Sunday, September 22, 2019

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Religious intolerance has increased in Pakistan with hate narratives

By Muhammad Amir Rana

For one, patriotism cannot be reduced to religion alone without declaring non-Muslims in Pakistan as non-citizens.

The problem is that Pakistan’s state institutions do not consider the tendencies of non-violent extremism as a potent threat. The way Hindu temples were vandalised and private properties destroyed recently in Sindh’s Ghotki district is yet another reminder that the challenge of religiously inspired violent extremism is bigger than we thought. Moving beyond a shallow condemnation, the government will certainly have to act to increase the cost of committing such violence, that too on spurious grounds. Apart from the specific measure related to the Ghotki incident, two things must be done to protect all religious minorities in Pakistan from violence. First, the groups and individuals using faith to gain political and religious influence should be strictly dealt with under the law. Secondly, the state should demonstrate zero tolerance towards hate narratives being disseminated online and in other ways by extremist religious groups, individuals and their supporters. A clear, unequivocal message should be sent that the state alone is the custodian of the constitutional rights of all citizens, irrespective of their faith. The fear expressed by the majoritarian mindset that religious minorities could harm the sovereignty of Pakistan is simply baseless. For one, patriotism cannot be reduced to religion alone without declaring non-Muslims in Pakistan as non-citizens.
A general argument can be made that Pakistan’s power elites have been patronising religious, ethnic, cultural and racial disagreements to further their regime, instead of looking at the diversity of religious, cultural and societal opinion in Pakistan as a sign of inclusiveness and plurality. That has significantly damaged the country’s social fabric, mainly its humanistic values such as empathy and compassion, which safeguard individuals and societies from hate and aggression.
Irrespective of its geographical location and its religious or secular tendencies, if a society possesses a sense of majoritarian supremacy or is hyper nationalistic or harbours a collective sense of hatred and aggression, then it lacks empathy and compassion. The absence of these two attributes could push society towards chaos and anarchy.
The phenomenon of religious intolerance has its own dynamics but in recent years it has increased through its connectivity with larger extremist discourses fanned in cyberspaces. Social media platforms have increased the exposure and vulnerability of the youth to divisive and extremist ideologies. This exposure is making people sensitive about their identities. Such an identity crisis is beneficial to the radical groups. An individual needs emotional healing and anxiety caused by such exposure and tries to connect with the nearest group of like-minded people.
The small groups look towards bigger and better organised groups not only for ideological and political inspiration but also to learn organisational skills. Mian Mithu, a radical cleric from Ghotki, could be an example. He may act independently but is said to have been inspired by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik and encouraged by banned militant groups like Al Rehmat Trust, Jamaatud Dawa and charities associated with hard-line madressahs in Karachi.
These groups succeeded in building pressure on non-Muslim communities but the cleric has better cultural, religious and ethnic credentials to influence local communities. With his influence, he is regarded as capable of triggering vandalism. The problem is that Pakistan’s state institutions do not consider the tendencies of non-violent extremism as a potent threat.
There is a need to adopt a framework or narrative in Pakistan, that treats all citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity, creed and geography, with equality. Introducing courses on citizenship in education curricula, extracted from the Constitution, are greatly needed. To be precise, non-Muslims in Pakistan should be owned as an integral part of the country. Bracketing non-Muslims with India or Western countries is to contradict history: They are indigenous to the soil and their valuable contribution to this region is a chapter of Pakistan’s history.

#Pakistan - ‘Unsilencing #Balochistan’

By Desmond Fernandes
Just over 4 years ago, “on the evening of April 24, one of Karachi’s most prominent social activists, Sabeen Mahmud, was shot dead after leaving an event called ‘Unsilencing Balochistan’ [Take 2], that her organization, The Second Floor, had arranged”. This event had been organised “after a previous roundtable on the same topic, … scheduled to include [Mama] Qadeer and [Farzana] Majeed as panellists, was cancelled at a leading private university, the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Faculty there said they had to cancel the talk because of threats received from Pakistan’s top spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI]”. The Chair of the Humanities and Social Sciences Department had notified students, staff and faculty at LUMS that the event had been cancelled “on the orders of the government”.
The event had “featured [the aforementioned panellists], two of Pakistan’s most vilified human rights activists”, the Chair and General Secretary of Voice for Missing Baloch Persons, “who have worked to raise awareness about the south-western province Balochistan’s ‘missing people’”.
“Mahmud knew she was taking a risk by holding the event and discussed the possibility of ‘blowback’ with a friend … But she wrote to another friend, ‘I just want to leave everything and join the Baloch march for the rights of their missing’”.
At that time, as the Voice for Missing Baloch Persons had estimated, “around 21,000 people ha[d] gone missing in Balochistan”, with 6,000 mutilated bodies found. Two months after Sabeen Mahmud’s murder, Pakistan’s army continued “to enforce a blockade of the towns of Kolowah, Malaar, Geshkor, Zeek & Machi. No one, including town residents and district officials of the Pakistan-backed provincial government”, were “allowed access to the targeted towns. A district official, on condition of anonymity, said they were denied access to the affected areas by Pakistan Army and Frontier Corp units and were told that operations” were “still underway. District officials said the towns ha[d] been subjected to intensified bombing by the Pakistan Air Force”.
Noam Chomsky, David Barsamian, Tariq Ali and others, just a year prior to Sabeen Mahmud’s target killing, had voiced the following concern in an Open Letter:
On March 18th 2014 around 5:00 pm in Quetta, Zahid Baloch, chairperson of [the] Baloch Student Organization – Azad (BSO-A), was abducted at gunpoint. Banuk Karima, the vice-chairperson of BSO-A, witnessed the abduction. She notes, ‘Pakistan’s secret agencies and security forces abducted Zahid Baloch, I along with three other members of BSO-A witnessed the abduction’ …
According to Voice Of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) – an independent advocacy group run by the families of those who are missing – more than 19,000 Baloch persons are missing. Other organisations put the figure in the range of 600 to 5000. Most human rights organizations and activists accuse Pakistani secret agencies and military forces for these abductions. This fact was acknowledged by the Pakistan Supreme Court. Not only are Baloch systematically being disappeared. They are also being tortured and murdered…
Baloch activists claim that Balochistan was annexed by Pakistan on 27th March 1948 by the Pakistani army on the orders of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The Baloch, since this date, have variously demanded either increased provincial autonomy in a confederal political system or independence. The Pakistani state has heeded neither demand. Instead, by both civilian-led governments and military dictatorship, the Baloch have been answered by bullets.
Besides the abductions, torture and murder of Baloch activists, the state has carried out major military operations in Balochistan, often in civilian areas. Alarmingly, military forces have also started raiding and destroying educational institutions. In the past four months, study centres and schools have been raided with students and teachers among those who have been abducted. Shockingly, bookshops have been raided and bookshop owners arrested. Life for students in Balochistan has become unbearable…
We … call on the Government of Pakistan to stop all military operations in Balochistan, to stop raids on educational institutions, to stop raids on bookshops, and to stop forced abductions of Baloch activists. We further call for the immediate release of Zahid Baloch and all others held by Pakistani security forces. We call on intellectuals and activists to take note of these atrocities being committed in Balochistan for which we hold the Pakistani state responsible and complicit. We appeal to all readers to raise the issue of the atrocities against the Baloch at all political and social forums.
Five years on from this assessment, the ongoing process of destruction, military operations in Balochistan, raids on educational institutions, raids on bookshops, forced abductions of Baloch activists, women, children and students and “kill and dump” targeting of the Baloch still fits the pattern of colonial genocide identified by Raphael Lemkin (who coined the term genocide) and other scholars, human rights activists and political commentators. I have already extensively documented the genocidal and politicidal context of such targeting at length in two books. For Adana Usmani, “the conflict today resembles the dynamics characteristic of any protracted clash with an occupying authority”.
It is notable that Imran Khan, when leading his party in opposition, as PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) chairman in February 2016, had promised that he would act differently with regard to Balochistan if he came to power, as he understood the full scale of injustice and “the crimes against humanity” faced by the Baloch. He said, for example, and as quoted from the Pakistan Tribune newspaper, he would “fight for the rights of Balochistan, claiming he did not have an idea how rights of smaller provinces were suppressed until his party formed government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa [KP] … Imran assured the people of Balochistan that his party will never use force against them. [Quote]: ‘I will never start a military operation in your province but will respect your right to protest’ [end quote], he said, claiming that he understood why Balochis were struggling for their rights”.
In a speech uploaded on 26 January that same year he is heard passionately stating before an audience:
I, in 1971, when [the] Pakistani army took action in East Pakistan, I was the one who was standing with the Pakistani army, praising the soldiers, ‘they’re doing this’ and ‘great job’, and its only ‘foreigners’, ‘terrorists’ and ‘militants’ [who are being targeted]. It was three years later that we realised that the army butchered civilians – women and children. And so we’re doing exactly the same thing in Balochistan. They are bombing people. How can you bomb people? Is this an army you’re bombing? There are women and children there. But for us, it’s very important to understand how we’re just bombing our own people. Just think of the immorality of bombing villages, where there are women and children.
No one talks about, yeah … about the 6 million people [also] in the tribal area that are being bombed. Their economy has been destroyed. They are living in refugee camps. There are about 2 million internally displaced people in Pakistan. How are they surviving? All under the heading of ‘the Taliban’.
And the extra-judicial killing that is going on. How many times have you heard [about] ‘so many militants killed’. Is there any [independent] verification? Has there been any [independent] identification? Who are these people that have died?
So, this is a crime against humanity, what is going on …
Since Imran Khan became Prime Minister, of course, the army has continued to do the very same things – i.e. extra-judicial killings, abductions, disappearances, the ‘bombing’ of ‘villages, where there are women and children’ – that it was doing in 2016 when he had clearly labelled such concerns ‘a crime against humanity’. Prime Minister Imran Khan needs to ask himself the same questions that he had posed to the prime minister of the time in 2016: “How can you bomb people [in Balochistan?] … There are women and children there … Just think of the immorality of bombing villages, where there are women and children … And the extra-judicial killing that is going on. How many times have you heard [about] ‘so many militants killed’. Is there any [independent] verification? Has there been any [independent] identification? Who are these people that have died?”.
Balochwarna News and other outlets and organisations continue to document, on a weekly basis, the women and children, elders, students and others who continue to be abducted, tortured and ‘disappeared’ by Pakistan’s army of occupation and linked forces. Just think of that immorality and lack of accountability of the same government that warns India about its military occupation and shameful human rights record in Kashmir. Just two months ago, in June, the Human Rights Council of Balochistan (Hakkpaan) reported that:
In completely under-the-blanket operations, the mighty military of Pakistan has militarized the entire Balochistan, its north-western, most mineral-rich but least developed region with lowest human development. [The] military suppressed the rights movements that blame the military and the central government for their backwardness…
Balochistan seemed a war-zone during the month of May 2019 as well. We have received hundreds of reports of human rights violations [which confirmed that in May 2019 alone], … seventy persons were picked up by [the] military and forcibly disappeared. Eight of them were released later, while [the] whereabouts of 62 civilians remain unknown … Decomposed bodies of five persons were found dumped. All were beyond recognition … Silence over Balochistan has shaped [the] military’s attitude towards any rights movement all over Pakistan.
[The] military repeated [the] same in Waziristan, KPK region on 26 May 2019. It attacked a peaceful rally, killing more than a dozen and wounding more than forty-five. [The] rally was organized by [the PTM] Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, a rights group developed in Pakistan’s KPK region. [The] leadership of the group – legislators the local people elected – were said to be the aim of the attack. One of the legislators, Ali Wazir went missing for a few days, after [the] military arrested him from the attacked protest, while the other, Mohsin Dawar was declared a wanted man. He finally surrendered himself to a court of law … [The] military, it seems, wishes to control the minds of each individual and does not [wish to] allow any space for the voices of people.
The Human Rights Council of Balochistan’s May 2019 update confirmed by name that Baloch children and university students were identified amongst the ‘disappeared’. The HRCB’s report entitled 2019 Balochistan: The State of Human Rights further confirmed from its sources that in “March 2019, sixty people were forcibly disappeared by security forces, fifteen were shot dead and seventeen unidentified bodies were recovered. The abductions include[d] women and children, particularly those who are related to campaigners and political workers. These people are often taken from their homes by the military and kept in isolation for weeks, sometimes even months. They are then moved to illegal detention centres, run that by death squads, but supervised and sponsored by the military”.
Investigative journalist Julia Micevska earlier this month, having highlighted the HRCB’s findings and arrived at the determination that Pakistan’s military “continues its ‘Kill and Dump Policy’ in Balochistan”, further concluded (and in this, she joins a large number of human rights analysts who have arrived at similar conclusions) that the construction of the Gwadar deep sea port and road infrastructure which forms “part of the planned China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), has [additionally] resulted in untold human rights abuses that the Baloch people liken to ‘ethnic cleaning’.
“The Pakistani military has used a heavy hand to seize the resources of Baluchistan”, she reports, “especially its oil, gas and rare earth metals. Additionally, the Pakistan military regularly carries out strategic military exercises in the region, including nuclear testing and storage. Villages that block any proposed route are burnt to ashes and the people forcefully removed. It is generally believed that the military of Pakistan is beyond accountability, and cannot be controlled by any civilian institution, including the Pakistan Parliament and judiciary”.
Investigative journalists, for their part, in Balochistan, Pakistan and overseas – who cover Pakistan state-inspired terror and atrocities in Balochistan – continue to be targeted. As Shah Meer Baloch reported in November 2017 (and the situation has not improved since then): “Balochistan is the most hazardous province for journalists. According to Khalil Ahmed, president of the Balochistan Union of Journalists, 43 journalists have been killed in Balochistan, including by bomb blasts and targeted killings. Twenty-five journalists have lost their lives in targeted killings while reporting in the conflict zones in Balochistan, Ahmed said”.
Many others live under the constant fear, in Balochistan, Pakistan and internationally, of being targeted by state-inspired death-squads. In this regard, we must not forget those who have sought, despite these threats, to expose genocidal realities whilst celebrating Baloch culture and resistance towards a genocidal regime. We must not forget Dr Arif Barakzai, a member of the BSO (Baloch Student Organisation) and a lecturer at Uppsala University in Sweden who was murdered after ‘accidentally falling’ 11 floors from the balcony of his apartment in 2008. He ran the website, The Baloch Artist, dedicated to Baloch culture.
The European Commission and governments which claim to be inspired by the refrain ‘Never again!’, meanwhile, need to be publicly held to account for pursuing their own cynical geopolitical and ‘deep political’ agendas that enable these horrors against the Baloch to continue. As an Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) report entitled “Land of Forsaken Voices: The Geopolitics of Justice, Impunity and Human Rights in Balochistan” noted in 2016: “Pakistan’s partners in the West pay mere lip service to changing the horrendous status quo. Their half-hearted approach oscillates between public allegiance to international human rights norms and realpolitik based on considerations of power and economic interests”.

Baloch, Sindhi, Pashto groups seek Modi & Trump’s help, allege rights violations by Pakistan


Members of these groups will hold a demonstration in front of Houston’s NRG stadium, where Modi & Trump will take part in the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event Sunday.

Representatives of Sindhi, Baloch and Pashto groups have gathered in Houston to hold a demonstration in front of the NRG stadium on Sunday to draw the attention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump for gaining freedom from Pakistan.
Scores of members of the Balochi American, Sindhi American and Pashto American communities landed in Houston on Saturday from various parts of the US to hold the first-of-its-kind demonstration in America, wherein they will collectively urge the leaders of India and the United States to help them get freedom from Pakistan.
Members of these groups alleged on Saturday that the Pakistani establishment was carrying out gross violation of human rights against their communities.
“We demand freedom from Pakistan. India and the US should help us in the same way as India had helped the people of Bangladesh in 1971,” Nabi Baksha Baloch, the US representative of the Baloch National Movement, told PTI.
“We are here to request Prime Minister Modi and President Trump to support our cause. There has been gross violation of human rights against the Baloch people by the Pakistani government,” he said.
More than 100 Sindhi Americans arrived in Houston on Saturday. They are planning to gather outside the NRG stadium, where the “Howdy Modi” event is scheduled to be held on Sunday, with the hope that their posters and banners of freedom will catch the attention of Modi and Trump.
“This is a historic rally by the leaders of the free world — the largest and oldest democracies. We the people of Sindh want freedom from Pakistan. Just like India supported for the freedom of Bangladesh in 1971, we want a separate nation for the people of Sindh. Pakistan is a theocratic country,” Zafar Sahito, from the Jeay Sindh Mutahida Muhaz, said.

A Professor’s Killing Sends a Chill Through a Campus in Pakistan

Prof. Khalid Hameed’s devotion to teaching often led him to arrive early for work, and the day he was killed was no different. Professor Hameed, a senior English lecturer at Government Sadiq Egerton College in the Pakistani city of Bahawalpur, parked at about 8 a.m. on March 20, signed the staff room register, unlocked his office and walked in. His killer came up from behind, hitting him in the head with a heavy padlock and stabbing him several times. Professor Hameed, 59, who was six months from retirement, died immediately.
One of his students, Khateeb Hussain, was detained by the police. In a video of his interrogation, Mr. Hussain said he killed Professor Hameed — a devout Muslim, according to his family — because he had insulted Islam. Six months later, no charges have been brought against Mr. Hussain, or against a preacher from Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, a hard-line Islamic group, who the police say incited him to kill.
The murder has devastated Professor Hameed’s family and chilled his colleagues at Sadiq Egerton College. They see it as a horrifying new chapter in a campaign against liberal education, which small but influential extremist groups in Pakistan consider unacceptable. Many of the teachers are now wary of speaking freely to their students.
“Actually, this teacher was a symbol of all liberal education,” said Irshad Ahmad Tabasum, an associate professor in Professor Hameed’s department.
Professor Tabasum and some of his colleagues stressed that Professor Hameed was no provocative liberal firebrand, just a dedicated, well-liked teacher. They said the college had not previously had trouble with religious extremists, and they were at a loss to explain what could have motivated the killer.
A day before Professor Hameed’s death, anonymous pamphlets were distributed that called for banning a campus gathering that he was coordinating. The pamphlets claimed, wrongly, that men and women there would be allowed to dance together. But investigators said Mr. Hussain was not behind the pamphlets, and teachers at the college doubt there is a connection.In the video of his interrogation, Mr. Hussain — who had been pursuing a degree in English literature — said Professor Hameed “used to bark against Islam and utter derogatory remarks every day.” But he did not cite any specific comment that angered him.Like English literature classes around the world, Professor Hameed’s roamed across broad themes in philosophy, history, religion and politics, his colleagues say. They resent speculation about what he might have said that enraged Mr. Hussain, seeing it as an attempt to find justification, or at least sense, in his murder.But they also say that the shock of the killing has made them wonder about their own teaching — and that they have started to skirt potentially contentious subjects.
“For the last 25 years, I have never felt the pressure as I am feeling now,” Professor Tabasum said. He said he had long taught “Oedipus Rex” in his classes on Greek tragedy but was now worried about doing so.
“Because every single word can create a problem for you,” he said. “This is what has been inculcated in me after this incident. Before that, whatever I felt, I expressed that.”
Teachers have found themselves reluctant to let classroom discussions get too philosophical, said Mahmood Ahmed Shaheen, an assistant professor at Sadiq Egerton. “Obviously it is a fact, when such incidents happen, they affect our sensibilities, they affect our perception,” he said. “We feel a bit insecure when you are studying and discussing something in class, and particularly if it is related to religion.”
Such fears have spread well beyond Bahawalpur, a conservative city 380 miles southeast of Islamabad, the capital.
“I think that it would be wrong and foolish to think that such terrible incidents could only happen elsewhere,” said Shaista Sonnu Sirajuddin, a former professor of English literature at the University of Punjab in Lahore. “I dread and fear the time that we, too, can become victims.” Vigilantism by religious extremists has been a problem on Pakistani campuses since the 1980s military dictatorship of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, who emboldened them with his Islamization of the country's laws, said Tahira Abdullah, a human rights activist.
“It’s just getting worse and worse, and it’s more visible now,” she said, adding that “if you invite a progressive speaker, that speaker will get shouted down, drowned out or run off campus, or not even allowed to speak.”
Two years ago, a 25-year-old student at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, in northwestern Pakistan, was dragged from his dormitory room and killed by a mob after rumors spread that he had posted blasphemous writing online. The student, Mashal Khan, had described himself as a humanist and covered his room at with posters of his political heroes and slogans celebrating free speech.
Professor Sirajuddin said most pressure felt by professors did not include overt threats of violence. But in Pakistan, an accusation of blasphemy can lead to mob violence or even an actual death sentence, and that is intimidating enough.
Professor Sirajuddin, who still teaches, said she had come to accept that if one day a student accused her, she would be on her own. “There will be very few people, there will probably be no one, who will have the courage to stand up and say she did not blaspheme,” she said.
Professor Hameed’s wife and four children say he was deeply religious, and that he made repeated pilgrimages to Mecca during a five-year stint working in Saudi Arabia. He often took a special interest in poor students, figuring that a degree could transform their lives and those of their families, according to colleagues and graduates of Sadiq Egerton.Mr. Hussain, who was reported to be either 20 or 21 years old, is still in custody, but formal charges have not been filed. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan preacher who was detained on suspicion of inciting the killing, Zafar Gillani, has also not been charged and is now free on bail.
Shafiq Qureshi, the public prosecutor in the case, said the investigation report was complete and that formal charges could be filed this month. He said he hoped a court hearing would soon follow.
The case is being closely watched by students, teachers and other Pakistanis, said Diwan Asif Shahzad, an assistant English professor at Sadiq Egerton. He believes that bringing murder charges would send a strong message in defense of liberal education, but as the weeks have passed, he and other teachers have grown increasingly worried.
“We are all the way scared as to what will be the final decision,” Professor Shahzad said.