Murder report – when the law fails to protect the minorities

August 7, 2014

Area 14/8

imagePakistan, a state built for Muslims but very much inclusive of other ‘minorities’ has on many occasions breached this notion which has led to the society now becoming increasingly intolerant of the ethno and religio-ethnic minorities present within Pakistan. News have been infiltrated with the wave of Shi’i genocides of the Hazara in Baluchistan, Shi’i targeted killings in Karachi and Lahore and now, incidents which are not alien to the past, the killings of the Ahmediyya community.

Pakistan’s ascension to the UN perpetrated the fact that it would adhere to the components laid out by the UN charter. It empowered a commitment to the UN’s human rights charter which suggests clearly the inclusion of the minorities in this present day of affairs and condemns the persecution carried against them. The Ahmeddiyah community set as an outcast during Bhutto’s time through a unanimous decision by the grand Mufti of Saudi who declared them as non-Muslim all together, faces condemnation and persecution frequently. Though they might not coincide with the general school of Sunni belief embedded in the form of a majority in Pakistan’s own soil, many forget the humanized element of their existence and are quick to accuse them of treachery and blasphemy as portrayed in the recent case in Gujranwala.

Three members of the same family were killed as an angry mob set alight their house in Arafat Colony. The mob hastened to committing the act when a young man namely Saqib allegedly posted something which was rendered blasphemous, on Facebook. With this crime being committed so openly, the Pakistan government and now Pakistanis as well, have been turning a blind eye to the massacre being carried out by the locals. This incident can be critically evaluated from many angles. The first and foremost being, that the reason why the angry mob was quick to jump to murder is from the historical concept of Ahmedi’s breaking away from the mainstream Muslim shaft which ultimately led to the declaration of them being outcasts from Islam. So naturally, incidents like that further cements them as outcasts to which the masses respond so violently and violate all sorts of racial abuse laws laid down by the UN which Pakistan has committed to adhering by.

Not only that, another question that then arises is, that; is our lack of tolerance to a people that have grown historically and do still exist now, lead us to create further divisions in the society? Are we then that quick enough to be ‘otherizing’ the masses present rather than embracing the diversity? The events that have occurred have suggested exactly the same and the murders that were committed have been poorly reported by the media.

Blasphemy laws, an area which has been criticized by ‘liberals’ in the country who have either been threatened later or seen their ultimate demise, is still put into question after incidents such as killing of innocents who weren’t even directly involved with the issue at hand. From this incident alone, it seems as if these laws whilst being put into practice has no method of verifying the crime, which has been an underlying element of the law when it came about. If death sentence is the prescribed punishment of one committing a blasphemous crime, then that has been manipulated by masses and instead of now going to specialists of this law, they hold the law in their own hands. Killing an Ahmedi a “non-muslim” or a figurehead such as Salman Taseer who was vocally against blasphemy laws, has now become easy.

The latest criticisms Pakistan has faced are on its support to the Gazans; a conflict that sees little humanity from the Israelis and other states all over the world. Although that is an issue that has seen deep rooted sentiments with the Palestinians and ones against the state of-many who have described as racist-Israel, one can easily look at the turf at home and apply the same model to the Pakistani state. Have we started committing the same crime as we kill citizens that were assimilated into the State since its creation? The racially incited crimes within the country speak in the affirmative. Has Gaza then come home? That is the question to be posed to the factions that incite not only anti-western sentiments but harbor anti-Ahmedi feelings at the same time. The state and the masses then should be able to look into its own faults; as the way Ahmedis have no recognition is almost along the lines of the racial crimes being committed upon the Palestinians.

Human rights have been barred in many issues of the sort. A religion- deeply embedded in Pakistan’s roots and followed by the masses on a large scale- which is to perpetuate peace amongst masses has been intensively manipulated in a way that killing of innocents has been legitimized. Does a phenomenon like that go against the fundamental principles of ‘thou shalt not kill’ completely? The irony of that when applied to masses applying the blasphemy laws, speaks volumes.


Slipping down slippery tongue slips

July 28, 2014
Pakistan might lack a million sensible things but the one thing it has never run out of is political drama. As a nation we sure love our dramas – whether they be Turkish or home-grown, the murkier the better.

As we enter the second half of this year, the plot continues to thicken and the present elected government finds itself stuck in the doldrums. The current debate surrounding the elected government began with the June 17 police operation against Minhajul Quran workers in Model Town. Actually, as the judicial tribunal too seems to have placed its finger on it, it was June 15, when without warning, the Police IGP, Lahore DCO and the Elite Police Head were transferred on the same day within hours of each other. At that time, the questions raised were about security. “Was there an imminent security threat that these top most officers in the province had overlooked and were now being punished for?” The answer to that came a few days later when over 80 Minhaj workers were charted off to the hospital while 14 died. This is was police brutality, it was unmerited and it put the government on a ride on one of the slipperiest rides it has ever taken.

Obviously there were questions. Who ordered the operation? The city government said it was a routine anti-encroachment operation gone wrong. Current Law Minister Rana Mashhood went on record to say there was absolutely nothing political about the event. The chief minister came on TV and said he would eat his hat if he was found involved in the affair in any way. But Rana Sanaullah, then law minister, poured water over all the government’s explanations by stating that it was a targeted police operation against anti-state elements.

The varied statements bombarded back and forth by the government made one thing very clear – they were treading rotten ice and did not know how to swim. The drama reached an exciting crescendo when the shady man in the white hat made the passengers on an Emirates flight miserable out of their minds. Tahirul Qadri arrived in Pakistan and those who were following the sequence of events sat glued to their TV screens watching how a revolution takes place.

Qadri launched into a diatribe against the government comparing Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif to Hitler and Mussolini, in that order. He denounced the judicial tribunal probing the incident and instead filed a separate case against the PM, CM and several other political and police high-ups.

What with the hunger pangs during Ramazan, hours of never-ending load shedding and humid hot weather, no one could really be bothered with a revolution. They tried really hard to block out the rambling man out of their minds, but that would be an exercise in futility. For lo and behold, other institutions clambered over each other to freshen up the wound.

It began with former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani’s statement that the Establishment had brokered a deal with former president Pervaiz Musharraf, a deal the present government was part of, promising him an honourable exit once he resigned. This raised a lot of furor among political circles with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz  up in arms to protect its honour. Other has-beens like Jamshed Dasti jumped up and down saying they were party to the deal as well, had witnessed it or heard about it. A deal? With a dictator? Blasphemous the detractors cried.

Till Sindh Deputy Speaker Syeda Shehla Raza went on live television and confirmed everything and more than what Gillani had divulged. During an interview on Geo, Raza released sensitive information regarding the National Reconciliation Order, with 858 stakeholders, foreign guarantors and a power sharing deal with the Army that undermined the very basis of democracy. While the Pakistan Peoples Party distanced itself from Raza’s statement, she put her foot down and tried to explain why the impugned NRO was in fact the best thing that had ever happened to the country.

“Musharraf would have never resigned if we hadn’t signed the deal,” she said. “The present rulers would have never been allowed to return.” She said that former president Asif Zardari’s recent trip to the US was in connection with the fact that America needed to be reminded that it had been the guarantor for the deal. And that the army cannot be allowed to swoop down and take over the country (via Canada). The PPP believes that Tahirul Qadri is dancing to the tune of 21 guns and needs to be stopped before the 111 brigade magics itself in Islamabad. If the talk of NRO hadn’t choked a lot of nerves already, the inter-institutional brawl took on various shades of ugly.

Former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, after a much publicised television battle featuring Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan and his (Iftikhar Chaudhry’s) son Arsalan Iftikhar, served Khan a libel notice of Rs20 billion. Allegations went back and forth like a ping pong revealing the dark side of Pakistan’s premier institutions.

But the plot continued to thicken as a former senior Army officer went on BBC Urdu to “spill the beans”. Call it a gaffe or an indication of a split among pro-Raheel Sharif and pro-Kayani cadres within the military, former ISPR DG Major Athar Abbas placed the blame of a delayed military operation on former chief of army staff Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani. A decision, he said, led to untold losses. Fact of the matter is, such statements only undermine the credibility of the military as an institution. The Army, as Major Abbas is aware of, acts as an institution, not on personal agenda or whims. The onus for decision taken by the former chief of army staff is placed on the entire institution. Now whether the former ISPR director general agrees or disagrees with the decision is immaterial because it has no repercussions for the present military operation whatsoever.

These ‘revelations’ by retired and serving leaders of the land of pure years after their occurrence only serve to provide a never-ending stream of drama the public craves for. There is no merit or profit in these sweet slips of tongue. What they do allow for is the exploitation of fault lines in institutions yet to be weaned even after 65 years into their inception. Better to stay mum than blow the whistle and be conspiratorial. This is the last thing Pakistan needs at this point in history. What with a military operation on one side, a brewing pot of volatile organised crime in Karachi and an unstable teetering Punjab, the political government, the Army or the judiciary cannot afford to indulge their selves in intrigue and showbiz nonsense. Not years after they happened – that just points towards recent falling out and conspiratorial stratagems.


Altaf Hussain’s arrest and MQM’s future

June 4, 2014

By Ahsan Waheed
ZONEASIA-PK

Altaf Hussain ArrestedMQM’s self exiled (and who later acquired British citizenship) Chief, Altaf Hussain was arrested on the morning of 3rd June 2014. This arrest may not have been much of a surprise for either the MQM leader or the senior party workers. In fact,  the entire top leadership must have been aware of this imminent arrest and therefore they were desperately trying to obtain a Pakistani passport and CNIC (Identity Card).

What is surprising is how the passport process was delayed despite enormous pressure by the local MQM leadership – ‘The Mr Altaf Hussain’ did not get the passport in time.

Pakistan government must have been told by the British government to cooperate in this regard otherwise if by some chance Mr Hussain managed to reach Pakistan on his UK passport, Pakistan government would be bound to hand him over to the UK authorities and in turn causing massive unrest in Pakistan, especially Karachi. Evidence of which could be seen when the already prepared MQM party was able to shutdown Karachi, burn twelve buses and resort to aerial firing in various areas of the metropolitan city.

Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan and leader of ruling political party, PML-N, was quick to send out notification to all ministers belonging to his party not to give any irresponsible statements in this regard. PTI chief has surprisingly shown solidarity with MQM because till last year PTI chief Imran Khan was visiting UK with evidence against MQM leader and MQM leader was giving violent statements in his notorious telephonic political rallies.Additionally, the crackdown operation in Karachi against the militant elements – especially those involved in target killings – may have also been part of this “Great (Britain) Game” to minimize the repercussions of post arrest problems.

MQM will have to wait and see what becomes of their chief who currently has been arrested on money laundering charges. But there is also the ongoing investigation of the murder of an ex-MQM senior leader Dr Imran Farouq, who was brutally murdered in London outside his house. Britain’s Scotland Yard has probably already gained enough evidence to bring the murder investigation to its close.

If the MQM leader does get convicted in either or both the cases then as a party it will have to seriously strive and redesign its operation tactics to ensure survival as a major political party in Karachi. At the moment none of the top leaders of MQM possess the ability to lead the party the way Altaf Hussain managed to. Also will Altaf Hussain, if convicted, also bring down other MQM leaders and senior party members? If he does then that would surely mark the end of MQM’s legacy. Chances are that Altaf will not do something like this, at least not immediately, as his own  survival for now depends solely on the support from his party’s top tier.

But what if the senior party members out of fear of being exposed try to silence Altaf Hussain while in UK prison? This would suit MQM senior  leadership on multiple fronts; Altaf Hussain out of the scene and out of MQM, the party can stop being a laughing stock and center of controversies due to irresponsible statements made by their party chief. Senior MQM leadership will remain safe from being exposed by their chief,  MQM’s senior leadership will be able to portray Altaf as a “martyr”, a “hero”; and cash-in on his ‘legacy’ and continue to operate their party after mutually electing a new party chief. Of course with Altaf gone, there will be power struggle within the party and we may see more exterminations of senior MQM leaders for which of course MQM’s “surviving” senior leadership will blame the establishment and agencies for political murders.

Amidst all these possibilities could we be looking at a major political and power shift in Karachi? If so will it create a vacuum that will allow other players like PTI, ANP and PPP to come forward? Will we see an end to Karachi’s miseries? Would Karachi once again regain its lost glory and become a city full of life that it once was? Only time will tell but it seems that finally things have started moving in the right direction.


In search of an enemy

May 14, 2014

Threatens PakistanFOR PAKISTAN

We are constantly worried about the security of our country. Media (national and international) has made us paranoid. Based on the information fed to us through various sources (and partially based on complete lack of knowledge regarding the issue), we convince ourselves of who are our enemies and who are our friends. We form opinions in our minds and then without verification we preach our beliefs and opinions to others (usually those who have even less intellect than ourselves). This has led our mass hysteria to a national level. We have become delusional and lost the ability to think and analyze. I say this not to criticize myself or anyone else who reads this article, my objective is to come up with a way to reprogram our minds so that we can empty all the junk that lies in our heads and blocks our minds from receiving unbiased information and process the information we receive in a more critical manner so that we can have individuality and originality of thought.

Let’s first try to understand the two words that we use so often without actually realizing their true meaning. Then we will also try and learn few other words that lie between these two words, as nothing is black and white in this world (Thank God for that).

Friend:

  • a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations.
  • A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.
  • One who supports, sympathizes with, or patronizes a group, cause, or movement
  • a person known well to another and regarded with liking, affection, and loyalty; an intimate

Enemy:

  • a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something
  • One who feels hatred toward, intends injury to, or opposes the interests of another
  • Something destructive or injurious in its effects

Majority of us feel that our country, Pakistan, is being attacked by forces which are against Islam, against the  existence of a free Pakistan and against the Islamic nuclear weapons that we possess (for peaceful purposes only of course). We also believe that the whole world is against us and want to destroy us because… because… WHAT? Rest of the world does not give a damn about your existence. We give ourselves too much importance… for no reason. Some of us believe that we are the responsible for Islam’s existence and that we have to fight for every Muslim all around the world.

Most countries don’t care about other countries irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, social and cultural norms. Countries interact with each other when they see economic, cultural or social gains to be achieved. European Union was formed to allow better and easier trade between European countries. It was a struggle for the EU. There were major differences between the countries. Eastern European countries were economically and socially backward. Western European countries were richer, more technically advanced and more integrated with rest of the world. Huge social and economic difficulties were seen and are still being addressed. Germany is rethinking its EU membership and might even exit the EU as it sees little to be gained.

South Asian countries comprise of multiple ethnicity, religions and faiths, yet they are forming trade relations with each other. They all have their share of concerns and insecurities but yet they continue to function.

Other Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait treat you the worst. They will give more respect to an American, Australian or A Brit than they would to a “Pakistani Muslim brother”. You being a Pakistani can’t even marry an Arab girl despite the fact that you have the same religion. You are only good to them as a worker! But that is again nothing to complain about. At least they are clear about what kind of relationship they want and expect from other countries.

Coming back to us and our “enemies”, we should try and look inwards. We should  try to learn the meaning of “friend” and then realize that when we are forming a national foreign policy, we are not trying to make “friends” nor are we trying build an extended family “brother”. National foreign policy is about what and how much we can gain by cooperating with another country. We don’t have to be concerned what their religion is (because we are not going to marry their country), we need be alarmed by  their culture difference (they are they and we are we) and we must not impose our religion and beliefs on other countries or even on people of different beliefs who are our fellow citizens.

Other countries don’t want to destroy your religion just for the heck of it. Its what kind of a message we send out to other nations around the world. Right now we are sending out a message of hate and intolerance. We are telling rest of the world that their religion is wrong, their social values are wrong and unless they all convert to Islam we will come and kill you… just like we are killing our own fellow citizens in Pakistan!

So lets make a list of what qualities and traits an enemy of pakistan must possess to actually qualify as an enemy:

  • Does he have to be a non-Muslim (also unacceptable Muslim sects)?
  • Does he have to be a Jew or a Hindu?
  • Are all Americans anti-Pakistan?
  • … and you can think up add more enemy traits to this list.

What we need to realize is that Pakistan does not have any enemies as such, except for India which makes sense because first Muslims invaded their territory, then we destroyed their temples and then ruled them till the British took over India. Then we demanded a separate country and India was divided to form Pakistan. So they have a reason to hate us but even that can be handled. Had the British resolved the Kashmir dispute before partition of 1947, then our  relations with India could have been much better.

But our real enemies are people from our own country who claim to be saviors of Pakistan yet they leave no opportunity to eat it hollow like a termite. People who have formed political parties based either on family dynasties or ethnicity. For decades Pakistan is being ruled by corrupt civil and military leaders. In Balochistan, Sardars have suppressed the Balochi people and denied them of basic rights like health care, education and right to live a free life. In Sindh vadeera culture still exists and the common people live like slaves. Politco-Ethnic violence based on territorial claims by drugs and land mafia has destroyed the beautiful city of Karachi. Punjab has its own set of problems, few ultra-rich corrupt political families own majority of large businesses dominate the political scene and have been taking turns ruling the masses. Northern Areas still remain in the grip of violence. No government in paid enough attention to setup development projects and provide employment to the youth. Militant religious groups dominate the region and the area remains a constant conflict zone.

If Pakistan stops thinking of its National Foreign Policy as a matter of honour and service to Islam and all other Muslim countries (Who don’t give a dash about us), than we can quickly move forward in a positive direction. We don’t have to make friends, we don’t have to make enemies… we just need to make some strategic allies that will help us become a stronger and more stable country that will seem less threatening to rest of the world.


The ‘other’ martyrs

May 12, 2014

By FOR PAKISTAN

martyrsThis week, Rashid Rehman joined the ranks of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. A brave and courageous man, Rehman was the only lawyer in south Punjab brave enough to defend Junaid Hafeez, a visiting professor at Bahauddin Zakriya University now called a blasphemy accused. And he was murdered for it.

Rehman’s legacy was larger than life: nephew to famed activist IA Rehman, son of a former ambassador Ashfaq Ahmed Khan, Rehman himself has been the Human Rights Commission Pakistan south Punjab coordinator since 1987 – only three years after he started his practice as a lawyer. Rehman has since been the defence lawyer for 228 blasphemy cases and 6,220 human rights cases including Mukhtaran Mai’s case. Rehman will be remembered, there is no doubt of that, a symbol of what it means to stand for individual beliefs in a country that has surely been abandoned by God.

There is a debate within legal cadres that seeks to determine whether Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are the root of these forms of violence. Do we blame the law or do we blame its misuse by the society?

The blasphemy law Section 295- A (insulting religion or religious beliefs) was introduced to the Indian Penal Code of 1860 in 1927 to prevent Hindu-Muslim rioting. This was a preemptive law with the intent to prevent violent acts by religious groups wherein ideological differences between religions play out in violent ways. Between 1927 and 1986 there were less than 10 reported cases of blasphemy. Furthermore, the maximum punishment awarded to the accused in any category of religious offences was imprisonment of maximum two years.  The law was effective in as much that it recognised the violent repercussions of religious offences, and treated the offences as a precursor to violent acts. The punishment did not seek to castigate the accused for not ascribing to certain set of faiths, but to discipline and sensitize the perpetrator towards the gravity of his/her actions vis-à-vis potential for chaotic communal reactions.

The Indian Penal Code was amended to the Pakistan Penal Code after the partition. As the state took on theocratic colours, the law suddenly became easier to manipulate. After Ziaul Haq’s draconian 295-B and 295-C Sections (defiling Holy Quran and insulting Prophet Muhammad) were added to the law, the nature of the law, previously meant to prevent communal violence, suddenly took on a whole new perspective with enormous potential for misuse.

According to the Muhammad Mahboob vs State, (2002) 54 P.L.D, ever since the law became more stringent, there has been an increase in the number of registration of blasphemy cases. Three cases were reported between the period 1979 and 1986. Forty-four cases were registered between 1987 and 1999. In 2000 alone, fifty-two cases were registered … this shows that the law was being abused…to settle…scores.

According to the Dawn news article, the current score stands at 4,000. The exponential increase is evidence of clear intent of malice. Considering that minorities constitute 3.7% of Pakistan’s population, 50% of the cases were registered against non-Muslims.

Sections 295-B and C wrap up human fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution in a fascist garb that offers no security to the accused, or in Rehman’s case, anyone associated with the accused. Siddique and Zahra state that the Constitutional clause on freedom of speech is held superseded by these restrictive laws. The supremacy of religiously motivated laws over human fundamental laws points towards withering humanism in society. At the same time, the laws also allow for exercise of fascist supremacy over those the law does not protect.

Dawood I Ahmed raises an interesting question: Was Salman Taseer’s killer motivated to pull the trigger because of a law? He argues that the law never sought to oppress, rather to preempt oppression. The root of communal violence in matters of blasphemy, Ahmed argues, is social malaise. Instead of myopically focusing on amending the blasphemy law, he says, pressure and activist groups should be focusing on changing social norms through more subtle and effective forums — the media, schools, mosques and so forth.

Blasphemy is a victimless crime. In the case of Joseph Colony, it took one supposed offensive thought, to set fire to the homes of over 200 families. The perpetrators were many, only 83 were named and set free on bail within days. Last week the Lahore High Court turned down the Prosecution Department’s request to overturn their bails as they had been accused of terrorism. The LHC dismissed the request. It observed that they had been granted bail due to lack of evidence. None of the victims were willing to come forward to testify against them out of fear and there was nothing to tie those men with the incident, expect for the complainants’ word. Using this line of reasoning, it is baffling to see how then the sessions court could sentence Sawan Masih to death. The hundreds of victims of the torching incident who are without justice are trying left right and centre to leave the country. According to NGO details, even families associated with the victims have been trying to flee the country. Vulnerable communities flee the blasphemy monster that could arise at any whim, any fancy, of anyone they might hold a grudge with.
These are dangerous times. The argument that misuse of a law doesn’t make it bad in itself is flawed because of the license of abuse it offers. From being a preventative law to being a tool for oppression, Sections 295 A, B and C reveal the inherent fascism inherent in the very structure we call state.

The government cannot do much in this case. Already it has been cowed into removing the option of a military offensive against terrorists who have bled this country for over a decade and a half. With allegations of close ties with militant organisations, it should come as no surprise that the government has offered no security, constitutional or physical, to vulnerable groups.

Rehman was but one man trying to staunch a gaping wound this country has been bleeding from since the 1980s. There is no hope that his killers will be caught. The AFP reported that lawyers had gone on a strike on Thursday in protest against the murder of their colleague. Local news reports however reveal that the ‘protest’ was meagre. There were few black coats in the courts mourning and more at home lauding the vigilantes who had finally removed the man who defended the weak.
There is no room for respite in a country governed by the law of the jungle. But this needs to change on priority. Provincial governments must take on the mantle of reasoning with the masses through outreach programmes, similar to those conducted for polio vaccination. Political and religious parties must use their clout in redefining the definition of blasphemy and bringing about a shift towards humanism. Ingersoll’s lines could be helpful in this regard:

What is real blasphemy?
To live on the unpaid labor of other men — that is blasphemy.
To enslave your fellow-man, to put chains upon his body — that is blasphemy.
To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles upon the brain, padlocks upon the lips — that is blasphemy.
To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie — that is blasphemy.
To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob — that is blasphemy.
To persecute the intelligent few, at the command of the ignorant many — that is blasphemy.
To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men — that is blasphemy.
To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain — that is blasphemy.
To violate your conscience — that is blasphemy.
The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers.
The man who bows to public opinion against his better judgment and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer.

American 19th Century Freethinker-Robert Ingersoll


The hidden agenda

April 24, 2014

Pakistan MediaFrom the venom pouring out in the newspapers and electronic channels of one media group it seems that a choice has been made. The policy given or adopted by all who are associated with this group is to use all and every means to defame and run down an intelligence agency. The journalist whose shooting triggered this shameful onslaught does not matter. Nor does the image of Pakistan. Nor does the impact on those who are laying their lives on the line. What matters is that the group does what it has been trying to do for quite some time—destroy the credibility of the ‘establishment’ and undermine it. Pakistanis are waking up to this reality and they are connecting the dots to make a picture. The picture that is emerging is not pretty.

There are some big name journalists, writers and analysts who are associated with this media group—-far bigger and far more credible than the unfortunate journalist who was shot. They will have to choose and choose quickly whether the pay packet or personal friendships are more important for them or whether they wish to quietly disassociate themselves from the policy being pursued. Some small time columnists, who have made their bones by what they think is ‘macho’ writing against the ‘establishment’ and making startling disclosures that create ripples for a day or two, are likely to stay the course and try and outdo each other to please their masters. They may also be trying to get their own back over perceived wrongs done to them in the past.

Some elected personages who had covertly begun hobnobbing with the group and its anchors and analysts should decide whether they want to continue under threat of blackmail or they want to bite the bullet and get out while they can. Soon it may be too late. Analysts who were showing up on media debates and discussions need to think hard about their choice of channels where they want to show up. Advertisers must also consider whether their finances are going in the right direction or are they supporting the wrong people.

Sometimes when you are on a roll and riding high you think the sky is the limit. You go on and on as people flock to you with ideas. Soon you are thinking of what your power and money can get you—-you seem invulnerable. You think you have the power and the means to destroy any one who raises his voice against you—after all you command the air wave. The money rolls in from advertisements and the government woos you with perks and privileges. International forces quickly identify your damage potential and give you a larger than life image. You think you are using them whereas actually they are using you for their own agendas. A mantle of religiosity and doling out of ‘rewards’—even babies— on carefully contrived TV shows swings the public towards you for what they can get. What can go wrong? There is the adage that the bigger you are the harder you fall and there are limits to the hurt you can cause to others before retribution starts. The downfall starts when small—tactical steps—taken without consideration cumulatively become a disastrous strategy. Once this happens it is too late to correct course.

Right now it may not be too late. The right choice can be made. For this thinking must go beyond selfish and narrow interests and egos. Thinking has to be about the country that you may not be living in but that you belong to and owe to. Once that is done the right choice stares you in the face. Going over the abyss and taking everyone with you is something only Lemmings do and it serves no purpose whatsoever. Step back, think big and objectively and choose wisely.

ZONEASIA-PK


The wages of religio-political oppression

April 11, 2014

By Azmaish Ka Waqt

Blasphemy IslamWe live in a political world. One in which every act, gesture, thought, has a place in the complex butterfly effect equation. Things are no longer what they seem and laws, set in place to protect and safeguard people, have taken on divine mandate oppressing the very people they set out to protect. But blasphemy is a tool of defiance, of open rebellion and is inherently political in nature. Which is why those who commit it are also punished politically. What is the way out, however, when the political machinations of blasphemy transmogrify into a tool of oppression. A means to suppress and subvert – not the heretics per se – but literally anyone.

So when a Muslim woman, who stands in court and professes her faith (Islam), is denied bail and put on trial for calling herself a prophet, one can safely conclude that this has political, extra-religious connotations and ramifications for the prosecution and the defendant. While lawlessness may be the norm in many parts of the country, the manacles of law in this case extend even to the mentally disabled. Last year, a woman school principal in hysterics tried explaining to the police that a local maulvi was trying to frame her in a blasphemy case because she was from an Islamic sect different from his, other news reports mention that she had demanded that the maulvis pay their children’s school fees. That woman underwent psychiatric tests (as she had become hysterical) and is still languishing in prison. This month a Christian couple from Gojra (the same town where a mob burnt 77 houses of a Christian colony in 2009) was sentenced to death for sending blasphemous text messages to a maulvi in the area. The defendants’ lawyer claimed that the husband-wife were illiterate and had lost their phone prior to the incident. Moreover the complainant had a feud with the family so the complaint was clearly mal-intentioned, he explained.

Even the most well-reasoned of arguments cannot stand before the fiery judgment of the religiously motivated.

When Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were killed, the Pakistan Peoples Party led government tried to raise the issue of amending the blasphemy law. Protests and demonstrations sprang up over the country. There was a lot of burning and demolishing. Foreigners had to leave the country in droves because of the instability of the security apparatus – not even government sanctioned guards were above murder. Sherry Rehman had to leave the country for her anti-blasphemy remarks and former law minister Babar Awan explained to the president in an open letter why Sections 298 A, 298 B and 298 C must be left untouched.

If the British conquered the subcontinent through a divide and rule policy, Pakistan’s pseudo-theocratic legal framework is not much of a departure from that archaic model of subversion.

There are several ways one can analyse the virulent opposition to blasphemy in the country. The first being the internalization of the two-nation theory – the foundational step towards creating the other. The protection of oneself demands the vilification of the other. What better way to do that than through religion.

Another view is the subaltern lens – the war against blasphemy is at some level a war between the imperialists and those opposing it. The godless, money and soul sucking imperialist construct is opposed by its counterweight – the righteous ones.

Sawan Masih, of Badami Bagh fame, was sentenced to death this month as well. Lawyers familiar with his case have written it off as a series of ill-intentioned gaffes that cannot stand on their own weight. His lawyer says that the judge was swayed by his religious sentiments. Be that may, the verdict spells another decade for Sawan in prison. He has appealed his case in the Lahore High Court and his counsel is very positive that they will win the case this time. The only problem is, the first hearing for Sawan Masih will be sometime in 2016 (blamed on the backlog of cases the LHC hears). Once a hearing starts, it takes several years before a verdict is announced. In the meantime Sawan can curse his stars for making him a member of a minority group in Pakistan. Aasia Bibi does that probably. She has been in prison for several years now without any hope for parole.

In the meantime, the complainants, those with an axe to grind, lands to cease, seek revenge, can rest easy. They have condemned someone to death without even raising a finger against them. Pakistan should not expect amendments to the blasphemy laws for a long time. There is a time for sanity to filter through the layers of blind rage – that time is now. The path to this is littered with several more blasphemy cases and protestations and burnt homes but in the meantime, it’s the masses who must shoulder the responsibility of instructing, teaching and explaining the futility of protecting laws grained in hate. Pakistan’s silent majority needs to wake up and pull the blinds off such laws and expose them for what they really are.


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