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Showing posts from June, 2006

An injustice called the 'Hudood Ordinance'

“Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences” — Susan B. Anthony.

Since its inception, Pakistan has had one bad ruler after the other – whether it be military or civilian rulers – but certainly the worst period in Pakistan’s history was General Ziaul Haq’s regime. Pakistan’s history bears out the fact that atrocities in the name of religion have taken place over the years, and continue due to the ignorance of the masses. On December 2, 1978, on the occasion of the first day of the Hijra calendar to enforce the Islamic system in Pakistan, in a nationwide address, General Zia accused politicians of exploiting the name of Islam saying, “Many a ruler did what they pleased in the na…

Standing up for Hayatullah Khan

Guarantees of press freedom and freedom of expression are enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan, but they are more ‘entombed’ than being practiced. Time and again it has been seen that the bold voices in Pakistan have been muted by sudden ‘disappearing’ acts or been laid to rest completely.

On December 5, 2005, unidentified gunmen kidnapped local journalist Hayatullah Khan in Mir Ali town in the lawless North Waziristan district near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Hayatullah was covering the politics of the troubled mountainous region for an Urdu-language daily Ausaf, English-language daily The Nation and was also working as a photographer for the European Press Photo Agency (EPA). He reported allegations that a suspected al Qaeda operative, Abu Hamza Rabia and four other people in the town of Asoray, including a seven-year-old boy, had been killed by a US missile attack, not an accidental explosion while making a bomb, as Pakistani officials had asserted.

Previously in his caree…

Save Lahore

“Other than many famous historical monuments, the city [Lahore] is also known for its beautiful gardens…,” says the official website of the City Government Lahore. The website should instead say that in the good old days, Lahore used to be know for its greenery and was called the “city of gardens”, but today many of its old parks and gardens are gone – even those that were a vital part of the city’s identity. For instance, the Circular Gardens that ran alongside the walled city were turned into a stormwater drain, but it actually serves as a stinking sewer. The leftover green patches of the garden provide a sleeping area for the homeless working class and it would be nothing short of an insult if these patches are called a ‘garden’. Successive governments in Lahore seem to have been sold on the idea that development and modernisation mean turning the city into a concrete jungle. Lahore has been taken over by commercial bedlam, which has destroyed the true essence of the city’s traditi…

Whither minority rights?

“And, finally, by claiming (again, without any warrant in Quran or Sunnah) that the shariah imposes on us the duty to discriminate [against non-Muslims], they make it impossible for [the non-Muslims] to bear with equanimity the thought that the country in which they live might become an Islamic state” — Muhammad Asad, author of The Road to Mecca.

Last month there were media reports that land grabbers had demolished a 500-year-old temple, Krishna Mandir, in Lahore. The Foreign Office moved swiftly to set the record straight that these reports were untrue. But the reason these reports were thought to be true was because many temples have been demolished in Pakistan over the years. This raises many a pertinent question about whether minority rights are protected in Pakistan or not.

A report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) issued last year noted that the trend of kidnapping girls of the minority [Hindu] communities and their forcible conversions was on the rise in Sindh. “…

Provincial harmony

Senator Salim Saifullah Khan called for maximum provincial autonomy while addressing a press conference at the Chief Minister’s House in Quetta on Sunday. Further, the provinces would be having inter-province coordination ministers to take up disputes amongst the federating units or with the Centre. The provincial governments have been asked to notify their respective ministers for this task. Punjab and Balochistan promptly responded to the directive, while Singh has notified Dr Sohrab, but NWFP has not yet notified its minister. The dialectics of the developing situation in Pakistan suggest that the country that started as a beacon of hope 59 years ago is now entrenched in darkness. Half of Pakistan was lost in 1971 due to inter-provincial disharmony. There are chances that if the federation continues with its current policies, history may well repeat itself.

In such a situation, while there may not be too much serious harm in the idea of having inter-province coordination ministers i…

An idea whose time…

S M Zafar, a senior lawmaker and member of the treasury benches in the Senate, severely criticised the government’s policies and called for opening up a debate on the defence budget in the House. He also emphasised the need for a grand national reconciliation between the civil and military leadership on the future of democracy. Zafar termed the 2007 elections crucial for the country and stressed the need for giving autonomy to the Election Commission. He also criticised the way the law enforcement agencies were secretly abducting citizens.

Whether it be the Charter of Democracy or Mr. S M Zafar, the idea of civilian control over the military has cut across the political divide. It is an idea whose time has come. The elemental forces in history have proved that an idea whose time has come will surely be realised – sooner or later. The track record of military-led regimes or direct military rule has all ended in major disasters. Ayub Khan’s 10-year rule laid the foundations for the separ…

The Pakistani dilemma

“I believe democracy to be of all forms of government the most natural, and the most consonant with individual liberty. In it no one transfers his natural rights so absolutely that he has no further voice in affairs, he only hands it over to the majority of a society, whereof he is a unit. Thus all men remain, as they were in the state of nature, equals” — Spinoza.

Ever since the day I was born, General Ziaul Haq has been the subject of debate in our family circles. Maybe it was because of my family’s interest in politics that his name kept popping up in every conversation, or maybe it was because everyone was so miserable during his rule that they had to bring up his name incessantly to curse him. In my mind’s eye, General Zia and cursing soon became synonymous. At that time I was too young to understand the reasons why people were against him, but I remember all too clearly that when he died, there were muted celebrations all around. Death is a sad occasion, but General Ziaul Haq’s d…

The farcical ‘freedom’

“The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure” — Thomas Jefferson.

President General Pervez Musharraf has on numerous occasions claimed that he firmly believes in the freedom of the press and that the media in Pakistan is completely free. With due respect, I would beg to differ with Mr. President as the situation on the ground says otherwise. In recent years, the opening of many new private FM radio stations and numerous independent television channels has been a good change for an information-starved country and the credit must be given where it is due — the media is relatively freer than it was during the past regimes, but even then the reality of press freedom is far from being ideal. The days of the ‘midnight knock’, open intimidation and complete censorship are over, yet some hangovers of the past regimes sti…