheikhupura May 29, 2019 and ensured the family for every kind of support including Free Legal Assistance and protection to the victim and her family at CTS Shelter. 

The team visited police station City Farooq Abad District Sheikhupura along with the complainant Naeem Masih s/o Aslam Masih and with a written application to the SHO Mr. Mohammad Anwar Syaal against ALI Raza Shah (the culprit) for pressurizing the family for compromise and continue life threats. CTS urged the police to take an immediate serious notice of the application and to provide security and protection to the victim and her family. 

The same day SHO asked the concerned Investigation Officer to take action on the given application. Another case FIR no.246 /19 against the accused ALI Raza has been registered for harassing and threatening the victim family. So far Ali Raz has been arrested by the local Police.

Imran Khan under fire after #Pakistan fails to find offshore oil


Critics say prime minister trying to deflect attention from massive IMF loan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has come under fire after his government abandoned an offshore drilling project due to failure to find any oil and gas, with some critics saying he had announced the doomed plans to deflect attention from the massive loan it was negotiating with the International Monetary Fund.
Pakistan began negotiating the $6 billion IMF loan last year in the hopes of staving off a balance of payments crisis. But with tough conditions attached to the loan, the prime minister and some of his fellow cabinet members were quick to announce "good news" in the form of the drilling project, critics said.
Pakistan launched the drilling project, its first, in search of oil and gas at the start of the year in the Arabian Sea off its southern coast. Undertaken by Exxon Mobile and Italy's ENI, together with two local companies, the drilling initiative was set to catapult the country to becoming an OPEC member, according to some politicians close to Khan.
Their desperate optimism was largely fueled by Pakistan's proximity to the Middle East, notably the nearby Persian Gulf surrounded by oil and gas rich countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Iran.
"Best of luck to ExxonMobil & ENI when they start drilling. Let us all pray for a global discovery. From the looks of it, big news Inshallah (by the will of Allah)" announced Ali Haider Zaidi, Pakistan's minister of maritime affairs on Twitter in December.
Those promises were abruptly broken on May 18 when government officials pulled the project after failing to find any gas or oil reserves. Now Khan and his government faced mounting criticism. 
"They [government] played up this whole initiative without thinking it through," said Shahid Khaqan Abbassi, Pakistan's former prime minister who had also previously served as minister of petroleum, in an interview with Nikkei Asian Review.
Abbassi who stepped down as prime minister in early 2018 before parliamentary elections brought Khan to power added: "The government deliberately created a hype to turn people's attention away from a tough period ahead as they impose conditions under the IMF program."
Opposition leaders had warned that the coming IMF program would lead to a steep rise in energy tariffs and the removal of subsidies that help to make public welfare services affordable for Pakistanis.
Saudi support or the IDB loan can not be a substitute for Pakistan to reduce its dependence on imported energy resources.   © Reuters
Economists said that even if the offshore oil and gas project had been successful, it would still take years before the benefits would feed down to consumers. "By the time energy [resources] were going to be put out if the drilling would have been successful, you were easily looking at four to five years," said Mushtaq Khan, a respected economist and former head of economic research at the central bank, the State Bank of Pakistan.
In an interview with Nikkei, Khan added: "The government built up expectations without having a clear idea on the scale of the expected [oil and gas] reserves."
Khan's government, however, has received some good news. Ahead of the annual budget for the next financial year which begins in July, Pakistan announced on May 22 that Saudi Arabia had agreed to defer up to $275 million in monthly payments from July for oil shipments to the country for a total of $9.6 billion over a three-year period.
A few days after that, de facto Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said that Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank, the largest developmental institution in the Islamic world, had agreed to lend $1.2 billion to Pakistan to finance oil imports from July.
These commitments in the short term will help Pakistan with its oil import bill, which according to economists, is expected to reach $17 billion to $19 billion in the next financial year.
Yet, economists said, they leave Pakistan with more debt in the long term and do not address the country's need to reduce its dependence on energy imports.
"As Pakistan goes through a difficult adjustment period under the IMF loan, of course these gestures [support from Saudi Arabia and IDB] provide an important cushion," said one western economist who did not want to be named. "But these loans eventually have to be paid back."
A senior executive in a foreign oil company based in Pakistan said that Islamabad must be prepared to undertake more drilling initiatives. "Sometimes you have to drill up to 20 or 30 different locations before you can find promising results," he said. "The first drilling project which failed had a cost of about $100 million. Pakistan needs to be prepared to spend more money." 
As it prepares to finalize details of the IMF bailout, the government would be keen to find large new investments on further offshore drilling projects, but analysts said it would also have learned the painful lesson that predicting overly optimistic outcomes can easily backfire.

Uncovering Pakistan's secret human rights abuses

By M Ilyas Khan
 Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Pakistan's long battle with militants as part of the post-9/11 "war on terror". Evidence of murder and torture by soldiers and insurgents is emerging only now. The BBC has gained rare access to some of the victims.
It was early in 2014 when TV news networks trumpeted a major victory in the war against the Pakistani Taliban - the killing of one of the group's most senior commanders in a night-time air raid.
Adnan Rasheed and up to five members of his family were reported to have died in the strikes in the North Waziristan tribal area, near the Afghan border.
Rasheed, a former Pakistan Air Force technician, was well-known. He had written an extraordinary letter to Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl and activist shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in 2012, attempting to justify why it had happened. He'd also been in prison for trying to assassinate former President Pervez Musharraf - until he broke out.
Now it appeared that his luck had run out.
Quoting security officials, news channels reported on 22 January 2014 that Adnan Rasheed's hideout had been targeted two nights earlier in the Hamzoni area.
Waziristan and other parts of the vast mountainous tribal region have been controlled and locked-down by the Pakistani military since the US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, which saw Taliban fighters, al-Qaeda jihadists and other militants flee over the porous border.
Outsiders, including journalists, cannot get in - so verifying claims from the security forces is extremely difficult. Those who have reported stories from Waziristan that don't reflect well on the military have found themselves punished.
It turned out a year later that the jets had hit the wrong target - Rasheed confirmed this when he emerged in a video to prove he was alive.
Adnan Rasheed in a Taliban video
Image captionAdnan Rasheed had been sentenced to death for trying to kill former president Pervez Musharraf
Instead of taking out a top militant, Pakistan's military had actually killed the family of a local man who had his home blown to pieces.
The authorities have never acknowledged they made a mistake. The BBC travelled to Dera Ismail Khan, a town on the banks of the river Indus that is the gateway to the remote and forbidding tribal areas, to meet the man whose house was hit.
"It must have been 11pm or thereabouts," recalls Nazirullah, who was 20 at the time. He and his wife had recently married and had the rare privilege of a room to themselves. The rest of their large family slept in the only other room in their house in Khatei Kalay village.
"It was as if the house had exploded. My wife and I were shaken out of our sleep. There was a strong smell of gunpowder in the air. Both of us rushed to the door and stepped out, only to discover that the entire roof of our room had already collapsed, except a corner where our bed was."
Sumayya and Nazirullah
Image captionNazirullah and his niece Sumayya survived but four members of the family were killed
The roof of the second room had also collapsed, and a fire was raging across the compound. Nazirullah heard cries from the rubble and, with his wife, frantically tried to help those they could see in the glow of the fire.
Neighbours helped them dig out the injured and the dead.
Four of Nazirullah's family died, including a three-year-old girl. His niece Sumayya, whose mother was among those killed, was then just a year old, and survived with a fractured hip. Another four members of the family were rescued from the rubble. All suffered fractures and other injuries.
Nazirullah's family has since moved back to Dera Ismail Khan, where life is more peaceful.
map of Pakistani tribal areas
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Like many others in this part of Pakistan, they have had to move several times to escape an insurgency that has been raging in the tribal areas for nearly two decades.
According to authorities and independent research groups, militant violence since 2002 has forced more than five million people in Pakistan's north-west to leave their homes to seek refuge either in government-run refugee camps or rented houses in peaceful areas.
There are no official figures of the total death toll of this war but estimates from academics, local authorities and activists put the number of civilians, militants and security forces killed at well over 50,000.Local rights activists say scores of civilians have been killed in successive air campaigns and ground operations by the military. They have been collecting video and documentary evidence to back up their claims.
These activists are linked to a prominent new rights campaign called the Pashtun Tahaffuz (Protection) Movement (PTM) which emerged early last year and has since been publicising alleged rights abuses in the tribal region that victims had previously been too scared to report.
"It has taken us almost 15 years of suffering and humiliation to gather courage to speak up, and to spread awareness about how the military trampled our constitutional rights through both direct action and a policy of support for the militants," said Manzoor Pashteen, the top leader of the PTM.
But the group is under pressure. The PTM says 13 of its activists were killed on 26 May when the army opened fire on a large group of protesters in North Waziristan. The army said at least three activists were shot dead after a military checkpoint was attacked. The PTM denies this but two of its leaders, who also serve as MPs, have been arrested.
Manzoor Pashteen, leader of the Pashtun Protection MovementImage copyrightAAMIR QURESHI/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionPashtun Protection Movement leader Manzoor Pashteen has helped publicise rights abuses
A number of cases highlighted by the PTM - and which the BBC investigated independently - were shared with a Pakistani military spokesman but he declined to respond, calling such allegations "highly judgmental".
There was no response to BBC requests for comment from the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, even though Mr Khan raised the issue of rights abuses in the tribal areas when he was an opposition politician.
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How 9/11 put the Taliban into Pakistan

It all started with the al-Qaeda attacks in September 2001 in New York and Washington.
When the US attacked Afghanistan in October 2001, the Taliban forces that had sheltered al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden melted away without a fight.
Pakistani Taliban membersImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionArmed Pakistani Taliban at a hideout in the tribal district of Orakzai in 2009
Pakistan, which was one of only three countries to have recognised the Taliban when they seized power in Kabul in 1996, had an interest in keeping the movement alive as part of its efforts to prevent Indian influence from spreading in Afghanistan.
So while Pakistan had been dependent on US military aid for decades and the then military regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf had joined the US "war on terror", it also allowed the Taliban to carve out sanctuaries in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas, notably the districts of North and South Waziristan.
But the Afghan Taliban did not cross the border alone. Militants from a complex array of different groups poured into the tribal region and some were far more hostile to the Pakistani state.
Jihadists with global ambitions also began plotting attacks from Waziristan, prompting demands from Washington that Pakistan do more to crush Islamist militancy.
As violence spread, Pakistan was caught "between an inclination to fight militant forces and yet having to partner with some to strengthen its future bargaining position", said Ayesha Siddiqa, a security analyst and author of the book Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy.
In 2014, Pakistan launched a new operation in North Waziristan that increased pressure on militant groups and their safe havens and was credited with reducing attacks elsewhere in the country.
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'The Taliban and the military are doing the same thing'

When the Taliban arrived in the tribal areas in 2001, they were given a cautious welcome by the local people. But this quickly turned into disillusionment when they started to take over tribal society by enforcing their strict religious codes.
During the first phase of that relationship, local youths joined the militants' ranks in their hundreds, thereby causing tribal rivalries to seep into the militant network. This was reflected in subsequent factional wars.
In the second stage, the Taliban embarked on a campaign to eliminate officially recognised tribal elders who were a hurdle in the way of the insurgents' drive to subjugate the tribes. At least 1,000 tribal elders have been killed by militants since 2002 and some estimates from non-governmental organisations put the figure at nearly 2,000.
Rugged terrain near Wana in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal areaImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionWaziristan is rugged, inhospitable terrain - and closed to outsiders and journalists
One such assassination in North Waziristan in July 2007 is emblematic of how militants were able to subjugate the tribes.
"When they kidnapped and killed my brother, the tribe in our region was still strong, but because the military allowed [the militants] the freedom to move against our people, it broke our back," says Mohammad Amin, a Wazir tribesman from Razmak area of North Waziristan.
His brother's body was found dumped in an abandoned truck the day after he was kidnapped by militants. Mohammad Amin and other tribesmen were able to trace the attackers and confronted them. The ensuing gunfight left Mr Amin's son, Asadullah, a cousin and all four Taliban fighters dead.
Image captionAsadullah was shot dead by Taliban fighters trying to subdue his tribe
The tribe's subsequent calls on military officials in the garrison town of Razmak to curb Taliban violence were frustrated when militant leaders based in that very town threatened reprisal.
A decade on, Mr Amin is in no doubt that "despite occasional clashes with each other, the Taliban and the military are doing the same thing".
PTM activists have also documented several cases in which the security forces appear to have treated the local population brutally.
In May 2016, for example, an attack on a military post in the Teti Madakhel area of North Waziristan triggered a manhunt by troops who rounded up the entire population of a village.
An eyewitness who watched the operation from a wheat field nearby and whose brother was among those detained told the BBC that the soldiers beat everyone with batons and threw mud in children's mouths when they cried.
A pregnant woman was one of two people who died during torture, her son said in video testimony. At least one man remains missing.
Camp for internally displaced people from the tribal areas, Peshawar 2013
Image captionMany tribal residents ended up in camps for displaced people in Peshawar and other places
The stories of survivors are painful too. I met Satarjan Mahsud in the town of Ramak, 100km (60 miles) further south down the Indus river from Dera Ismail Khan.
We sat inside a white tent and he told me his story over tea, with two young children at his side
One evening in April 2015 militants fired at a military post in Shaktoi, South Waziristan. Satarjan says troops responded by capturing suspects from a nearby village and shooting two of them dead.
Early the next morning, on 21 April, they extended their search across the valley to Satarjan's village where they found weapons stashed on a hill behind his house.
"The only people present in the house at that time were my brother Idarjan, his wife and two daughters-in-law," Satarjan says.
Satarjan with kids
Image captionSatarjan has spent four years trying to trace his brother and nephews - to no avail
The soldiers knocked at the door. His brother answered and was immediately overpowered, tied up and blindfolded. The troops asked where other male members of the family were and rounded up Idarjan's four sons from elsewhere in the valley.
Witnesses later told Satarjan that the boys had been beaten, and his eldest nephew, Rezwarjan, received a lethal blow to the head.
All of them were thrown in the back of a pick-up truck which the soldiers had commandeered, and driven away to the army camp in the area.
The driver of the truck later told Satarjan that Rezwarjan was "already half dead and couldn't hold himself in a sitting position, so the soldiers decided not to take him to the camp".
He told Satarjan: "They asked me to stop the truck, shot Rezwarjan in the head and threw his body on the road."
Satarjan was working at a factory in Dubai at the time. He heard about what had happened and began the journey home. He took a flight, a bus and then walked for 15 hours to reach the village where Rezwarjan's body was found on 23 April.
South Waziristan residents hold a protest in 2013
Image captionPeople in the tribal areas have protested - but they are still waiting for justice
Locals there told him they hadn't been able to take the body across the valley to his family home because of a curfew, so they had buried it there on the hill.
He then walked across to his own village where he found his house deserted. The wives of Satarjan's brother and nephews had been taken in by relatives.
Satarjan knew the women wouldn't know the whole story because the curfew forbade travel between villages and there was no mobile network in the area.
When he met his sister-in-law, she told him what she knew: that her husband had been taken away by the army and that the younger men were missing.
"I was in two minds about whether to tell her. But then I thought it would be easier to give her the bad news about Rezwarjan once my brother and the boys had returned. I knew the army had nothing against them and would let them go soon."
So he made up a story, telling her that when the army raided their house, the boys got away to safety in Karachi, far away in southern Pakistan. He assured her that her husband would soon be released.
On 26 April 2015, he moved the family to Ramak. Since then he's had no word from the military on the fate of his brother and three nephews. Weeks have turned into months, and months into years.
He is not alone. Local activists say more than 8,000 people picked up by the army since 2002 remain unaccounted for.
Meanwhile, Satarjan has been dodging questions from the women about why they can't visit their village.
"I tell them our house in Shaktoi has been demolished by the army, which is partly true. But the real reason is that if they go there, neighbours will come for condolences and they will find out."
He says it would be better if he knew his brother and nephews had been jailed, or even killed. But not knowing anything is agony.
"I can't tell my sister-in-law her sons are missing, or dead. I can't tell the two young wives that they have been widowed," he says.
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These individual stories are shocking but they are not unique. The PTM alleges that hundreds of people from the tribal areas could tell similar stories.
But they remain officially unacknowledged.
They are the consequences of a war Pakistan has gone to great lengths to hide from the world. This conflict on the Afghan border has for years been an information black hole.
And when the PTM broke through this chokehold last year, its media coverage was put under a comprehensive ban. Those in the media who have not heeded the ban have faced physical threats and financial pressure.
The military has openly called the PTM's patriotic credentials into question, accusing it of links to "hostile" intelligence agencies in Afghanistan and India.
The treatment of the activists who are finally, after years of silence, raising the alarm on the abuses of a long and secret war suggests that those who have suffered in the conflict face an uphill battle for justice.