Tuesday, September 24, 2019

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#Pakistan - Ignoring the seeds of extremism - Ghotki district Hindu temples vandalised


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 the country 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. Empathy is defined as one’s ability to feel other people’s emotions, mainly those stimulated by suffering, and to have a genuine desire to relieve that suffering.
Power elites are neither empathetic nor do they promote peace narratives to curb divisiveness.
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. Sympathy is not the alternative to these two values. Sympathy is a stream of emotions which provides relief from stress through ‘recognising’ the sufferings of others, but it does not incorporate ‘understanding’.
Unfortunately, often power elites are neither empathetic towards the people nor do they promote such a narrative. A dearth of narratives of empathy and compassion in the formal and informal systems of education can inflict even greater damage. In this regard, the work of an American scholar, Gregory H. Stanton, on the Srebrenica Genocide of 1995 is insightful. It describes 10 stages of genocide. He theorised that genocide is not committed by a small group of individuals, rather a large number of people and the state contribute to mass killings in one way or another. The first stage is classification, where society is divided on ethnic or religious lines. The next three stages nurture the conception of ‘otherness’, with symbolisation, discrimination and dehumanisation. At the fifth stage, plans for the extermination of the ‘other’, seen as the enemy, are drawn up.
The next stage is of polarisation through propaganda via the media and other forums to further dehumanise the ‘other’. The persecution of intellectuals and influential opponents follows. After that, extermination becomes easy and denial is used as a strategy to cover up criminal violence. Stanton includes triumphalism as the 11th stage where criminals involved in violence are respected as heroes. This may not appear in the same chronological order but the processes are similar.
There are symptoms of this in many places and South Asia is not immune. India might have reached an alarming stage but Pakistan too has the seeds as witnessed in the hate narratives being spouted, while the role of the state in denying criminal violence is often worrisome. The prime minister’s statement about the Ghotki incident, in which he smelled a conspiracy against his visit to the US and his forthcoming speech at the UN General Assembly reflects a state of denial. Vandalism against the Hindu community in Pakistan may not be as common as violent incidents in which other religious minorities are targeted, but such statements still provide refuge to the culprits.
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 our 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, 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.

Violence against women on the rise in Pakistan

Pakistan ranks as the sixth most dangerous country in the world for women, with cases of sexual crimes and domestic violence recording a rapid rise. Activists blame society's patriarchal attitudes for the problem.
40-year-old Shazia S. was busy talking to her daughter at her parents-in-law's house in Lahore. The mother of six barely had any idea what awaited her. Her husband Sajjad R., a mason by profession, suddenly turned up and asked her to accompany him. She was surprised, but went with him nonetheless.
"He grabbed me firmly, shoving me against the wall and unleashing a barrage of kicks and slaps," Shazia told DW. "Then he picked up a metal pipe and started hitting me mercilessly," she added. Shazia's husband suspected that his wife was having an extramarital relationship. He kept asking about it while hitting me and wouldn't listen to me even though I stressed that I wasn't having any extramarital affair, she said. 
Sajjad even threatened to kill her and used his knife to cut off her nose, Shazia said. "No one could hear my cries because he had tightly locked the door. He also inflicted wounds on other parts of my body, including my neck, and then fled. He left me bleeding and crying for help," she recollected. 
After the ordeal, Shazia's neighbors took her to a hospital, where she was treated. The doctors said they couldn't fix her nose with plastic surgery, but that she could try and get some treatment abroad.
Amjad Ali, an investigating officer in the case, told DW that the police raided various locations to nab the accused, but could not find him. Shazia's husband has now received bail and the court hearings of the case are set to take place in the coming weeks.
"The police failed to arrest my husband, who managed to get bail even before his arrest," Shazia said. "He came back to our area just the other day and told one of the residents that he chopped off my nose to teach me a lesson and save his honor, because he suspected me of meeting another man." 
Shazia, who is now living with her mother in Lahore, fears for her life. Her husband wants her to withdraw the case against him. But she says she cannot imagine living together with a person who has ruined her life. She is also afraid that her father-in-law, a retired police official, might influence the authorities and seek to compromise the legal case against his son. Shazia stressed that she would not let her husband go scot-free.
Rising numbers
Shazia is not the only victim of gender violence in Pakistan over the past several months. Recently, a woman was badly beaten up by her husband, a policeman, in Sheikhupura, a city located 55 kilometers away from Lahore.
Violence against women has been on the rise in Pakistan, a country of over 200 million people. It ranks sixth on the list of the world's most dangerous countries for women.
According to statistics collected by White Ribbon Pakistan, an NGO working for women's rights, 4,734 women faced sexual violence between 2004 and 2016. Over 15,000 cases of honor crimes were registered. There were more than 1,800 cases of domestic violence and over 5,500 kidnappings of women during this period.
According to media reports, more than 51,241 cases of violence against women were reported between January 2011 and June 2017. Conviction rates, meanwhile, remain low, with the accused in just 2.5% of all reported cases ending up being convicted by the courts.
The chief justice of Pakistan has recently announced that 1,000 courts would be set up to deal with the cases of violence against women.
A systemic problem
Pakistani women's rights activists like Mukhtaran Mai say it's a systemic problem.
"Women police stations and other facilities are set up in cities while the majority of the violence cases take place in villages," Mai said. "In rural areas, feudal landlords call the shots; the administration and police are subservient to these feudal chieftains who view women as commodities. So how can justice be delivered in such cases?"
Farzana Bari, another prominent women's rights activist, believes the patriarchal attitudes prevalent in Pakistani society are responsible for the problem. "No government has ever tried to put an end to this mindset," she said.
"It can be done by educating women in rural areas, empowering them economically and raising their representation in the legislature. If women constitute more than 45% of the population, why should they not have the same representation in the economy, employment and government?"
Critics say the current Pakistani government, under Prime Minister Imran Khan, hasn't been focusing on empowering girls and women. 
In the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, governed by Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, official recently issued guidelines ordering girls to wear the veil or abaya.
The order drew widespread outrage, forcing the government to reverse the decision. PTI leader and former federal minister Ishaq Khakwani admitted that the government did not pay enough attention to address the issue of violence against women.
"Only the government cannot be blamed for this situation. The entire society will have to come forward. The police and the judiciary will also have to play their roles. If cases linger in courts for years, then victims are forced to find other ways to settle such cases. So a comprehensive reform program is needed and all sections of society will have to play their role."

Pakistan trained al-Qaeda, says Imran Khan

By Ben Farmer

 Pakistan's army and military spy agency trained al-Qaeda and then maintained links with the militants afterwards, Imran Khan has said.
Pakistan's prime minister said his country had then made a major mistake siding with America during the war on terror after the 9/11 attacks.
The decision had cost 60,000 Pakistani lives as the country battled Islamist militancy and Pakistan would have been better staying neutral.
Mr Khan's comments at a New York think tank came ahead of his speech at the United Nations general assembly this week where he is expected to press the case for international action against India over Kashmir. He has also held meetings with Donald Trump trying to get the American president to restart talks with the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.
Asked at the Council for Foreign Relations about how Osama bin Laden had managed to stay in Pakistan undiscovered, Mr Khan said: “The Pakistani Army, ISI [military spy agency], trained al-Qaida and all these troops to fight in Afghanistan.
“ There were always links between—there had to be links, because they trained them."
He said the links were “probably at lower levels”, and he did not believe military chiefs had known of Bin Laden's presence.
Mr Khan's comments may anger the military. Pakistan's security apparatus has in the past angrily rejected politicians linking it to militancy. Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, faced treason charges last year after an interview where he suggested the Pakistani state played a role in the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 166 people.
Mr Khan said that after the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan had done a 180 degree turn against former militants, to side with America.
“ I opposed this from day one,” Mr Khan said. “I said we had first trained these guys to fight jihad and it was a great idea, and now we are telling the same groups it’s terrorism. So we should at least have stayed neutral. Pakistan, by joining the US after 9/11, committed one of the biggest blunders.”
Mr Khan also said he believed the Taliban had changed since they were ousted in 2001 and were willing to make peace
He said: “This is—Taliban realise that they cannot control the whole of Afghanistan. The Afghan government knows that they cannot—you know, there needs to be some sort of a peace deal. There has to be a political settlement.”

Strong #Pakistan Earthquake Kills At Least 22, Injures Over 700

A magnitude 5.6 earthquake damaged homes and buildings and cracked roads Tuesday in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
At least 22 people were killed and more than 700 injured, the Associated Press reported. Most of the dead were women and children, Mushtaf Minhas, information minister for the region, said.
The quake struck at 4:01 p.m. local time about 2 miles southeast of the Mirpur district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was felt across much of northern Pakistan.
"We are supplying tents, food and other essential items to earthquake-affected people. We are facing a tragedy but we will try our best to ensure the rehabilitation of affected people as soon as possible," Minhas told AP.
At a village hospital near Mirpur, Dr. Mahboob Ahmed said 700 people were treated. Some were sent to the district's main hospital, where better health facilities were available.
An AP reporter said he saw doctors treating quake victims at open areas outside the main government-run hospital because of a shortage of beds.
Raja Qaiser, a deputy commissioner in the region, told AP that a main road near Mirpur was badly damaged, causing accidents and damaging buses and other vehicles. Giant cracks opened in the roads.
The temblor shook walls in Pakistan's capital city of Islamabad, about 55 miles northwest of Mirpur. Residents in the capital were seen rushing out of multistory buildings.
Azad Jammu and Kashmir is the western portion of the Kashmir region, a disputed area claimed by Pakistan and India.
"I was sitting in my shop when suddenly the walls started swaying. I knew that it is a strong earthquake. The moment I came out of my shop, its roof caved in," one shop owner told Pakistan's Geo news channel as he stood in a street littered with debris of houses and nearby damaged shops. The shop owner was not identified.
Mohammad Arif, whose home was damaged in Mirpur, said when the quake hit, he started shouting to alert his family.
"God saved me. God saved all of my family members, but our home was partially damaged," he told Geo.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi in separate statements expressed their grief over losses caused by the quake.

Bilawal Bhutto demands release of political prisoners

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Monday demanded the release of all political prisoners.
 In a tweet, he applauded the release of parliamentarians Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, Bilawal criticised Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser for failing to issue production orders for the imprisoned MNAs.

Dawar and Wazir were arrested in May following the Kharqamar incident. They were granted bail by the Peshawar High Court on Saturday.
Bilawal also accused the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government of arresting politicians to divert attention from its failure to handle the Kashmir issue. He asked how the premier intended to lead the Kashmir cause if he was unable to lead the country.Opposition parties have decried political victimisation at the hands of Imran Khan-led government. Most recently, the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz staged a protest outside the National Assembly over the arrest of veteran PPP leader Khursheed Shah.

The lawmakers arrested by the incumbent government in different cases are former president Asif Ali Zardari, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former finance minister Miftah Ismail, former railways minister Saad Rafique, Ali Wazir, Mohsin Dawar, Rana Sanaullah, and Khursheed Shah.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif was also arrested last year and is currently out on bail. Other senior leaders of opposition parties including ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, PML-N vice presidents Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shehbaz, and PPP’s Faryal Talpur are also currently imprisoned.