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Weapon of Mass Deception

Rehman Malik is in the news again. This time, too, for the wrong reasons. A petition has been filed against him for misuse of taxpayers' money during his recent trip to India while the Indian media is still perplexed at various statements made during the visit. India wanted the visa accord signed at the secretary level but Malik, realising this was a major confidence-building measure by Pakistan, wanted to flaunt it before the international community. Never one to miss a photo-op, he flew to India to sign the accord between the two countries.

Malik is possibly the most powerful minister in Pakistan right now. As interior minister, he has at his disposal the Intelligence Bureau (IB); the Rangers, the biggest paramilitary force after the army; and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which he once headed. He is Pakistan's most colourful character; somebody everyone loves to hate. Some hate him because he has clawed his way to the top while others hate him because he is rich. …

Hitting rock bottom

It seems that there is no respect for human life anymore in Pakistan. Sister Bargeeta Almby, a 70-year-old Swedish charity worker who spent four decades in Pakistan, was shot in Lahore earlier this month. She passed away a few days later. Even in times of war, women, children and older citizens are spared. Not so in the ‘land of the pure’. Over here, terrorists are free to kill and maim whosoever they want to while the government shirks away from its responsibility to protect its citizens, religious minorities, ethnic minorities, aid workers and countless others. Shias, Ahmadis, Hindus, Christians, foreign and local aid workers, health workers, ordinary citizens – nobody is safe. Everyone is a target; some more so than others. The culprits are hardly ever caught and punished. A culture of impunity prevails, leading to more threats, more murders, more fear.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), only three countries remain polio-endemic in 2012: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Paki…

The living dead

William Butler Yeats said: “Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds, you open the way for every kind of intolerance and religious persecution.” These wise words were certainly not heeded by Pakistan’s rulers.

In 1974, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government declared the Ahmadis ‘non-Muslims’ under the Constitution of Pakistan. General Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorial regime made it even worse for Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community when it promulgated the draconian Ordinance XX, which restricts religious freedom of the Ahmadis. The Ahmadiyya community has suffered at the hands of religious extremists for decades now due to successive governments’ (both civilian and military) criminal apathy. Mr Bhutto and his government made a criminal mistake by passing the Second Amendment; what makes it even worse is the fact that no government has had the guts to repeal it. Nobody dares (or cares).

In 2010, terrorists carried out simultaneous attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore. More than 90 Ahmadis w…

The plight of Pakistani Shias

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. It is also the month when Muslims, especially Shia Muslims, mourn the death of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) grandson Hazrat Imam Hussein and members of his family during the battle of Karbala. The followers of Saudi Wahabiism are historically anti-Shia. With Saudi brand of Wahabiism spreading in Pakistan through Saudi-funded seminaries and the resultant Arabisation of Pakistani society, Shia lives are in grave danger. This year alone, hundreds of Shias have been target-killed. Pakistani Shias are facing the wrath of local Yazids, turning the country into another Karbala for Imam Hussein’s followers.

The holy month of Muharram has already seen targeted attacks against the Shia community. On November 21, the Shia community was targeted in Karachi and Rawalpindi. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attacks and threatened that in the days to come, more such attacks will follow. Shias are bearing the brunt of…

Fear won’t silence us

On November 2, there was an attack on two of my very dear friends: Marvi Sirmed and her husband Sirmed Manzoor. Bullets were fired at their car when they were on their way home but thankfully they were not hurt. So far no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. It seems as if this was more of a scare tactic than an assassination attempt. Such attacks take place as a ‘warning shot’ to send a clear message: we can kill you whenever we want to. So back down now or else you will not get a second chance.

Marvi works as a democratic-governance professional but she is also a human rights activist and columnist while Sirmed is a journalist and the Secretary-General of South Asian Free Media Association’s (SAFMA’s) Pakistan chapter. Marvi is a very vocal supporter of a democratic, liberal, secular and pluralistic Pakistan. She has had threats from several quarters, be it the military establishment, militant organisations or extremists. Marvi believes that this attack was not just aimed…

Abdicating responsibility

“Dartey hain bandooqon waalay ek nehatti larki se,
Phailay hain himmat ke ujaalay ek nehatti larki se.”

When I first heard about the brutal attack on Malala Yousufzai, these lines from a poem by Habib Jalib haunted me. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) took responsibility for shooting this young girl. Their justification for shooting an unarmed child: Malala was “pro-west”, “promoting western culture in Pashtun areas” and “speaking against the Taliban”. It should come as no surprise that an unarmed, harmless young girl is capable of terrifying monsters who are armed to their teeth. What terrified these monsters was a young girl who could read and write, who could speak up for her rights, who could raise her voice for girls’ right to education, who denounced violence in the name of religion, who could call out the Taliban’s bluff. It should put to shame our military, those politicians, those journalists and hundreds of thousands of those Pakistanis who are terrified of saying anything…

The shape of things to come

Last Friday was a public holiday in Pakistan – a government-declared ‘Youm-e-Ishq-e-Rasool’ so that the people of Pakistan could show their love for Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and ‘peacefully’ protest against the anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims. Cellular services were suspended in 15 cities for a few hours to somehow ‘protect’ the citizens. YouTube is still blocked in the country so that people don’t get riled up by watching the blasphemous film’s trailer. Despite all these so-called ‘protective measures’, Pakistanis demonstrated their ‘love’ for the Prophet (PBUH) by torching vehicles, damaging private property, looting, burning several cinemas across the country and a church in Mardan.

While at least 23 Pakistanis lost their lives during the violent protests on Friday and hundreds others were injured, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira proudly stated that ours was the only country that protested against the film at the state level. Mr Kaira belon…

Future of Indo-Pak narrative

India’s External Affairs Minister S M Krishna recently visited Pakistan to meet with his Pakistani counterpart Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. The atmosphere was indeed relaxed during the joint press conference and fortunately there were no visible tensions between the two dignitaries as was the case in the recent past (read Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s ‘more loyal than the king’ overtures two years ago when Mr Krishna visited Pakistan).

Foreign Minister Khar managed to steal the show as some Indian journalists covering the press conference noted. Ms Khar reiterated the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP’s) commitment to peace with our neighbours, especially India and Afghanistan – two nations with whom Pakistan has had a difficult relationship. Ms Khar talked about lost opportunities in case of Indo-Pak relations and gave the recent example of the Gyari tragedy in Siachen. Pakistan is sending a message that the country is willing to move ahead “without being held hostage to past positions”…

Something worth fighting for

“There are many Mumtaz Qadris in this country and we will support them.” Chilling but true words. There are indeed many more Mumtaz Qadris in Pakistan who are willing to kill anyone and everyone who has merely been accused of committing blasphemy and/or supporting an alleged blasphemer. These threatening words were spoken by none other than a lawyer representing those who have accused Rimsha Masih, a minor Christian girl with Down’s syndrome, of committing blasphemy. Who in their right mind would accuse a minor girl with a disability of committing a crime? As the lawyer reminded us, there is no dearth of fanatics in our country.

For a change, Pakistan’s Islamic leaders have come out in support of a blasphemy accused. “The chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council warned that the ‘law of the jungle’ was gripping Pakistan, with police routinely pressured by baying mobs to register blasphemy charges … Among the other unlikely Islamist groups rallying round Rimsha is Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, w…

Another wake-up call?

PAF Minhas airbase at Kamra, one of Pakistan’s most important military airbases, was attacked by terrorists around 2am yesterday. After almost five hours of fierce fighting, the military commandos were able to kill all nine terrorists. One Pakistani soldier was martyred and many others injured. It is beyond comprehension how these terrorists – armed with suicide vests, grenades and automatic weapons were able to enter a high security zone with such ease despite intelligence reports suggesting that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was planning an attack on s PAF base before Eid. According to a report published in The Express Tribune on August 10: “TTP is planning attacks on the Pakistan Air Force Base and other military and security establishments in Lahore before Eid…Another [report] stated that a team[…]was also planning terrorist attacks towards the end of Ramzan. Their main target was likely to be the PAF base, or other security establishments like the offices of the Inter-Servi…

Our suffocating airwaves

In its annual report on international religious freedom, the US State Department painted a bleak – but true – picture of how religious freedom in Pakistan is deteriorating. The report says: “Violence against religious minorities and between Muslim sects continued. While a small number of persons were involved in violent attacks, discriminatory laws and lack of reform of these laws, the teaching of religious intolerance, and the lack of police protection of minorities and prosecution of perpetrators created a permissive environment for such attacks … Forced and coerced conversions of religious minorities to Islam occurred at the hands of societal actors. Media, particularly the vernacular press, published derogatory reports of minorities.”

The intolerant role played by both the Pakistani state and society is indeed shameful. Add to it the media’s race for ratings and it becomes a combustible mix. Recently, a private television channel (ARY Digital) aired a Ramazan transmission where a …

Resumption of Indo-Pak cricket ties

When I first heard about the resumption of cricket ties between India and Pakistan, I was ecstatic. Plans were made with my Pakistani friends to go to India in December-January to watch the upcoming Indo-Pak series (three ODIs and two T20s). For a Pakistani cricket fan, this was a wonderful piece of news but for some Indians, it was simply unacceptable.

On July 17, this newspaper [MiD DAY] carried a hard-hitting editorial titled: ‘It can’t just be fun and games with Pakistan’. It was written, “India suspended all cricketing ties with Pakistan following the horrific attack by Pakistan-trained terrorists on November 26, 2008 across various, carefully chosen targets in Mumbai. The attack claimed 169 lives, and India should never forget that … Even if India and Pakistan would want to restart playing against each other (and it is indeed a noble sporting cause), the symbolism of suspended ties cannot be discounted.”

MiD DAY is not alone in voicing this criticism. Many Indian twitterati have…

General Zia’s legacy

July 5, 1977, will be remembered as the darkest day in Pakistan’s history. General Zia-ul-Haq overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto through a coup d'état and imposed martial law in Pakistan. He announced that new elections would be held soon but, as we all know, military dictators are not to be trusted. For the next 11 years, General Zia tormented the people of Pakistan through his brutal rule.

Public floggings were held to put fear in the hearts of the dissident voices. Political opponents were jailed and brutally tortured. Religious zealots were let loose on the public. Sectarianism flourished. As a consequence of the Afghan jihad, violence was glorified in the name of Islam. Draconian laws such as the blasphemy laws and Hudood Ordinances were introduced. The Ahmadiyya community, having already been declared non-Muslims in 1974, were further ostracised from society by the promulgation of Ordinance XX. Weaponisation of society, glo…

Political circus in Pakistan

Today (June 22, 2012), a new prime minister will be elected in Pakistan. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) fielded Makhdoom Shahabuddin as its frontrunner for the new premier’s post but a non-bailable arrest warrant was issued yesterday by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) in the ephedrine quota case. Issuing non-bailable arrest warrants the day Mr Shahabuddin filed his nomination papers for the PM’s post cannot just be a coincidence. To be on the safe side, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Qamar Zaman Kaira of the PPP have also filed their papers.

To say that there is never a dull moment in Pakistan would not be wrong. This week was yet another example of tragic comedy. It would have been funny had it not been tragic the way the courts and other unelected forces are gunning for the democratic system. Just four days ago, we had Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani as our prime minister but on June 19, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared that he was disqualified with effect from April 26 (when he was convict…

Pakistan SC unseats PM Gilani

The supreme court (SC) of Pakistan on Tuesday disqualified the country’s prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani from office wef April 26.

There is no imminent threat to the government as the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) enjoys a majority in parliament.

Pakistan, however, could be heading for a constitutional crisis if the government decides not to accept the verdict.

Gilani had maintained that Zardari, as Pakistan’s president, enjoyed immunity from prosecution and so, had refused to reopen several corruption cases against him as directed by the SC. He had been found guilty of contempt on April 26 this year.

Speaker of the National Assembly Fehmida Mirza had earlier ruled that the prime minister could not be disqualified only because he had been convicted for contempt of the SC.

“The court’s verdict is a challenge to parliament. The judgment will be placed before parliament and the government will then decide what to do,” said Fawad Chaudhry, special assis…

We, the intolerant

My last column in Mid-Day was about the rights (or lack thereof) of minorities in Pakistan. This week I planned on writing on a different topic but reading these chilling lines from I. A. Rehman’s column titled ‘Patterns of intolerance’ in Dawn made me revisit the topic: “A young non-Muslim woman has been living in Lahore for quite some time. A few weeks ago she married an American citizen — a crime her neighbours apparently did not forgive. A group of hotheads raided her home at night early this month and on their inability to break into the house they damaged the car parked in the porch and pasted a notice on it: ‘kalima parh lo warna’ (convert to Islam or else).”

I happen to know this young woman personally. She is one of the kindest, hard-working and honest people I know. Just because she happens to come from a religious minority community and decided to marry an American citizen when anti-American sentiment is at an all-time high in Pakistan does not give anyone the right to van…

Indifference and complicity

The case of Rinkle Kumari, a Pakistani-Hindu woman, opened our eyes to the plight of the Hindu community in Pakistan. It is not as if we were not aware of forced conversions before but Rinkle’s case highlighted how complicit the state is in oppressing religious minorities in our country. Recently, the police got Quranic verses removed from the walls of an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore so that it does not ‘look’ like a mosque because the Ahmadis were declared ‘non-Muslims’ by the state of Pakistan in 1974 and when General Ziaul Haq came to power, he introduced the draconian Ordinance XX so that they were not allowed to freely practice their faith. On May 28, 2010, two Ahmadi mosques were attacked in Lahore during Friday prayers. More than 80 people died and over a hundred were injured during those deadly attacks. The Ahmadiyya community lives in constant fear due to the complicity of the state. They are not the only ones. Christians in Pakistan are discriminated against and have faced persec…

30 seconds…

On April 26, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani was “found guilty of and convicted for contempt of court” till the rising of the court by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. As it turned out, the ‘imprisonment’ lasted only for 30 seconds but history was made in that short period: for the first time in Pakistan’s history, a sitting prime minister has been convicted. The legal aspects of the Supreme Court judgement are quite complex as was evident from the various interpretations that were being dished out on our television screens. That the court mentioned Article 63(1)(g) in its short order led many to speculate about the prime minister’s disqualification as a member of parliament. It said: “…We note that the findings and the conviction for contempt of court […] are likely to entail some serious consequences in terms of Article 63(1)(g) of the Constitution which may be treated as mitigating factors towards the sentence to be passed against him [PM Gilani].”

Article 63(1)(g),…

Importance of President Zardari’s Ajmer yatra

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari visited India on April 8. The visit was a ‘private’ one as he wanted to pay homage at the Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to host a lunch in Delhi for the Pakistani president and his delegation as a goodwill gesture before they departed for Ajmer. The media spotlight was on the visiting dignitaries from across the border and fortunately there was no controversy as such. Apart from some dissenting voices from Pakistani and Indian ‘realists’ and/or ‘hawks’, most people welcomed President Zardari’s decision to visit India and PM Singh’s lunch invitation. The naysayers would like us to believe that such visits are of no import. With all due respect, this is not true in the case of Indo-Pak relations. Even a private visit of a Pakistani head of state to India (and vice versa) is of grave importance for both countries.

Partition is a reality and the scars of the Indian subcontinent’s blood…

‘Divine’ suo motus

The other day, a news item caught the attention of many people on the social media. Maulana Abdul Aziz, famous for running away from Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) clad in a burqa back in 2007 to avoid being caught by the security forces, warned the Chief Justice of Pakistan to enforce shariah in the country through a suo motu notice, “otherwise Allah will take suo motu action against the system”. Maulana Aziz is not the first one to ask for ‘shariah system’ in Pakistan. It all started when the rulers of our country ceded space to the right-wing forces. After the creation of Pakistan, the politico-religious parties that had opposed the very idea of a new Muslim state then started projecting themselves as the rightful custodians of the infant state. The induction of the Objectives Resolution in 1949 in the constitution laid the foundation for religious forces to intervene in state affairs.

“The ulema (religious scholars), many of whom had opposed the Pakistan Movement tooth and nail (and some…

Left: the missing link in Pak politics

Today, Pakistan is battling one crisis after another. Most of these problems are linked with the civil-military imbalance and our warped national security paradigm. One of the biggest threats to our social fabric is religious extremism. The partition of the Indian subcontinent took place for many reasons but from the day Pakistan came into being, the ‘religion’ card has been used as if it was the raison d'être for our country’s existence. The military and the ruling elite have used religion to further their interests. The tragedy of Pakistan is that our political spectrum is heavily tilted towards the Right. Left politics is sadly missing.

When Pakistan came into being, the Left faced the worst possible adversity due to its ideals and beliefs, which were in stark contrast with that of the feudals, Islamists and the ruling elite (military, bureaucracy and the political class). The leftists were perceived as a grave threat to the overall subservient-to-imperialism culture prevalent …

Murderers running amok

“Without tolerance, our world turns into hell” — Friedrich Durrenmatt.

A year ago on this day (March 2), Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated. His assassination took place less than two months after Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer was shot dead by his bodyguard. Both of them were ardent supporters of minority rights. Both of them were vocal about the country’s archaic blasphemy laws. Both of them received death threats as a result. These threats were as real in Mr Bhatti’s case as they were in Mr Taseer’s. But both men were principled and fearless. In the end, both of them met the same fate. They were assassinated by fanatic butchers.

In an interview with the BBC after Mr Taseer’s assassination, Shahbaz Bhatti said, “I was told that if I was to continue the campaign against the blasphemy law, I will be assassinated. I will be beheaded. But forces of violence, forces of extremism cannot harass me, cannot threaten me.” The debate on blasphemy laws slowly died d…

Mourning Shahbaz Bhatti

March 2, 2011, will be remembered as a dark day in the history of Pakistan, especially with regards to minority rights. Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in broad daylight in Islamabad. His assassins escaped. Mr Bhatti was killed within two months of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer’s assassination. Mr Taseer was also killed in Islamabad. They were both killed because they dared to raise their voice for a poor Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who is still rotting away in a Pakistani prison, fearing for her life. Mr Taseer and Mr Bhatti were critical of the country’s man-made blasphemy laws as these laws are misused to target minorities and even Muslims as a cover for personal and/or property/financial disputes. The debate on the blasphemy laws may have died after two of the most high profile assassinations in a span of two months but has the government given up on catching the killers of Mr Bhatti? In December 2011, Interior Minister Rehman Malik revealed that …

Setting a good precedent

In a written reply to the Supreme Court regarding the 11 missing prisoners, the ISI and MI chiefs wrote, “They (the spy agencies) chase and hound those who play into the hands of the enemies of our dearest homeland.” ‘Hound’ they do, not even those who are the ‘enemies’ of this country but countless others who are innocent but are penalised by the spy agencies for dissenting views. It seems that our intelligence agencies are above the law. It would not be wrong to ask then, what exactly is the mandate of the spy agencies? The ISI was created as an internal intelligence agency for the armed forces to ensure that there was no breach of national security within the military. Instead, thanks to Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and later the Afghan jihad, the ISI’s mandate was somehow changed. In the 80s, due to the very nature of covert operations, ISI officers were allowed to function autonomously. Thus, the ISI came to be seen as a ‘state within a state’. Later, especially during Musharraf’s era,…

Balochistan: waiting for closure

“Maye sah inth Balochistan, maye jaan inth Balochistan,
Maye zind-e-hamok dard-o-darmaan inth Balochistan.
Percha man naban bandeeg, percha man naban koleeg,
k zahr-en-teer ani dhem paan inth Balochistan” — G R Mulla.

(Balochistan is my heart, my soul,
A cure for all conceivable pains of life.
Why should I not sacrifice,
Or hesitate to suffer indignities of confinement,
When my motherland is facing poisonous bullets.)

Balochistan: a land so beautiful and a people so brave. A land full of hope, a people inspired. But today the soil of Balochistan is soaked with the blood of its children, its mountains reverberate with the harrowing wails of its women, its air haunted by the distraught cries of the older men, its plains full of orphans. The culprit is none other than the Pakistani military. One shudders at the thought of the bloody massacre being carried out in Balochistan by the same military that is supposed to protect its citizens.

No wonder the Baloch are asking for freedom. No won…