Saturday, February 29, 2020

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#Pakistan - Editorial: The entire healthcare system not working in tandem on coronavirus could spell a recipe for disaster

IT was perhaps only a matter of time before Pakistan joined the ranks of countries hit by the coronavirus.
On Wednesday, the federal health ministry confirmed the first two cases of COVID-19 — in Karachi and Islamabad — prompting the authorities to close schools in parts of the country.
The national health authorities had been vigilant over the last few weeks, for instance, by shutting off the border with Iran (where the number of cases has risen to nearly 250) and checking international flight passengers at airports for symptoms.
Now that the highly infectious virus is in the country, they must double their efforts to contain its spread — a huge challenge indeed.
For one, state-of-the-art quarantine and treatment facilities are needed in virtually all districts with special instructions to healthcare staff on how to manage COVID-19 patients.
At present, there are only five quarantine facilities in the country — two in Islamabad, two in Rawalpindi and one in Karachi. This is clearly not enough to deal with a potential outbreak.
Suspected patients being transported to these facilities from the rural areas will have plenty of time along the way to transmit the virus to others.
The pace of diagnosis should also be speeded up, while equipping at least some of the more reputed health facilities to test patients for COVID-19 would ease the burden on the National Institute of Health that is currently conducting most of the diagnostic tests.
It is true that the situation does not call for panic, as the special assistant to the prime minister on health has said. But whether “things are under control” can only be assessed in the days to come, as Pakistan grapples with the virus in the midst of a dilapidated healthcare system.To contain the virus and discourage the public from believing in conspiracy theories, the authorities would have to run a robust awareness campaign about the infection, give updated information about new cases, and share its plans to combat the illness.
The fact is that the government cannot afford to slacken its efforts.
According to WHO, COVID-19 has affected over 80,000 people in approximately 40 countries. New cases may be on the wane in China, where the virus originated, but the infection continues to spread in other countries, with South Korea reporting the most cases outside China.
The global outbreak should put even more pressure on the authorities here to mobilize all layers of the public health system to address the situation.

This means that all levels of the healthcare system — national, provincial and district — will have to work in tandem under a clear, comprehensive, globally accepted strategy. Anything less could be a recipe for disaster— and Pakistan, with its myriad health challenges, such as the resurgence of polio, has so far not proved itself adept at tackling crises.

#Pakistan - Birth in a hospital washroom - SHAME @ImranKhanPTI - NAYA #PAKISTAN

It is a matter of shame that a poor woman had to deliver a baby in the washroom of the mosque of the Jinnah Hospital in Lahore after on-duty gynaecologists allegedly denied her treatment on the grounds that she did not get her blood work done from the a private lab of their choice. Though a fact-finding committee tasked with probing the allegation has yet to deliver its report, the fact remains that the baby girl was born in the washroom of the mosque and that too on the premises of an established, well-equipped teaching hospital. Moreover, the hospital record also establishes that the patient, Asifa Hammad, wife of Hammad, driver by occupation, visited late on Wednesday in acute labour pain. She says the doctors were insisting that she go to a specific private lab.
The incident only points to the ugly reality that unprofessionalism rules our health care places. Hospitals are places for healing wounds, not to injure visitors’ health and self-respect. In March 2018, the Services Hospital turned out to be the place of death of a youth, who had come to the hospital to attend a patient. The police registered a murder case against several doctors, security guards and staffers but the case went nowhere. In 2016, Young Doctors’ Association activists subjected a Dunya News reporter to physical torture at Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital. Before that in December 2016, the administration and young doctors of Shaikh Zayed Hospital got into a steamy scuffle ,making the hospital a war ground where dozens of the hospital staff members were physically and verbally attacking each other.
The health care sector has witnessed growing commercialism at the cost of professionalism over the years. Unprofessionalism runs high in public hospitals as our ruling elite have started their own private hospitals and medical colleges. The previous ruling family – the House of Sharif – runs a commercial medical complex in Raiwind but they prefer foreign medical centres for their own treatment. Taking a cue from successive governments’ indifference towards public hospitals, doctors and paramedics have become hostile towards patients. No doubt, public hospitals are crowded with patients and their worried attendants as overworked doctors and nurses try to cope with painful situations with their occasional smiles and frequent frowns. In such situations, incidents like births in washrooms are bound to occur.

#Pakistan - 'Men in our society feel they are a special creation of God’

By Muneeba Anwar Khan
The very first day of the Karachi Literature Festival’s 11th edition saw speakers presenting strong opinions on the existing gender gap in the society, discrimination faced by women and their struggle to climb the ladder of success in a society that at many instances finds itself shrouded in patriarchy and prejudice.
“Men in our society feel they are a special creation of God,” reflected Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research executive director Karamat Ali, partaking in discourse during a session titled ‘Women of Substance,’ held to acknowledge the achievements of former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, Fatima Jinnah and lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jehangir.
These women, however, were true heroes, he implied, saying that they had the courage to stand up for themselves even when no one supported them.Responding to a question about Benazir and Jinnah’s success being attributed to nepotism in some circles, social activist and dancer Sheema Kirmani said, “It is very easy for society to judge and attribute a woman’s win in an election to nepotism, but no questions are raised when a man gets elected.”
Further elaborating on this, with particular reference to Benazir, Kirmani related that the former prime minister had once asked her to perform at a conference. “I don’t think any man could have done that,” she opined, adding, “That was a very brave move.” Not just that, Benazir had challenged norms by giving birth while holding the seat of prime minister, said Kirmani.
She reflected that women had, since the beginning, been struggling for justice and their rights. “We have had enough of the male-dominated world and women’s participation needed to be increased in the economic, political, cultural, social and other spheres [of life].”
Speaking along the same lines as Kirmani, Victoria Schofield, a British author, biographer and historian, said, “When a man is unfaithful, nobody questions him, but when a woman is, people are quick to raise questions on her character.”
Asserting that these double standards had to be changed, she also highlighted the crucial role of education in ensuring the growth of women. “Otherwise, the gender gap will continue to mire them down.”

Earlier, lauding Benazir, Fatima Jinnah and Jehangir, Ali called them “three of the most distinguished women” in the country’s history.

“Fatima Jinnah’s resilience against Ayub Khan was remarkable and we wouldn’t have been able to achieve Pakistan had she not resolutely stood with her brother; Benazir saw many hardships but continued her struggle and fight; and Jehangir was a brave soul who spoke up for human rights with abandon and understood that women’s rights were an integral part of human rights,” he said, adding that all three of them fought and stood their ground against dictatorship.
Echoing Ali’s views, Schofield said that courage and bravery were common traits of the three women, adding that women faced discrimination in the West too, but Pakistan was fortunate to have these three women.

#CoronaVirusUpdate - #Pakistan confirms two more #coronavirus cases, bringing total to four

Syed Raza Hassan
Pakistan confirmed two more cases of coronavirus on Saturday, bringing the total number of positive cases to four since Wednesday when the first two cases were reported in the country.
“We have received reports of two more positive cases of coronavirus, one has been reported in Sindh province, (the) other in federal areas,” Zafar Mirza, Pakistan’s health minister, told a news conference.
The minister did not say in which cities the new cases were reported, asking media to respect the patients’ privacy.
He said the two people in the earlier reported cases were doing well and one was about to be discharged from hospital.
Sindh information minister Murtaza Wahab told Reuters one of the new cases was in Karachi, the country’s economic hub, bringing the number recorded there to two.
The other of the two first cases was reported in Islamabad. Both of those individuals had recently returned from Iran, which is at the epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East, with 43 deaths reported so far.
“Gradually we are starting to receive our pilgrims from [the] Taftan border with Iran,” Mirza told reporters in Islamabad.
Flights to and from Iran have been suspended, he said, adding that the government would review the measure at a later stage.
Pakistan closed its border with Iran on Sunday following the outbreak in the neighboring country.
Pakistan, like most South Asian countries, lacks the infrastructure to deal with any large scale outbreak of the virus.

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FATF’s grey list suits Pakistan’s jihadi ambitions. It only worries entering the black list


For Pakistan, the grey list is better than the blacklist, especially when the country’s intent is not to shut down the jihad completely, not any time soon.

The grey list of the Financial Action Task Force is meant to coerce countries into complying with international norms on terror financing and money laundering. No country wishes to join Iran and North Korea on the FATF’s black list, which entails sanctions that cut access to the global financial system.
Once they are on the grey list, countries make serious efforts to completely shut down access to funds for terrorist groups. But Pakistan, which has gone on the grey list at least thrice just in the last decade, seems to be striving to do just enough to avoid the black list. When a recent FATF meeting extended Pakistan’s grey listing until June 2020, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi celebrated the decision, saying that India had failed to push Pakistan into FATF’s blacklist.
The reason Pakistan keeps entering the grey list is because of its failure to shut down all access to funding of United Nations Security Council (UNSC)-designated terrorist groups, including the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The international community keeps asking Pakistan to prosecute leaders for accessing illicit funds and to tighten laws and banking security regulations relating to terrorist groups.

Pakistan’s intent is questionable

But Pakistani establishment knows that most major countries remain reluctant to impose the strict banking and international finance sanctions that at present apply only to Iran and North Korea. The US and the UK see greater chances of incremental Pakistani cooperation through monitoring and pressure than might be forthcoming if the country is forced into isolation through absolute sanctions. Others, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and UAE worry about the impact of financial sanctions on fellow Muslim Pakistanis. The grey list, which currently comprises 12 countries and is formally described as “other monitored jurisdictions” is another matter. Those included in it are constantly reviewed for their actions to stop terror financing and money laundering.
Ideally, Pakistan would like to be removed from the FATF grey list, too, because it entails acting on specific demands about jihadi terrorists Pakistan has managed to support and protect for at least three decades. But the grey list is better than the black list, especially when the Pakistani establishment’s intent is not to shut down the jihad completely, not any time soon.
And since it is difficult to keep a country on the grey list forever, there is a significant likelihood that Pakistan would get off after a decent interval and a spate of superficial measures.
Thus, Pakistan continues to play a cat and mouse game with the international community on terror financing. It has become very good at parrying pressure since it was warned in 1992, for the first time by the Americans, about harbouring and nurturing jihadi groups targeting India. Then, after the kidnapping of an American tourist by a group called Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA), Pakistan banned the group, only to allow it to resurface as Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). Since then, a now-familiar pattern has emerged. Pakistani officials work off a checklist that helps evade the immediate pressure without permanently shutting down favoured jihadi groups. Fear of financial sanctions is something Pakistani officials take seriously but only enough to calibrate their actions to fulfil legal and technical requirements of the moment.
Pakistan takes one step forward to get relief from international pressure, and two steps back once the pressure is off, and again a step forward when the pressure resumes. In the end, the highly crafted manoeuvers leave the country standing in the same place.

Unfulfilled commitments

Pakistan has not fulfilled its commitments under UNSC Resolution 1267, which requires all states to freeze the assets of people and organisations on a list established by the resolution. This list includes Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Hafiz Saeed and his ‘Islamic charities,’ Dawood Ibrahim, Jaish-e-Mohammed and its leader Maulana Masood Azhar.
The Afghan Taliban and the Siraj Haqqani Network were also on the list for years, but their status is on the verge of changing, given the US’ willingness to negotiate with them in an effort to withdraw from Afghanistan. Political considerations clearly trump an earlier international consensus to wage a global war on terrorism.
A multilateral institution like the FATF is limited by the political compulsions of its member countries; it must also accept the checks on various boxes in its highly technical compliance criteria. It does not act on the basis of assessing a country or the government’s intentions, based on its track record of many years.
In 2008, the FATF identified Pakistan as a country posing a high risk of money laundering and being non-cooperative in implementing international rules on terrorist financing, only to let Pakistan off the hook after a series of technical measures.
Pakistan’s conduct was questioned again in 2012 and the country was put on the grey list, only to be removed from it in 2015, after changes in laws dealing with money laundering and terrorist financing.
This time around, Pakistan has gone further than ever before to comply with FATF-related demands, possibly because India, France, and the US have held out the threat of putting the country on the black list. Pakistan has convicted Hafiz Saeed of some terror-financing offences, though not for the 26/11 Mumbai carnage or any of the other major attacks he initiated.
The conviction could easily be overturned once the fear of FATF blacklisting is over and Pakistan is again off the grey list.

Facebook, Google and Twitter Rebel Against Pakistan’s Censorship Rules

By Vindu Goel and 

The battle is the latest skirmish between internet companies and governments over who decides what content should be online.
When Pakistan’s government unveiled some of the world’s most sweeping rules on internet censorship this month, global internet companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter were expected to comply or face severe penalties — including the potential shutdown of their services.
Instead, the tech giants banded together and threatened to leave the country and its 70 million internet users in digital darkness.
Through a group called the Asia Internet Coalition, they wrote a scathing letter to Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan. In it, the companies warned that “the rules as currently written would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses.”
Their public rebellion, combined with pressure and lawsuits from local civil libertarians, forced the government to retreat. The law remains on the books, but Pakistani officials pledged this week to review the regulations and undertake an “extensive and broad-based consultation process with all relevant segments of civil society and technology companies.”
“Because Pakistan does not have any law of data protection, international internet firms are reluctant to comply with the rules,” said Usama Khilji, director of Bolo Bhi, an internet rights organization based in Islamabad, the country’s capital.
The standoff over Pakistan’s digital censorship law, which would give regulators the power to demand the takedown of a wide range of content, is the latest skirmish in an escalating global battle. Facebook, Google and other big tech companies, which have long made their own rules about what is allowed on their services, are increasingly tangling with national governments seeking to curtail internet content that they consider harmful, distasteful or simply a threat to their power.
India is expected to unveil new censorship guidelines any day now, including a requirement that encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp tell the government how specific messages moved within their networks. The country has also proposed a new data privacy law that would restrict the activities of tech companies while exempting the government from privacy rules.
Vietnam passed its own cybersecurity law in 2018, with similar provisions to what Pakistan passed. Singapore recently began using its rules against “fake news” to go after critics and opposition figures by forcing social networks like Facebook to either take down certain posts or add the government’s response to them.
The unified resistance by Facebook, Google, Twitter and other tech companies in Pakistan is highly unusual. Companies often protest these types of regulations, but they rarely threaten to actually leave a country. Google pulled its search engine out of China in 2010 rather than submit to government censorship of search results, but LinkedIn agreed to self-censor its content when it entered China in 2014 and Apple acceded to Chinese demands to remove apps that customers had used to bypass the country’s Great Firewall.
Chinmayi Arun, a fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, said the collective threat by the tech companies to leave Pakistan was a brilliant new tactic to fight authoritarian policies.
“If it was just Google threatening this or Facebook threatening this, Pakistan might say go ahead,” said Ms. Arun, who founded the Center for Communication Governance at National Law University Delhi. “It’s more risky for the Pakistani government to have all of these services withdraw together.”
In Pakistan, like much of the world, Facebook, TikTok, WhatsApp and YouTube routinely top the charts of most popular apps.
Under the new regulations, formally known as the Citizen Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020, social media services must remove or block content within 24 hours of a request from a newly appointed officer, called the national coordinator. Companies must also prevent the live-streaming of any type of content the authorities say is objectionable and label as “false” anything the government deems to be so.
In addition, the companies must open permanent offices in Islamabad and set up servers to store data in the country. Violations of the law are subject to fines of more than $3 million, with the authorities even empowered to block services entirely.
Pakistani officials denied the new regulations were aimed at curbing free speech.
Firdous Ashiq Awan, the adviser to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, said in a policy statement this month that the rules were introduced to protect the social, cultural and religious values of the country.
She added that “under the new laws, action could be taken against those who speak against national institutions and sovereignty” — a veiled reference to the military.
Shahzada Zulfiqar, president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, urged the government to rescind the regulations, which were adopted without any warning or public consultation.
“The new laws will not only cause deterioration of a digital economic future for Pakistan but also decrease freedom of expression, increase censorship and diminish digital rights,” he said. The U.S. government also expressed concern about the new restrictions. On Tuesday, the State Department tweeted that they could be a “setback to freedom of expression” and hamper the development of Pakistan’s digital economy.
@State_SCA New restrictions on social media platforms in #Pakistan could be setback to freedom of expression & development of digital econ. Unfortunate if Pakistan discourages foreign investors & stifles domestic innovation in such a dynamic sector. Encourage discussion w/ stakeholders. AGW
Google, Facebook and Twitter declined to comment beyond the letter from the Asia Internet Coalition.
It is a “huge concern” that more governments want to take down online content, said Jennifer Daskal, a law professor at American University and faculty director of its Tech, Law, Security Program. So many of the rules “end up being used by the government to stifle dissent, or to curate content in ways that are conducive to the government’s preferred narratives.”
Mr. Khan rose to power in Pakistan in 2018 partly because of his party’s strong presence on social media, a fact he acknowledges in his speeches. But now that he is in charge, he has shown little patience for online criticism.
Pakistan’s powerful military is also averse to debates on social media platforms, especially on Twitter, which is used by critics to question human rights violations and the military’s involvement in politics.
Over the past two years, Pakistani government requests for Facebook, Google and Twitter to remove content have increased sharply, according to transparency reports published by the companies. Pakistan disclosed in September that it had blocked more than 900,000 web pages for various reasons, including pornography, blasphemy and sentiments against the state and military.
Separately, regulators in Pakistan have proposed requiring online video sites to obtain licenses from the government.
There is a strong case to be made that the government is overstepping its authority with the new rules, said Muhammad Aftab Alam, executive director of the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development, a Pakistani public policy group.
“This national coordinator is judge, jury, regulator and executioner as well,” he said.
At least two lawsuits challenging the rules have already been brought in Pakistani courts.
“The main objective of the impugned rules seems to be to control the social media through indirect control by the government and ruling party,” read the petition in one case, filed by Raja Ahsan Masood, who asked the court to declare them unconstitutional.

آسیہ بی بی: سچ کی کھوج یقینی بنائیں تاکہ کسی بے گناہ کو سزا نہ ملے

پاکستان میں توہینِ مذہب کے جھوٹے الزام میں آٹھ برس تک قید رہنے کے بعد بری ہونے والی مسیحی خاتون آسیہ بی بی کا کہنا ہے کہ وہ پاکستان کی حکومت اور وزیراعظم سے اپیل کرتی ہیں کہ ملک میں توہینِ مذہب کے مقدمات کی جامع تحقیقات ہونی چاہییں اور اس بات کو یقینی بنانا چاہیے کہ کسی بےگناہ کو سزا نہ ملے۔
فرانس کے دارالحکومت پیرس میں بی بی سی کی مشعل حسین کو دیے گئے انٹرویو میں آسیہ بی بی کا کہنا تھا ’جب بھی ایسا کچھ ہو، اس کی جامع تحقیقات ہونی چاہییں۔ کسی بےگناہ کو بلاوجہ سزا نہیں ملنی چاہیے اور وہ بےگناہ لوگ جو جیلوں میں ہیں انھیں رہائی ملنی چاہیے۔‘
ان کا کہنا تھا کہ ’توہینِ مذہب کے معاملے میں الزام لگانے والوں اور جس پر الزام لگا ہو دونوں سے مناسب پوچھ گچھ ہونی چاہیے کیونکہ ہمارے تفتیشی عمل میں بہت سے مسائل ہیں اور یہ بتانا بھی مشکل ہوتا ہے کہ کون کس سے ملا ہوا ہے اس لیے یقینی بنانا ضروری ہے کہ سچ جانا جائے۔
’چیزوں کو بار بار دیکھیں، کون کیا کر رہا ہے اور اگر کوئی بےگناہ ہے تو اسے رہائی ملنی چاہیے۔ یہ میری وزیراعظم پاکستان سے اپیل ہے۔‘
آسیہ نورین بی بی پنجاب کے ضلع ننکانہ کے ایک گاؤں اِٹاں والی کی رہائشی تھیں۔ 2009 میں اسی گاؤں میں فالسے کے ایک باغ میں آسیہ بی بی کا گاؤں کی چند عورتوں کے ساتھ جھگڑا ہوا جس کے بعد ان پر پیغمبرِ اسلام کے خلاف 'توہین آمیز' کلمات کہنے کا الزام عائد کیا گیا تھا۔ توہین مذہب کے اس مقدمے میں آسیہ بی بی کو 2010 میں سزائے موت سنائی گئی اور آٹھ سال قید میں رہنے کے بعد اکتوبر 2018 میں پاکستان کی عدالتِ عظمیٰ نے ان الزامات کو غلط قرار دیتے ہوئے انھیں بری کر دیا تھا۔
بریت کے بعد آسیہ کچھ عرصے تک پاکستان میں ہی ایک محفوظ مقام پر رہیں جس کے بعد وہ کینیڈا منتقل ہو گئی تھیں۔
سب کچھ پانی کے ایک گلاس سے شروع ہوا مقدمے کے آغاز کے بارے میں آسیہ کا کہنا تھا کہ ان کے وہم و گمان میں بھی نہیں تھا کہ ایک گلاس پانی پینے سے بات بڑھ کر یہاں تک پہنچ جائے گی کہ ان پر توہینِ رسالت کا الزام لگے گا اور انھیں قید کاٹنی پڑے گی۔ ان کے مطابق ’ہمارا پڑوسیوں (عورتیں جنھوں نے توہین رسالت کا الزام لگایا) سے پرانا تنازع تھا۔ یہ ایک سال سے چل رہا تھا۔ ہمارا گاؤں کے نمبردار سے بھی تنازع تھا۔ اس سب کی اصل وجہ پانی کا ایک گلاس تھا۔ انھوں نے مجھے پانی دیا جو میں نے پی لیا۔ کبھی سوچا بھی نہیں تھا کہ بات یہاں تک پہنچ جائے گی۔ انھوں نے جا کر قاری اسلام کو بتایا جس نے کہا کہ اس نے اس گلاس سے پانی پی کر ہماری توہین کی ہے، یہ تھی ساری بات۔‘
اس سوال پر کہ جب انھیں معلوم ہوا کہ ان پر توہینِ رسالت کا الزام لگایا گیا ہے تو ان کا ردعمل کیا تھا، آسیہ بی بی کا کہنا تھا ’مجھے تو معلوم بھی نہیں تھا۔ میں تو معمول کے مطابق باغ سے پھل چننے گئی تھی۔ مجھے بالکل اندازہ نہیں تھا کہ وہ مجھے پکڑ کر لے جائیں گے۔ اگر میں نے کچھ غلط کیا ہوتا تو مجھے اندازہ ہوتا کہ میرے ساتھ کچھ برا ہونے والا ہے۔ میں بالکل بےگناہ تھی اور مجھے بالکل اندازہ نہیں تھا کہ وہ میرے ساتھ ایسا کریں گے لیکن انہوں نے یہ سب کیا۔
’میرے شوہر کام پر تھے اور بچے سکول، میں باغ میں پھل چننے گئی تھی۔ ایک ہجوم آیا اور مجھے گھسیٹ کر لے گئے۔ میں بالکل بےبس تھی، میری بیٹیاں ایشا اور ایشام سکول سے واپس آ رہی تھیں جب انھوں نے دیکھا کہ کہ ایک ہجوم ان کی ماں کو لے جا رہا ہے۔ وہ مجھ سے لپٹ گئیں۔ میں نے ان سے کہا کہ جا کر اپنے باپ کو بتاؤ کہ کیا ہوا ہے۔ وہ دونوں بہت چھوٹی تھیں، ایشا نو اور ایشام آٹھ سال کی تھی۔ ایشام نے اپنی بڑی بہن نسیم کو بتایا جو گھر تھی اور اس نے اپنے والد کو مطلع کیا۔ ’اتنی دیر میں وہ لوگ مجھے پولیس سٹیشن لے آئے۔ اس وقت تک میرے خلاف ایف آئی آر نہیں کٹی تھی۔ مجھے وہاں تک ٹریفک پولیس لائی تھی۔ انھوں نے مجھے مارنے کی بھی کوشش کی۔ ان کے پاس چھریاں تھیں۔ میں نے ان کے ہاتھوں میں چھانٹے، چھریاں اور پستول دیکھے۔ میں نے انھیں کہا کہ میں بےگناہ ہوں پھر انھوں نے مجھے پولیس کے حوالے کر دیا۔ ’مجھے چار مہینے تک وہاں رکھا گیا لیکن اس دوران میرا چالان مکمل نہیں ہوا۔ جج نے لکھا کہ اگر یہ مقدمہ جھوٹا ہوا تو ان کے خلاف کارروائی ہو گی تو اپنے آپ کو بچانے کے لیے انھوں نے یہ مقدمہ بنایا۔‘
’جیل پہنچی تو ایک ہفتے روتی رہی‘
پاکستان میں توہینِ مذہب و رسالت کی سزا موت ہے۔ ایسے سخت الزامات پر بات کرتے ہوئے آسیہ کا کہنا تھا کہ وہ بہت ڈر گئی تھیں۔
’میں نے کبھی سوچا بھی نہیں تھا کہ میرے ساتھ ایسا ہو سکتا ہے۔ میں ڈیڑھ سال تک عدالت میں پیش ہوتی رہی لیکن جج نے ایک بار بھی میرا موقف نہیں سنا۔ میں امید کرتی رہی کہ مجھے بھی بولنے کا موقع دیا جائے گا۔ میں نے پوچھا بھی لیکن انھوں نے مجھے بغیر بات کرنے کا موقع دیے سزائے موت سنا دی۔ اس کے بعد میرا مقدمہ ہائی کورٹ میں گیا۔ وہاں بھی مجھے کبھی کارروائی کے دوران پیش نہیں کیا گیا۔ میں جیل میں تھی۔ پھر میرا مقدمہ سپریم کورٹ پہنچ گیا جہاں مجھے دس برس کے بعد بری کیا گیا۔‘
جیل میں گزرے وقت کے بارے میں یاد کرتے ہوئے آسیہ کا کہنا تھا کہ وہ بہت مشکل وقت تھا۔
جب میں جیل پہنچی تو بہت روئی۔ میں ایک ہفتے تک روتی رہی کہ میرے ساتھ کیا ہو رہا ہے اور جو آپ بات آپ مجھ سے پوچھ رہی ہیں اس کے بارے میں بات کرنا میرے لیے بہت مشکل ہے کیونکہ اس طرح پرانی یادیں واپس آ جاتی ہیں۔ میں آپ کو نہیں بتا سکتی کہ میں کس چیز سے گزری، اس وقت کیا محسوس کر رہی تھی، کیونکہ میں رونا شروع کر دیتی ہوں۔ ’میں نے جیل کے اندر بہت کچھ برداشت کیا۔ میرے ساتھ وہاں جو کچھ ہوا میں آپ کو بتا بھی نہیں سکتی۔ میں اذیت سے گزری لیکن خدا نے مجھے بہت حوصلہ اور صبر دیا۔ آپ تصور نہیں کر سکتیں لیکن میں نے معجزے دیکھے۔ آسیہ کے مطابق ’یہی نہیں بلکہ میرے بچوں کا مستقبل بری طرح متاثر ہوا، ان کی تعلیم رک گئی۔ ایشام اور ایشا سکول نہیں جا سکتی تھیں۔ میرے شوہر کا بھی میری وجہ سے بہت نقصان ہوا۔ وہ میرے لیے دربدر ہوتے رہے۔‘
ان کا کہنا تھا کہ ’جب میں پیچھے مڑ کر دیکھتی ہوں تو مجھے لگتا ہے کہ یہ میرا امتحان تھا، جس میں میں کامیاب ہو گئی یا پھر جس کا میں نے حوصلے اور صبر سے مقابلہ کیا۔
’یہ میرے لیے سب سے مشکل وقت تھا کیونکہ بہت سے لوگوں نے مجھے گمراہ کرنے کی کوشش کی۔ انھوں نے مجھے کہا کہ مذہب تبدیل کر لو تو چھوٹ جاؤ گی۔ لیکن میں نے کہا نہیں۔ میں اپنی سزا پوری کروں گی، اپنے عقیدے کے ساتھ اور اپنے ایمان کے ساتھ جیوں گی۔ میں نے اپنی سزا پوری کی اور اب میں آپ کے سامنے بیٹھی ہوں۔
قید کے دوران اپنے اہلخانہ سے رابطے کے بارے میں بات کرتے ہوئے آسیہ نے کہا کہ ’میں ان سے بات نہیں کر سکتی تھی لیکن جب میں جیل میں تھی تو چند بار جب میرے شوہر اور میرے بچے مجھ سے ملنے آئے اور انھوں نے مجھے بتایا کہ ساری دنیا میرے لیے دعا کر رہی ہے، پاپائے روم نے بھی میرے لیے دعا کی ہے۔ اس سے مجھے بہت خوشی ملی۔
مجھے معلوم ہوا کہ ساری دنیا میری تکلیف کے خاتمے کے لیے دعاگو ہے۔ مجھے احساس ہوا کہ میں دعاؤں کی بدولت آزاد ہو جاؤں گی، میرا دل مضبوط ہوا۔ یہ سب سچ ہے۔‘ ’مجھے لگتا ہے سلمان تاثیر اور شہباز بھٹی زندہ ہیں‘ آسیہ بی بی کا کہنا تھا کہ انھیں قید کے دوران ہی علم ہوا کہ ان کی رہائی کے لیے کوشاں رہنے والے دو سیاستدان سلمان تاثیر اور شہباز بھٹی قتل کر دیے گئے۔ ’مجھے جیل میں پتہ چلا تھا تو میں بہت روئی تھی۔ میں ان کے لیے ایک ہفتے سے زیادہ روتی رہی۔ آج بھی میرا دل ان کے لیے اداس ہے اور میں انھیں یاد کرتی ہوں۔ مجھے ایسا محسوس ہوتا ہے کہ وہ مرے نہیں، وہ زندہ ہیں، خدا کی بادشاہت میں۔
اس سوال پر کہ شدید برے لمحات میں کبھی انھیں ایسا بھی لگا کہ وہ جیل سے زندہ باہر نہیں آ پائیں گی، آسیہ کا کہنا تھا کہ ’میں پرامید تھی۔ میں اس لیے بھی پرامید تھی کیونکہ مجھے معلوم تھا کہ باہر کوئی میرے لیے کوشش کر رہا ہے۔
’میرے شوہر نے مجھے بتایا تھا کہ ازابیل نامی ایک عورت میرے لیے کوشش کر رہی ہے جس نے پوری دنیا میں میرے لیے آواز اٹھائی۔ اس کے علاوہ پاپائے روم کی دعائیں بھی میرے ساتھ تھیں۔ یہی میری امید کی وجہ تھی اور اس کے علاوہ میرا ایمان بھی تھا۔ میں بہت مضبوط رہی کیونکہ مجھے احساس تھا کہ میں حق پر ہوں اور میں آزاد ہو جاؤں گی اور اب میں آزاد ہوں۔‘
’فخر ہے کہ مجھے میرے ملک میں ہی آزادی ملی‘
اس سوال پر کہ سپریم کورٹ کی جانب سے بری کیے جانے پر انھیں کیسا محسوس ہوا، آسیہ نے کہا ’میں بہت خوش تھی۔ سلمان تاثیر نے پہلے بھی تحقیقات کروائی تھیں اور اس معاملے میں میری بےگناہی واضح تھی۔ میرے خلاف کوئی ثبوت نہ تھا اور میں جانتی تھی کہ میں نے کوئی گناہ نہیں کیا۔
’اس لیے خدا نے یہ بات یقینی بنائی کہ انھیں میرے خلاف کوئی ثبوت نہیں ملا اور دنیا نے دیکھا کہ میں نے کچھ غلط نہیں کیا تھا اور مجھے غلط سزا دی گئی تھی۔ جب آپ بےگناہ ہوتے ہیں اور امید برقرار رہتی ہے اور آپ جانتے ہیں کہ یہ امید ایک دن پوری ہو گی اور خدا نے میرا امید پوری کر دی۔‘ رہائی کے فیصلے کے خلاف احتجاج کے بارے میں بات کرتے ہوئے آسیہ نے کہا کہ ’ملک میں احتجاج ضرور ہوا لیکن دیکھیں مجھے آزادی تو میرے ملک نے ہی دی نا اور مجھے اس پر فخر ہے کہ مجھے میرے ملک میں ہی آزادی ملی۔ اچھے، برے لوگ ہر جگہ ہوتے ہیں لیکن یہ میرا ملک ہی تھا جس نے مجھے رہائی دی۔‘ آسیہ بی بی کا کہنا تھا کہ وہ قید کے دوران بہت خوفزدہ رہیں۔ ’میں ایک طویل عرصے تک بیمار بھی رہی لیکن اس وقت بھی میں نے صبر و تحمل کا مظاہرہ کیا اور خدا کا شکر ادا کرتی رہی کیونکہ خدا ہی مجھے حوصلہ دے رہا تھا اور اسی حوصلے کی بدولت میں آج زندہ ہوں۔‘
’ایک دن آئے گا جب خدا مجھے واپس پاکستان لے جائے گا‘ ان کا کہنا تھا کہ انھوں نے اپنی مرضی سے پاکستان چھوڑا۔ ’یہ سچ ہے، مجھے وہاں خطرہ تھا۔ میرے ساتھ وہاں کبھی بھی کچھ بھی ہو سکتا تھا اس لیے میں نے اپنا ملک چھوڑ دیا لیکن آج بھی میرے دل میں اپنے وطن کے لیے وہی پیار ہے کیونکہ یہ وہ جگہ ہے جہاں میں پیدا ہوئی، پلی بڑھی۔ میں وہیں جیل میں رہی اور وہیں مجھے رہائی ملی۔ میں آج بھی اپنے وطن کا احترام کرتی ہوں اور اس دن کی منتظر ہوں جب میں واپس جا سکوں گی۔‘ اس سوال پر کہ کیا وہ سمجھتی ہیں کہ وہ ایک دن پاکستان واپس جا سکتی ہیں، آسیہ کا کہنا تھا کہ ’یقیناً ایسا ممکن ہے کہ چیزیں بہتر ہوں، حالات بدل جائیں اور میں سوچ سکتی ہوں کہ ایک دن آئے گا جب خدا مجھے واپس لے جائے گا اور مجھے اپنا ملک دوبارہ دیکھنے کا موقع دے گا۔‘ ان کا کہنا تھا کہ اتنی مشکلات سے گزرنے کے بعد بھی وہ پاکستان کو اپنا گھر سمجھتی ہیں۔ ’جب تک میں زندہ ہوں پاکستان ہی میرا گھر ہے۔ میرا ملک ہمیشہ میرے لیے گھر جیسا ہے۔ مشکلات کے باوجود مجھے اپنے ملک سے بےحد پیار ہے اور یہی سچ ہے کہ میں اپنے ملک سے محبت کرتی ہوں۔ ’میں نے سب کو دل سے معاف کر دیا‘ اس سوال پر کہ جو ان پر بیتی کیا اس کے بعد وہ خود میں تلخی یا غصہ پاتی ہیں، آسیہ کا کہنا تھا کہ ’مجھے غصہ نہیں آ رہا۔ میں نے سب کو دل سے معاف کر دیا ہے۔ مجھ میں اب سختی نہیں تحمل ہے کیونکہ میں نے سیکھا ہے کہ کیسے اپنے بچوں کو چھوڑ کر صبر کیا جائے۔ میں خود حیران ہوتی ہوں کہ میں نے کیسے اتنا صبر کیا۔ کوئی ماں کیسے اپنی اولاد کو چھوڑ کر صبر کر سکتی ہے لیکن خدا نے مجھے صبر دیا اور میں نے مشکلات پر اسی کی مدد سے قابو پایا۔‘ رہائی کے بعد اپنے اہلخانہ سے ملاقات کے بارے میں آسیہ نے بتایا کہ ایک طویل عرصے بعد اپنے شوہر اور بچوں سے ملاقات کا خیال ہی بہت عجیب تھا۔ ’اس وقت میں اپنے جذبات ہی سمجھ نہیں پا رہی تھی۔ جب میں نے اپنے بچوں کو گلے لگایا تو پھوٹ پھوٹ کر رو پڑی۔ میں ان کے بچپن کے بارے میں سوچتی رہی۔ میں ان کا بچپن نہیں بھلا سکتی۔ جب ماضی کی یادیں میرے ذہن میں آتی ہیں تو مجھے اپنی روتی ہوئی بیٹیاں یاد آتی ہیں۔ یہ میرے ماضی کا وہ حصہ ہے جو میں بھلا نہیں سکی ہوں۔‘
انھوں نے کہا ’وہ وقت لوٹ کر نہیں آ سکتا۔ میری زندگی کا وہ اہم حصہ جا چکا ہے لیکن پھر بھی میں خوش ہوں کیونکہ میرے عقیدے نے مجھے مضبوط بنایا ہے۔ اگر ایک طرف مجھے میرے بچوں سے جدا کیا گیا تو دوسری جانب میں نے خدا کے نام کے سہارے وہ سزا کاٹی اور آج میں خوش ہوں۔ ’کہاں رہنا چاہتی ہوں ابھی فیصلہ نہیں کیا‘ اس سوال پر کہ وہ پاکستان سے نکل کر کینیڈا گئیں اور پھر فرانس آئی ہیں تو وہ اپنی بقیہ زندگی کہاں گزارنا چاہتی ہیں، آسیہ بی بی کا کہنا تھا کہ انھوں نے اس بارے میں زیادہ سوچا نہیں۔ ’جب مجھے آزادی ملی تو بہت کچھ بدل چکا تھا۔ میں ہر تبدیلی کو قبول نہیں کر پائی ہوں اور یہ فیصلہ بھی نہیں کر سکی ہوں کہ کہاں رہنا چاہتی ہوں۔ ’جب سے میں یہاں (فرانس) آئی ہوں بہت مصروف ہوں اور اس سے پہلے کینیڈا میں بھی ایسا ہی تھا۔‘ تاہم ان کا یہ بھی کہنا تھا کہ ’مجھے فرانس سے بہت پیار ملا ہے۔ فرانس نے مجھے نام دیا ہے‘ اور ممکن ہے کہ فرانسیسی صدر سے ملاقات کے بعد کوئی خبر سامنے آئے۔
ایک سوال پر ان کا کہنا تھا کہ قید کے طویل دورانیے میں جس طرح میڈیا نے ان کے مقدمے کے بارے میں آگاہی پھیلائی وہ قابلِ ستائش ہے۔ ’میں تمام صحافیوں اور میڈیا کی شخصیات کی شکر گزار ہوں اس سب کے لیے جو انھوں نے کیا جس سے مجھے ہمت ملی اور آزادی بھی۔ آسیہ بی بی کا کہنا تھا کہ وہ پاکستان کی جیلوں میں توہینِ مذہب کے الزامات میں قید شگفتہ کوثر اور شفقت ایمینوئل جیسے افراد کے لیے امید کی کرن بن سکتی ہیں۔ ’جیسے ایزابیل نے میرے لیے آواز اٹھائی اور آج میں آزاد ہوں۔ میں تمام میڈیا سے درخواست کرتی ہوں کہ وہ شگفتہ کے لیے کام کریں تاکہ وہ بھی رہا ہو سکے اور میں اسے کہتی ہوں کہ وہ دن آئے گا جب وہ بھی آزاد ہو گی۔‘

#AasiaBibi Interview with BBC - #BBCURDU

Friday, February 28, 2020

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Opinion: Why the Taliban Will Never Agree to a Real Peace Deal

By Douglas London
They know they are winning. Why would they concede anything?
Last Saturday, the United States and the Taliban started a weeklong partial truce that, if it holds, could lead to the signing of a peace pact by the end of the month. To many, that could mean America’s more than 18-year war in Afghanistan might finally be drawing to a close. But this is a dangerously misguided belief.
In the final two years of my C.I.A. career, I was chief of counterterrorism for South and Southwest Asia, which includes Afghanistan and Pakistan. I am also a father who spent many sleepless nights worrying about my son during his two tours in Afghanistan with the Marine Corps. No one wants peace more than me. But I don’t share the optimism of those extolling the promise of this seven-day “reduction in violence.” I do not even believe that we have come to “the end of the beginning,” as Winston Churchill put it. Rather, the obstacles to peace are so profound and so numerous that the chances of a meaningful peace deal being signed, much less honored, strike me as vanishingly small.
To start with, the Taliban leadership has no incentive to embrace a deal that in any way requires concessions on their part, for one major reason: They believe they are winning. The Taliban has successfully challenged the government for control of rural areas, and by doing so, the roads necessary to resupply major urban areas. And while the government in Kabul can claim support from a greater percentage of the overall population — mainly people in the major cities — the Taliban continues to extend the territory over which it rules.
At the same time, the government of President Ashraf Ghani is facing a major political crisis over a contested election in which both he and his main political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, have claimed victory. (Mr. Abdullah has threatened to form a parallel government if he is not installed as president.) Moreover, the Trump administration seems intent on drawing down American forces to 8,000 troops, from 14,000, regardless of whether the Taliban takes any reciprocal action.
Why, then, would the Taliban agree to anything that might hinder what they see as their inevitable march to power? Time and momentum are on their side.
The insurgency’s leaders also face considerable internal resistance to signing a meaningful peace deal. The United States will insist that the Taliban enter negotiations with the American-backed government in Kabul and allow a residual force of American troops to remain inside Afghanistan to attack Islamic State and Al Qaeda forces.
But it is hard to imagine the Taliban leadership successfully convincing its fighters and most ardent supporters to accept those provisions, after years of deriding the government as “illegitimate American stooges” and of demanding that all foreign forces leave Afghan soil. Taliban leaders know that accepting any of those concessions could jeopardize their tenuous control of the movement, potentially snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Just negotiating with the Taliban is a treacherous proposition, given how diverse, decentralized and factionalized the group is. Afghanistan has historically been controlled by regional warlords with no enduring loyalty to any particular ideology, leader or cause. Even today, such regional strongmen continue to defy central authority, be it that of the Kabul government or the Taliban. The Taliban itself is no different. Predominantly Pashtun, it comprises various geographic and tribal constituencies, and its leadership struggles to maintain cohesion among those groups.At the top of the Taliban hierarchy is Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada. A hard-line religious scholar from the Taliban’s southern base of support in Kandahar, he was long a senior figure within the group’s Islamic courts. He leads by virtue of religious credentials and connections rather than military credentials, and is known as a consensus builder unlikely to take risks.
One of his deputies is Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub, the son of deceased Taliban founder Mullah Muhammad Omar. Now 30 years old, Mullah Yaqoub ostensibly leads the Taliban’s Quetta-based shura, or council, overseeing Taliban activities in the country’s more predominantly Pashtun south and west. But he lacks battlefield experience and his bloodline provides little guarantee that his father’s loyal followers will consistently support him.
The Taliban leader with the most battlefield credibility is another deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the shadowy Haqqani network that controls the Taliban’s Peshawar-based shura, with operations in northern, eastern and central Afghanistan. Separated by mountains from the southern Pashtuns as well as Afghanistan’s northern Tajiks and Uzbeks, the Haqqani network’s manpower, financial resources and battlefield skills, particularly suicide bombings and kidnapping operations learned through cooperation with Al Qaeda, have been crucial to Taliban success.
It is telling that Mr. Haqqani was the author of a Times Op-Ed last week asserting that the Taliban was prepared to accept a peace accord. The Haqqani network is the Taliban’s most independent and militarily effective fighting force. In having the reclusive Mr. Haqqani be author of the piece, the Taliban leadership might have been trying to send a message of unity to both the West and to Taliban commanders in the field.
Even so, there’s another impediment to securing a real peace deal: Members of the Taliban’s Qatar-based negotiating team are largely disconnected from and disrespected by the Taliban’s senior leadership. The lead negotiator, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, is a career Taliban politician, not a warrior, who was replaced as deputy Taliban foreign minister in the late 1990s after his own falling out with Taliban leadership. The team’s ostensible chief is Mullah Omar’s former deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was wasting away in a Pakistani prison until the United States pushed for his release in late 2018, probably because he has long supported negotiations.So what is really driving these peace talks? The answer seems to be President Trump, who has promised to end America’s involvement in Afghanistan and made the release of American hostages a priority. The president’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, a Trump loyalist, is determined to secure a deal that need only survive until the fall election. Mr. Khalilzad, who appears to be interested in becoming secretary of state in a second Trump term, pressured President Ashraf Ghani last November to release Anas Haqqani, Sirajuddin Haqqani’s younger brother, along with two other prominent Haqqani network officials, in exchange for two Westerners held by the group. The exchange was viewed as a crucial first step toward revitalizing the negotiations. But in a bad omen for the impending deal, a cease-fire in Zabul province that was promised as part of the prisoner exchange never materialized.All of this means that the Taliban will have little to lose from signing a deal that they can walk away from, and much to gain when the United States draws down its forces. Significantly, among the American troops that will depart are those who train the most effective government fighters, the Afghan special operations forces. Those commandos have had an outsize impact in relieving besieged Afghan cities. Neutralizing them is a key goal of Taliban and Haqqani field commanders.
I am not arguing that the United States should keep troops in Afghanistan forever. But there are better ways to seek a true, lasting peace — such as by treating Afghanistan as the fractured nation it is and negotiating separate deals with regional Taliban leaders and warlords.
No one cares more about finding lasting peace in Afghanistan than those of us who have toiled on these issues for years and lost friends on its battlefields. But there is little reason to believe that an agreement calling for substantial concessions from the Taliban is possible right now, regardless of the optimistic talk emanating from Washington. A one-week “reduction in violence” is not a cease-fire, and a deal that yields concessions without demanding any in return will not bring real peace.

#AbolishBlasphemylaws - Blasphemy still a potent tool for Pakistan's hushed hardliners


Inside a small Lahore courtroom, the packed crowd attending the hearing of a blasphemy case against a Christian pastor is most notable for the absence of hard-line clerics shouting insults and demanding the death penalty.
For years, they would attend such hearings in force, seeking to pressure magistrates to convict and impose the severest sentences on anyone facing what is an incendiary charge in Pakistan.
But one year after the conclusion of the country’s most high-profile blasphemy case and a government crackdown against extremists who exploited it for political ends, the clerics are largely gone.
“Before Asia Bibi, dozens of maulanas (religious scholars) were coming to my hearings,” said the pastor Adnan Prince, who stands accused of desecrating the Koran.
“After that, they didn’t come anymore,” Prince said.
The case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010 and acquitted by the Supreme Court in 2018, shone a global spotlight on the use — and abuse — of blasphemy laws in Pakistan.Her release was pounced on by the hard-line Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party (Movement at the Service of the Prophet), which was formed five years ago and gained influence by weaponizing the blasphemy issue.The party spearheaded violent street protests against Bibi’s acquittal and called for the Supreme Court justices to be killed, but crossed the reddest of red lines by urging the overthrow of the country’s powerful army chief.A government crackdown ensued that netted thousands of TLP loyalists — a move that Prince’s lawyer, Asad Jamal, credits for the absence of the maulanas.“The voice of the (religious) far right has been muffled,” Jamal said, adding that the crackdown had sent a clear signal to the extremists who abandoned their courtroom lobbying.
But if that lowered the intimidating decibel levels in court, “the feeling of fear is still there” among the magistrates, Jamal stressed.
According to one former judge, magistrates in Pakistan’s lower courts remain very vulnerable to intimidation in blasphemy cases, given that they often live among the communities they serve.Due to the risk of being labeled blasphemers themselves if they acquit, they tend to “always convict,” said the former judge.A recent example saw a university professor, Junaid Hafeez, sentenced to death in December for insulting the Prophet Mohammed.Given that the first lawyer who agreed to represent Hafeez was murdered, his family argued there was never any prospect of receiving a fair hearing.
“Could any judge in such circumstances take the risk of doing justice?” they said in a statement.
Condemning the sentence, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said blasphemy laws continued to be “heavily misused” and the judicial process was “ridden by delays and pressures at the level of the lower judiciary.”The contention that many guilty rulings by magistrates in blasphemy cases are flawed has been borne out by the significant number that are overturned on appeal by higher courts.
But Pakistan’s clogged justice system means the appeal process can take years.
Last September, the Supreme Court acquitted Wajih-ul-Hassan after he had spent 18 years on death row for allegedly insulting the prophet.
And even after release from prison, freedom is a relative term when it comes to allegations of blasphemy and the vigilante violence that often surrounds them.
“In many people’s minds, even though he’s been acquitted, he’s still guilty,” said his lawyer, Nadeem Anthony. “So he has to live in hiding.”
The communities most at threat from abuses of the blasphemy law are religious minorities, including the Ahmadi sect, whose belief in a prophet after Mohammed is viewed as heresy by most mainstream Muslims.
“The vulnerability is still there and it is going to remain as long as the law is there and people accept its legitimacy,” said a spokesman for the sect, Usman Ahmad.Blasphemy is a hugely inflammatory charge in Pakistan. Merely suggesting reform of the law can trigger violence, most notably in the case of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most populous province, who was shot dead by his own bodyguard in 2011.Hanged four years ago, the bodyguard was hailed as a martyr by his supporters, who built a popular shrine in his memory on the outskirts of Islamabad.No wonder then that politicians are mostly extremely reluctant to speak out against any aspect of the blasphemy law, and Prime Minister Imran Khan notably voiced his full support for the legislation during his successful 2018 election campaign.Defending itself against accusations of pandering to extremists, the government points to the support it gave Asia Bibi after her acquittal, despite the intense pressure brought by groups like the TLP.
Bibi left Pakistan for a new life in Canada in May last year.
Extremists represent just “one percent” of the Pakistani population, insisted government spokeswoman Firdous Ashiq Awan.
“A minority of people can’t reflect the mindset of a society,” she said.
Nevertheless, the TLP secured more than 2.2 million votes in the 2018 general elections and is hopeful of winning seats in local polls later this year. The party demonstrated its influence last month by successfully blocking the release of a new film by prominent director Sarmad Khosat on the grounds that it contained blasphemous content. “Blasphemy is a point through which we attract people,” Rehman Ali Tarar, a prospective TLP candidate, said at a recent rally with thousands of party supporters in Lahore.

#Pakistan - #AsiaBibi: I always believed I would be freed

Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy, says she always believed she would be freed.
Now living in Canada, she told the BBC that she hoped she would be able to return to Pakistan one day.
Ms Bibi has released a memoir, Enfin Libre! (Finally Free), written with French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet.
In it, she recounts her time in jail and her brutal treatment by guards.
In one of the most disturbing incidents she recounts how she had her neck put in a brace that was tightened with a key, and was pulled about on a chain by guards.
Pakistani authorities have dismissed the allegations, saying her claims of torture were "not plausible".

Who is Asia Bibi?

  • Asia Noreen - commonly known as Asia Bibi - was accused of blasphemy after an argument with a group of women in June 2009
  • A year later she became the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, causing an international outcry
  • The death sentence was quashed by the Supreme Court in 2018, triggering violent protests by religious hardliners

Ms Bibi spoke to the BBC during a visit to France where she is promoting her new book.
She recalled how, in 2009, a longstanding dispute with neighbours culminated in a group of local women accusing her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
"My husband was at work, my kids were in school, I had gone to pick fruit in the orchard," she said. "A mob came and dragged me away. They made fun of me, I was very helpless."
In her book, Ms Bibi tells how she feared for her life in prison, with other inmates calling for her to be hanged. She also recalled mistreatment at the hands of the prison guards.
"I can't breathe," she writes. "My neck is compressed by a neck brace that the guard can tighten as much as he wants with a big key. A long chain drags on the dirty floor; it links my throat to the guard's handcuffs that drags me like a dog."
Ms Bibi told the BBC that her Christian faith helped her through the ordeal.
"They said change your faith, and you'll be freed. But I said no. I will live my sentence. With my faith," she said.
"I found out from my husband that the whole world was praying for me. And that even the Pope had prayed for me. That made me happy. And I found out the whole world was praying for my misery to end.
"That made me feel that their prayers would definitely free me."
Media captionAsia Bibi's escape from Pakistan death row
Ms Bibi called on Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan to free anyone unjustly accused or convicted of blasphemy and to ensure that the charges are investigated properly.
"Innocents should not be punished for no reason and people who are innocent, in prison, should be freed," she said.
"During the investigation, both parties should be questioned properly because there are a lot of problems in our investigative procedures. And it is hard to tell who is on whose side."
Despite her ordeal, Ms Bibi said she still felt positively about Pakistan and hoped to return there one day.
"It was my country that freed me. That makes me proud," she said.
"I left of my own volition because I was in danger there. Anything could have happened to me at any point. So that's why I left my country. But I have the same love for my country in my heart now. I still respect my country and I want to see the day when I'm able to go back."
She also recalled her sorrow at hearing while in jail that two politicians who tried to help her - Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer - had been murdered.
"I cried a lot. I cried for more than a week for them. Even today, my heart is full of sadness for them and I miss them," she said.
But, she says she feels no bitterness to those who called for her to be killed.
"I'm not angry at all, I've forgiven everyone from my heart and there is no hardness in me, there is patience in me because I learned how to be patient after having to leave my children behind," she said.

Who are Pakistan's Christians?

Christian children in Lahore
  • Make up 1.6% of Pakistan's predominantly Muslim population
  • Majority are descendents of those who converted from Hinduism under the British Raj
  • Most converted to escape their low-caste status and many are among the poorest in Pakistan
  • Targeting of Christians fuelled by strong anti-blasphemy laws and anger over US-led war in Afghanistan

The vast majority of those convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan are Muslims or members of the Ahmadi community who identify themselves as Muslims but are regarded as heretical by orthodox Islam.
Since the 1990s scores of Christians have also been convicted. They make up just 1.6% of the population.
The Christian community has been targeted in numerous attacks in recent years, leaving many feeling vulnerable to a climate of intolerance.
Data provided by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) shows a total of 720 Muslims, 516 Ahmedis, 238 Christians and 31 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law from 1987 until 2017.
Pakistani authorities say blasphemy laws exist in many parts of the world and that all such cases in Pakistan are brought before the courts and follow due process.
Ms Bibi says in her book that the Christian community is despised and bullied and discriminated against.
But Pakistan says it attaches high importance to the protection of rights of minorities, which are guaranteed under its constitution.
Enfin Libre! By Asia Bibi is out now in French and other languages, and an English translation of the book will be available in September.