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.

Flagless in Bangladesh

March 28, 2014


The autocratic elected Prime Minister of Bangladesh has decreed that BanglaDeshi citizens will not wave the flag of any nationality except Bangladesh at sports events. This Quixotic gag flag order comes after the largely Bangladeshi crowd was seen waving Pakistan flags at the T20 cricket match when the Pakistani team was playing. Why this venom and animosity at the highest level when there seems to be goodwill among the citizens of both the countries. The only rational explanation for this irrational order is some kind of personal rage in the leadership that wants revenge. This is unfortunate.

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This also ties in to the long standing feud between the two female leaders in Bangladesh. One lost her father to violence from her own countrymen and the other lost her husband also to enraged Bengalis. Under the current Prime Minister the horrors of 1971 are being revisited in the form of ‘war crimes’ trials followed by executions as well as the most poisonous propaganda against Pakistan. Ignoring the latent undercurrent of violence and religiosity that exists in Bangladesh the present government is launched on the path of promoting secularism that can be a fig leaf at best for the reality of religion that permeates life on the street. The execution of an aged Bangladesh Islamic scholar and leader after a quick trial underscores this policy. No doubt Al Qaeda is watching and waiting for the right time to strike.

Ridiculous figures like thirty million killed by Pakistan military action in 1971 and lurid tales of atrocities only serve to bring back horrible memories that inflame people. Perhaps that is the agenda. In Pakistan this negative and false propaganda reminds them of the terrible unmentionable acts of extreme violence committed on the West Pakistanis in former East Pakistan before the Pakistan Army retaliated. The Army that retaliated was seething with anger, thirsting for revenge and yearning to avenge lost honor. Even then the figures quoted by reliable researchers range between 50000 to 100000 lives lost. Pakistanis who were there remember that the Indian trained and launched Mukhti Bahini forces and Indian Army soldiers donned Pakistan Army uniforms for nightly rapes, killings and mutilations to inflame the population against Pakistan. This use of ethnic Bengalis to forge the Mukhti Bahini was the first such event in the bitter India-Pakistan history. This act by India led to the rise of militancy that operated across the Line of Control in Kashmir and elsewhere and is now a part of the terrorist menus for violence. And lest we forget India did the same with the Tamils in Sri Lanka. So the design for such militancy was patented by India with Bengalis being used as fodder.

No one who suffered imprisonment in India after the Indian manipulated secession of Bangladesh can forget the humiliation and mistreatment heaped on them by their captors. So the vile propaganda from Bangladesh is not serving anybody’s cause. It is inflaming populations and taking all three countries back in time instead of forwards towards peace and harmony. The Bangladesh government needs to rethink its policies before expediency for short term gains leads them into internal turmoil and the kind of international attention they got when hundreds workers working in sub human conditions were burnt alive.

Talking in Cuckooland

March 28, 2014


As expected the Taliban have shown their true colors and intentions. By refusing to free Shahbaz Taseer and Gilani they have tacitly admitted that they kidnap Pakistan citizens or have them kidnapped through their proxies. This implies that they are fully involved in the extortion and armed dacoities throughout Pakistan. Will these activities stop even if the talks succeed by some miracle? It is well known that car lifting and kidnapping for ransom was periodically undertaken by tribesmen earlier but in those days there was an administration in FATA that dealt with all such criminal activity. Now FATA is lawless and copy cat carjacking, kidnapping and robberies are being committed all over the country—ask the businessmen in Sialkot or Lahore who quietly pay up because retribution for reporting to the police can be swift and merciless besides being futile.

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Imran Khan still supporting the TTP

The Taliban have also asked for a ‘peace zone’ to be declared in which they can move freely. This comes from those who have killed 50000 Pakistanis and committed unspeakable atrocities. A peace zone if established will amount to ceding a part of Pakistan to the TTP and it is the TTP that will rule there with the tacit approval of Pakistan. This zone will be a magnet for all criminals’ country wide as well as internationally. Can we afford to do this? Instead of mainstreaming themselves they are asking for territory to establish and then expand. We will be laying the seeds for the mother of all insurgencies if we ever agree to this demand.

Imran Khan has now stated that the Taliban do not want to impose Sharia by force. Really? What have they been doing so far? Why are they opposed to the state of Pakistan whom they call an ally of the US and therefore their enemy? How does Imran Khan know what they want?

Talks are good if they are for negotiating. Talks are useless if they are for stating demands. Talks are doubly useless if one side has ulterior motives. So far the talks have been useless. There could be a dramatic breakthrough but that is unlikely. More likely is a breakdown leading to a resumption of violence. And it is likely that the first person to see through the TTP game and call it a day will be the only real interlocutor we have—Rustam Shah Mohmand. The break will not come from the Taliban because they are on to a good thing with opportunities to sow discord among our institutions like the demand for women and children and ‘non-combatants ‘ held by the ISI and military!!. For the people it is mind boggling that we can talk to the TTP but are bent on a trial for Musharaff!

No apologies for hiding Bin Laden

March 25, 2014

By Azmaish Ka Waqt – Newsvine

Article PhotoCarlotta Gall’s piece in the New York Times has caused a firestorm in the media and government circles and given the Pakistani state very bitter pills to swallow. Yet the allegations and assertions she raises, articulately wrapped in personal anecdotes, are nothing new. Analysts and journalists from across the spectrum have been obsessed with making sense of this curry – Osama Bin Laden’s hideout, cross-border terrorist attacks, why the US lost the War on Terror.

While anecdotal evidence is very useful in raising questions and gauging patterns, it cannot be taken at face value or deemed factual. Neither can hearsay.

Gall writes that several of the Afghans she met at bomb sites told her that the organisers of the insurgency were from Pakistan. “Even the Afghan police said the militants had crossed the border”. But she fails to mention that thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans move across the porous Pak-Afghan border daily. Lack of consensus on the demarcation of the border has been a thorn in the sides of both countries since long before the partition. Half-truths can accomplish so much more than the whole truth, which in this case, is that militants from Afghanistan too enter Pakistan, organise attacks and return to their safe havens that have continued to mushroom despite the decades-long scourge by the US and the Afghan National Army. Mullah Fazlullah of Swat fame fled the country to take refuge in Afghanistan and has planned and manned attacks on Pakistan from across the border. On who is providing whom refuge, Gall tells a one-sided tale.

Gall gets straight to the point – it has been the ISI all along. From engendering 9/11 to planning attacks, protecting militants, persecuting citizens under its reign of terror, and single-handedly organising and supplementing a global force of terrorists, the ISI has done it all. If this is truly the case, and if the ISI is indeed capable of such a masquerade, the CIA and the US government should simply resign on grounds of sheer incompetence.

As a war correspondent with the highest credentials, Gall knows the delicate nature of reporting in war zones, the moral ambiguity of war, the need to objectively report the accurate and ensure that every claim is attributable, authentic and far from hearsay. A war correspondent’s report needs to be supplemented with evidence that can hold its own in a court of law. Without its accompanying buttress of proof, the report becomes a mouthpiece with vested interests. Quoting unnamed sources is not enough to pass judgement on an entire country, Gall should know.

One cannot but feel sympathy for the ordeal Gall had to go through at the hands of security agents during her visit to Pashtunabad, Quetta. This is no way to deal with a lady, as the then information minister acknowledged and apologized for. This Gall fails to mention here, but ABC News reported when covering this incident in 2006: Gall said the Minister of State for Information, Tariq Azeem Khan, apologized for the incident and helped secure the release of the photographer and Gall’s belongings. But she says he told her to inform Pakistani authorities ahead of future visits to Quetta “to avoid such difficulties.”

When one is a foreign national war correspondent in a war zone, the least he or she could do is follow legal procedure and register themselves with state authorities before heading out to a notorious madrassah in Pashtunabad. Makes one think what the US or Afghan National Army would do to a Pakistani interviewing people and taking pictures close to Bagram Prison without a permit.

Gall should also know that ISI is not – cannot – be the only intelligence agency in the world with safe havens to interrogate suspects. It’s the tone of incredulous disbelief that throws one off. This cannot be news to Gall, she does after all come from the country that gave us CIA and Guantanamo Bay.

Former ISI chief General (r) Ziauddin has denied saying those things to Gall. In an interview with Dawn, Ziauddin says he was misquoted: ‘I told her that Musharraf should have known that Osama was hiding in Abbottabad. But in a bid to give credence to her thesis, the lady journalist misquoted me as saying that Musharraf knew about Osama’s presence’.

Peter Bergen writes that while US-Pakistan relations have been anything but smooth, Gall’s astonishing claims that the ISI actually ran a special desk assigned to handle bin Laden and that the US had direct evidence that former ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha knew of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, cannot be proven. Gall cannot quote anyone on this, even when she demands more openness from the US government on the matter. A claim unsupported by even a shadow of evidence is at best a claim.

The bullhorn behind this apocalyptic painting of Pakistan becomes evident by the time Gall says that Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s intelligence agency had a mole among General Musharaf’s top ten generals, who in a super-secret meeting, discussed Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Gall’s article, apart from showing that she has no love lost for Musharaf, fails to mention that it was the ISI who warned Bhutto about possible attempts on her life. Furthermore, if the Afghan intelligence service had eyes and ears into Musharaf’s inner circle, the Afghan service should have also known where they were hiding Bin Laden.

The article, adapted from Gall’s upcoming book, has all the ingredients of a thriller Dan Brown would be proud of: intrigue, mystique, a larger-than-life villain, conspiracy theories that sound like new revelations, ending with a flourish. It is thinly sourced, draws inferences from circumstantial evidence and has been written off as a sensational teaser for her upcoming book The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001- 2014. If this article was supposed to be an attention grabbing pre-launcher then it has backfired badly.


November 11, 2013

Adam Raj – Newsvine

Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and JI Chief Munawar HasanThe Jamaat e Islami (JI) Chief has flabbergasted and outraged the people and probably his own party by a statement that makes no sense unless his aim was to create the kind of controversy that is now raging. He has said that the terrorist leader killed in a Drone strike recently is aShaheed (martyr) and that those killed while defending the country against the scourge of terrorism are not. Coming from a religious leader such a statement is a direct assault on the integrity of the country’s armed and law enforcement forces. It is also a statement that undermines the honor of the thousands who have been killed and crippled while executing the government’s policy to defend the country and the cause of Islam. Can one even begin to understand how such a statement can undermine morale and motivation — the bedrock of the spirit that leads men to sacrifice their lives? Can anyone imagine the anguish of the wives, daughters, sons, fathers and mothers of those who did not reason why and chose to die? There is rage and anger across the land and it is justified. Lost in the confusion is another statement by another Chief of a religious party that — ‘even a dog killed by the Americans is a Shaheed’ — talk about bad taste and distorted thinking.

After waiting for a government reaction to these most damaging statements and not getting any, the Armed Forces through the Inter Services Public Relations Directorate has issued a strong statement that is a condemnation, rebuttal and a demand for an apology. So far there is silence from the government while the JI is doing damage control of sorts by saying that their shura will decide on a response and this was the personal opinion of their Chief. None of this makes sense. What has been said cannot be unsaid. As we have seen from recent events in the senate, apologizing is not what we are good at — even when the image of our country and its integrity is at stake. Is this the much talked about beauty of democracy?

The reality is that rash, spur of the moment statements create problems. The tone for the entire debate should have been carefully set and modulated right after the Drone strike that killed the TTP leader. There should not have been two views about it and this should not have been used to get on the bandwagon against the US. Talks had not started. The dialogue option had not been turned into a proposal. TTP attacks had escalated. TTP demands could not be met. Yet we are talking about the murder of peace by a drone strike that took out the TTP leader? The dialogue option and possible peace has been murdered not by the Drone strike but by the elevation of a murderer to the leadership of the TTP. He has promptly ruled out the dialogue option and vowed revenge against Pakistan. Some are now hoping for a divide within TTP ranks and infighting among the many groups. The country’s leadership needs to step back, review the situation, acknowledge mistakes and then act to influence opinion that will lead to a rational acceptable narrative.

In an enfeebled, fractured society already divided by sectarian and ethnic issues and being exploited from across our borders there is absolutely no scope for the kind of religious, political and civil-military divides that are now being created by people who need to keep themselves zipped up. The no action, no reaction, thick hide policy that seems to be prevalent will not work — not any more. We have very little time to get it right otherwise the disillusionment with democracy will trigger events that will take their own course. As the Americans tell us — ‘all options are on the table’. Act to rule out the negative ones — and act quickly.

The Beauty of Democracy

November 7, 2013

Pakistan DemocracyThe nation was treated to a scene of democracy at work by almost all the electronic media channels. Flabbergasted people watched as some of our most experienced politicians bickered over statements given by them and criticisms hurled at each other. One group of senators sat on the roadside while another group sat inside the senate hall — both were having an ijlas (meeting). What was the protest all about? It was about a minister’s refusal to apologize for remarks attributed to him. Never had the nation seen a sorrier and more pathetic spectacle though there have been outbursts and even physical fights in parliament — usually spur of the moment activity and never premeditated and planned as the senate tamasha (show) was. The beauty of democracy in action you could say.

Unfortunately the beauty of this democracy was lost on the people in Karachi whose lives are in danger, who face extortion and kidnappings and for whom the daily commute to school or office is a hazardous undertaking. It was also lost on the people of Baluchistan who face daily killings, bomb blasts, kidnappings and sectarian and ethnic violence. The people of KPK (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) who bear the brunt of the TTP (Tehreek Taliban Pakistan) insurgency and the violent blowback from Afghanistan and FATA must have been livid at this democratic display of disregard for their life and death struggle. Punjab, basking in an interlude of calm, was not amused either because in the shenanigans of the elected representatives they sensed the danger that could engulf them– as it was already knocking on its doors. People wondered how this could be happening when the country faced economic decline, internal stability and total confusion on policies for the future. Did these products of democracy not know how the people were suffering and what a struggle it was for them to even feed their children? Is it not the job of elected political leaders to address and resolve the country’s problems instead of fighting pathetic ego wars?

The country’s armed forces have been fighting an insurgency along the western borders. Thousands have been killed and thousands have been crippled. How do they and their dependents feel when they see their political masters squatting on the roadside to make a mockery of democracy? What about the policemen and Rangers battling criminals and political mafias and militants — do they think it is worthwhile to die in the line of duty under such a democratic dispensation? What about the countries that give us their tax payer’s money as aid or support — how do they see us? What about our image in the globalized and interconnected world of today?

Much was said about a National Security Council or Cabinet Committee on National Security but it is not even on the horizon yet. Shouldn’t it be meeting every day considering the problems facing us? Who will tell us that we have to drop everything and start putting our house in order — not create disorder to obfuscate the real issues? Even ostriches pull their heads out of the sand if they get a kick in their rear end.

By Ahsan Waheed


October 29, 2013

By Ahsan Waheed

Hussain Haqqani New Book Magnificent DelusionsIn today’s environment of hypocrisy, backstabbing, snooping and state sponsored secret surveillance and destabilization you have to be paranoid. In fact paranoia may be good as a policy considering the blatant exploitation of our vulnerabilities. From this angle one must carefully examine seemingly disconnected events that collectively have a negative effect on our country. If you believe such occurrences to be coincidences then you probably also believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.

Consider the following. Pakistan’s Prime Minister is on his first official visit to the US. His schedule includes meetings with President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretaries Kerry and Hagel, the National Security Adviser Rice and the CIA Director Brennan — and he intends raising issues like Drone strikes, Aafia Siddiqui, terrorism and ‘trade not aid’ etc. The media builds up hype on the PM’s agenda and raises expectations. The US public stance is subdued but on another level much happens to create difficulties for Pakistan. Our former ambassador in the US decides to time the release of his book “Magnificent Delusions” with the PM’s visit and a juicy quote from the book hits the headlines — ‘my country supports terrorism’. Then this former ambassador decides to give a series of interviews, including one to Indian TV, to promote his book and more juicy tidbits follow to the amazement and delight of Indians and Americans. Then a writer whose specialty is Taliban and Afghanistan decides to raise an issue that the US has not touched on — Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons — and indicates that these are a reality and not something that Pakistan is testing and considering to meet the growing threat to its security from the East. As if on cue the Line of Control in Kashmir is activated by India in spite of an agreed cease fire and India starts bleating about infiltration from the Pakistani side completely disregarding the fact that Pakistan is least likely to undertake such a venture when its PM is talking of peace and visiting Washington.  India’s statement that the attackers left behind weapons with Pakistani markings was pathetic especially when its own former Army Chief had publicly admitted sponsoring and funding covert activities inside Pakistan to destabilize it. The US media suddenly discovers documents that reveal the Pakistan government’s approval and connivance in the US Drone strikes in Pakistan. There are also not so veiled references to the  Pakistan’s senior military leadership hobnobbing with US senior military leaders while the CIA and ISI worked at cross purposes — a memo from the Foreign Office to its Ambassador in Washington to restrict visa issues because Pakistan was being swamped with CIA agents has also been conveniently leaked!! All coincidences made in heaven you could say.

The media — or at least one channel — is making startling disclosures and one such item is a statement that the US President announced a payment of millions of dollars to a particular TV channel in Pakistan to ‘promote’ its image. The media is also using analysts and government functionaries to assess the success, if any, of the PM’s visit to the US. Predictably the picture they are painting is not pretty. How can it be — with our former Ambassador to the US singing like a canary for his supper?

Actually going by the past Pakistan should be worried about what the US and its supporters will discuss with Pakistan after the US has moved billions of dollars equipment out of Afghanistan through Pakistan and all or most of its forces have exited from there. When we partnered the US against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan all our problems started when the US objectives had been achieved. Even the F 16’s paid for by Pakistan were stopped and the equipment cleared for shipment and at ports was with held. So the silence by the US on many issues is ominous especially because of the Pakistani ‘assets’ that are available to the US. Pakistan’s political leaders need to get their act together to meet present and future challenges. This is not the time for political in-fighting within parties, anti-government movements, media wars, speculations on the civil-military relationship, past misdeeds and ambiguous vibes on those who seek to destabilize us. This is the time to come together as never before and get our policies right for the present and the future.


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