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Showing posts from January, 2011

Political bigotry

Thousands of followers of the religious and right wing parties gathered in Lahore to warn the government not to amend the blasphemy laws. The religious parties included the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Tehrik-e-Millat-e-Jafariya, banned militant outfit Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) among others, while the PML-N, PML-Q, PML-Z, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) were the centre-right parties present.

Just last month there was a large congregation of the extreme right in Karachi under the same banner, demanding the same thing – no amendment or repeal of the blasphemy laws. The rally in Lahore was almost as ‘successful’, but certain dimensions of this rally make it more significant. The extreme right managed to bring on board the centre-right political forces. Equally important is the fact that a Shia organisation decided to join them despite the fact that Sunni sectarian extremists have been involved in massacring Shias over the decades. The bigotry of the Deobandis came …

Polarisation and a threatened future

It was a sad day in parliamentary history when some senators refused to offer fateha (prayer for the dead) for the soul of late Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. Senators of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) not only refused to offer fateha, some of them even walked out of the Senate. What came as the biggest surprise was the refusal of Senator Abdul Khaliq Pirzada of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). The MQM is one of the first parties to have called Mr Taseer a ‘shaheed’ (martyr) and condemned his brutal assassination. The MQM also supports a liberal democracy instead of a theocratic state. Though the MQM has distanced itself from Senator Pirzada’s refusal, calling it an individual act, it is still shameful that a senator of a secular political party has chosen to defy his party line. It shows how bigoted even some of our ‘representatives’ are.

On the other hand, Pakistan Ulema Council Chairman Allama Tahir Ashrafi told a private television channel that…

Rights violations in Pakistan

In its World Report 2011, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the security situation in Pakistan “continued to deteriorate in 2010 with militant groups carrying out suicide bombings and targeted killings across the country”. The HRW report shed light on some very important aspects like counterterrorism, human rights violations by our security forces in conflict areas, mistreatment of minorities, media freedom, judiciary and legal reforms. Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at the HRW, said that “Taliban atrocities are not happening in a vacuum, but instead often with covert support from elements in the intelligence services and law enforcement agencies”. This comes across as another damning indictment of our security establishment, which is protecting certain factions of militants, despite its campaign against terrorism. The local Taliban have wreaked havoc in the country. Thus, if some elements in our law enforcement agencies are indeed complicit in giving support to the Ta…

Justice for all

Lieutenant-General P K Rath, a serving Indian general, was convicted in a court martial for Sukna land scam on Friday. His service seniority was reduced by 15 years in terms of pensionary benefits and two year loss of seniority. He was found guilty of issuing a no-objection certificate (NoC), signing an illegal memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a realtor and hiding the deal from his superiors. Rath is the senior-most serving army officer in India to have been convicted. The conviction of a senior army officer in India should serve as a wake-up call for Pakistan. We should emulate their example.

Both India and Pakistan got their independence in the same month, same year, yet the way these two countries progressed is completely different. India is the world’s largest democracy. On the other hand, Pakistan has been juggling between military rules and inefficient democracies all these years. Even now, it continues to remain under the khaki shadows despite the fact that a democratic s…

‘Rightsizing’ the federal cabinet

Federal Law Minister Babar Awan announced on Saturday the government’s decision to ‘rightsize’ the federal cabinet given the financial and political crises. Some reports indicate that after Mr Awan’s announcement, many ministers got worried and started lobbying in order to save their positions. It remains to be seen which ministers will be asked to leave the cabinet. On Sunday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said that it has been finalised that changes and cuts in the federal cabinet will take place as per the 18th Amendment but these changes will be implemented after consulting party members and PPP’s coalition partners. The Ministry for Local Government and Rural Development, Ministry of Youth Affairs, Ministry of Zakat and Ushr, Ministry for Population Welfare and Ministry for Special Affairs were the five federal ministries that had already been transferred to the provinces last year. Five more ministries will be devolved by the end of February in the second phase while eight m…

The January 4 movement

“So Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame has been chosen for Time magazine man of the Year. Hmm. Guess I’ll have to wait till next year,” wrote (late) Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer last month on Twitter. Little did he know that he was going to become Pakistan’s ‘man of the year’ in 2011.

On January 4, 2011, Salmaan Taseer was martyred in Islamabad. The details of Mr Taseer’s gruesome assassination have been all over the media. Shot 27 times by one of the police commandos assigned to protect his life while the other policemen stood by silently, Pakistan lost Mr Taseer to religious bigotry. In the aftermath of January 4, we saw myriads of reactions: shock, horror, depression, anger, desperation, frustration, and fear. But these reactions were from people who condemned Shaheed Salmaan Taseer’s murder. On the other side of the spectrum we witnessed another set of reactions: apathy, glee, exhilaration, jubilation, and victory. These were the reactions of all those who not only condoned Mr Tas…

Karachi operation

The law and order situation in Karachi has been deteriorating with every passing day. More than 37 people have lost their lives during the recent spell of targeted killings. In view of the increased violence, around a thousand security personnel launched a house-to-house search operation in Orangi Town, detaining more than 300 people. A large cache of weapons was seized by the paramilitary troops. The search operation was reportedly the result of the information gathered from those who were arrested earlier. The Sindh government has decided to launch a selective operation in some 120 localities in Karachi. It is almost impossible to have a citywide operation in the metropolis as it is the largest and most densely populated city in Pakistan. As a piecemeal operation, the Orangi Town effort was carried out while declaring that more such operations will take place systematically. Thereby, the government may have inadvertently alerted the elements involved in target killings and other suc…

Infanticide: back to the Dark Ages

It is an unfortunate tragedy when infants, mere babes, are killed and thrown away. According to the Edhi Foundation, the number of dead infants found in 2010 was 1,210 in comparison to 999 in 2009 and 890 in 2008. And these are just conservative estimates from the main cities of Pakistan. Infanticide in the rural areas is much higher than in the urban areas. Most of the infants killed or abandoned to die are girls. The reasons for infanticide are mostly due to the children being born out of wedlock. As far as killing the girl-child is concerned, our patriarchal system is responsible.

Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife Bilquis Edhi have started a programme under which they are encouraging people not to kill innocent babies but to leave them at the Edhi Foundation. “Do not murder, lay them here,” reads a sign hanging outside the Foundation’s Karachi base where it has left cradles so that people can leave the newborns there. This wonderful gesture by the Edhis shows their deepest humanitari…

Ethnic strife in Karachi

More than two dozen people have died in another spate of target killings in the country’s economic hub Karachi. A partial curfew was imposed in selected areas of the metropolis after Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik met top provincial officers there. It was decided to increase the presence of police and rangers in Karachi’s “sensitive and grey areas”. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) will also be involved apart from commandos who will be dropped from helicopters to conduct raids in the troubled areas during daytime surveillance. The law and order situation in Karachi has been deteriorating for many months now despite the efforts of security agencies to normalise it.

Whenever ethnic strife in Karachi increases, Mr Malik makes it a point to visit the city and try to calm the situation. Even though law and order is a provincial subject, Karachi’s importance to the country may be the reason why the federal interior minister is also seen coordinating with the provincial law and…

Pak-US: bridging the trust divide

President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington to attend the memorial service of US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. At the service, US President Obama said, “Richard is gone now, but we carry with us his thirst to know, to grasp and heal the world around us.” Mr Holbrooke was a great advocate of Pak-US friendship and was of the view that for a viable solution in Afghanistan, the US would have to bring Pakistan on board. As Britain’s former foreign secretary, David Miliband, wrote: “The key [to success in Afghanistan] is, and always has been, a political settlement that can make withdrawal possible on terms that protect regional and global interests. Holbrooke is gone, but we must learn his lessons.”

Apart from attending Mr Holbrooke’s memorial service, President Zardari held a meeting with President Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. According to Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, Mr Obama and Ms Clinton assured Mr Zardari that …

Tunisia: end of an autocracy

It was indeed a historic moment when Tunisia’s authoritarian ruler, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, had to flee his country after weeks of protests against the government. Mr Ali has now taken refuge in Saudi Arabia, a country where an autocratic monarchy is in power. President Zine al-Abidine had been in power since 1987 after assuming office through a coup. For 23 years, he kept getting re-elected with astounding numbers, as is the case with most authoritarian dictators. It all began when 26-year old Mohamed Bouazizi, who is now being hailed as the “Father of the Tunisian Revolution”, set himself on fire at a public square on December 17, 2010. He was an unemployed graduate who became a street vendor to support his family. When the Tunis authorities barred him from selling fruits and vegetables because he did not have a licence, he resorted to self-immolation in desperation. Mr Bouazizi became a symbol of resistance in Tunisia. Reportedly, marchers at his funeral chanted: “Farewe…

Blasphemy laws: another angle

The blasphemy laws are in the limelight once again. An imam and his son have been jailed for life on blasphemy charges by a court in Muzaffargarh. Muhammad Shafi, the 45-year-old imam, and his 20-year-old son Muhammad Aslam were arrested last year in April for removing a poster that contained Quranic verses from outside their grocery shop. It has been alleged that the poster, commemorating the anniversary of Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) birth, was pulled down by the pair who then “tore it and trampled it under their feet”. The imam and his son deny these charges and their defence counsel is of the opinion that “the case is the result of differences between Deobandi and Barelvi sects of Sunni Muslims”. This case brings to light the fact that not only is the blasphemy law used to target religious minorities, it also lends itself to sectarian angles. Sectarianism is not just limited to the Sunnis versus the Shias; there are many Sunni sub-sects who have their own differences with one anothe…

For the love of sanity

Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari paid a beautiful tribute to Mr Salmaan Taseer at a memorial service held for the martyred governor at the Pakistan High Commission in London. He started his message by quoting a hadith of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that said, “Beware! If anyone dare oppress a member of a minority or has usurped his or her rights, or tortured, or took away something forcibly, I will fight on behalf of the minority against the Muslim on the Day of Judgement.” Bilawal vowed that the PPP will defend all minority communities in Pakistan and anyone wishing to harm them “will have to go through me first”. He called Mr Taseer “one of the few heroic politicians left in the ever-depleting pool of brave Pakistani politicians” who laid down his life for justice and humanity. Bilawal’s strong public stand for the rights of minorities should send a clear message to all those who think they can continue to suppress them in the name of Islam.

The Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) on Sunday…

Speak to survive

“Covered in the righteous cloak of religion and even a puny dwarf imagines himself a monster. Important to face. And call their bluff,” is what Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer tweeted last month. He called their bluff but had to pay a heavy price for that. On January 4, 2011, Governor Taseer was gunned down by one of the police guards assigned to ‘protect’ his life. Mumtaz Qadri fired 27 bullets at the governor and then surrendered himself to the police. Reports indicate that Qadri had shared his plan to murder Mr Taseer with some of his colleagues. He had requested them not to fire at him while he killed Taseer; a request that was honoured. Not a single shot was fired at Qadri by the security staff on duty that day with Governor Taseer. He killed the sitting governor of Punjab because Mr Taseer had said that the Blasphemy Law was a “black law”.

It all began in November 2010 when Mr Taseer paid a visit to Aasia Bibi in jail. Aasia, a Christian woman, was sentenced to death by a lower c…

Madness in the 'land of the pure'

A large group of civil society activists have lodged a complaint against Sultan Mosque cleric Munir Ahmed Shakir at the Darakhshan Police Station in Karachi. The said cleric issued a fatwa (edict) against PPP parliamentarian, Sherry Rehman, because she tabled a bill to amend the flawed blasphemy laws. The complainants said that the cleric’s fatwa will provoke people’s sentiments and incite violence. There is a serious threat to Ms Rehman’s life following the recent furore over the issue of blasphemy laws. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer lost his life at the hands of a religious zealot because the governor took up a principled stand against the misuse of the blasphemy laws. Following Governor Taseer’s assassination, the threat to Ms Rehman is now more real and palpable. What is worse is that Interior Minister Rehman Malik told her to leave the country for the time being due to the security threat. Ms Rehman has refused to leave Pakistan. It is a matter of great shame that instead of pro…

Financial reforms

US Ambassador Cameron Munter’s candid talk about why the US is being tough on Pakistan to implement financial reforms has ruffled some feathers in Pakistan. Ambassador Munter said that the US appears to be “intrusive because we care, we are the largest donor. Our aid comes as outright grant of assistance which is different from loans”. The US envoy was only stating the truth; something that we in Pakistan try to sweep under the carpet and instead blame the US for meddling too much. The truth is that Pakistan is a dependent economy and the Americans are our largest donors. Most of our politicians and the right-wing lobbies keep giving voice to anti-Americanism but do not acknowledge how much the US has helped Pakistan financially and militarily.

The PPP-led coalition government is a weak one. In order to please its allies, it had to reverse its decision of an increase in petrol prices. The US called this reversal “a mistake”. The government has still not been able to develop a consens…

Justice for Taseer

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murder trial has not yet begun but the way the supporters of his killer, Mumtaz Qadri, are trying to intimidate the judiciary as well as the legal fraternity is a cause for worry. On Thursday, Qadri was supposed to be presented before a judge at a temporary court set up in Islamabad instead of the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Rawalpindi, ostensibly due to security concerns. Qadri was taken to Islamabad but after a few hours he had to be taken back to Rawalpindi because ATC Judge Malik Akram Awan cited some legal bindings that “did not allow the judge to hold the ATC anywhere else but its designated courtroom”. The fact that Justice Awan had previously agreed to hear the case in Islamabad means that there were sound legal grounds and the legal bindings that he later cited were only to paper over the real reasons for his decision. Apparently the hooligans and the lawyers who support Qadri created quite a ruckus by surrounding the ATC and preventing the …

The courage of Taseer

Pakistan was still reeling from the shock of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer’s assassination when his murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, revealed that he had informed his colleagues about the murder plot. Qadri said that he had asked them to let him finish his ‘job’ and then arrest him alive. An FIR against Qadri was lodged by the governor’s son, Mr Shehryar Taseer, wherein it was stated that some political and religious groups were giving threats to the governor and should be held responsible for his murder. A one day remand of Qadri has been granted. There are speculations that more than one magazine of bullets were fired on Governor Taseer. The post-mortem report is not being made public for the time being due to investigative concerns. It seems that the security staff was complicit in Mr Taseer’s murder, which is why there was no response from any one of them. The implications of such a huge security lapse are grave. How could no one possibly find out about Qadri’s plan to assassinate a sitti…

Precarious survival

If the PPP government thought that 2010 was a tough year, 2011 is proving to be even worse. On January 1, petroleum prices were increased. The public was aghast. On January 2, the MQM dropped another bombshell, this time for the government instead of the public. The MQM decided to withdraw from the coalition government at the federal level and sit on the opposition benches. On December 27, 2010, the MQM’s two ministers left the federal cabinet. Within a week, the MQM has made two important decisions but the third and the most important one, i.e. the Sindh coalition government, does not seem to be forthcoming so far. With the JUI-F’s announcement of quitting the coalition government at the Centre and now the MQM’s pullout, the PPP is officially a minority government. Theoretically, a minority government can continue in power but there are obvious disadvantages that such a government faces.

Prime Minister Gilani said that he does not “see any crisis” after the MQM’s withdrawal. Mr Gila…

Fanaticism in the Muslim world

A suicide bombing at a church in Egypt killed 21 people and wounded 79 on New Year’s Day. According to Time magazine, “for months, al Qaeda militants in Iraq have called repeatedly for attacks on Christians – in retaliation, they say, for the alleged kidnapping and detention by Egypt’s Coptic church of two Christian women who are believed to have converted to Islam”. The Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate, had previously taken responsibility for a church attack in Baghdad.

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak urged interfaith harmony and asked the Muslims and Christians of Egypt to put up a united front. The Egyptian government and media warned that a civil war may break out in the country. The Christian population makes up around 10 percent of the 80 million people in Egypt and have complained about discrimination often. Now that a suicide bomber has targeted a religious minority in Egypt, there are fears of sectarian/religious riots. The terrorists aim at destabilising re…

2010: a year of turmoil

The year 2010 was a mixed bag for Pakistan. There were some positive aspects, but mostly the year was one of sorrow and pain. Pakistan faced political turmoil, economic woes and terrorism. The positives of 2010 included the 18th Amendment and the NFC Award, both of which empowered the provinces. The passage of the 19th Amendment with consensus averted an executive-judiciary clash. Renowned human rights activist Asma Jahangir’s victory in the SCBA presidential elections raised hopes that the judiciary will maintain its independence but will not destabilise the democratic process. It remains to be seen what 2011 has in store for the country, but a recap of events in 2010 might shed some light on the shape of things to come.

It is quite interesting to note that on the first day of last year, Daily Times carried a headline: “‘N’ not a friendly opposition: Zardari” (January 1, 2010) and on December 31, 2010, the headline read: ‘PML-N won’t support PPP govt: Nawaz’. Coming full circle, are …