Conversations with Badami Bagh residents

March 15, 2013

By Ahsan Waheed

Badami Bagh is no less than a ravaged town awaiting life once again. Along the sides of the roads are little yellow tents set up for the Christian families who lost their homes when an angry mob set fire to the entire residential area.

These little tents are filled with people. It is as if the little tents have become portable homes for the citizens who have nothing else left. Little toys, water bottles, a pile of clothes – Badami Bagh residents have begun to reconstruct their lives within the temporary homes provided to them since there is no knowing when their real homes will be ready for them to go back to.

Read more…


March 13, 2013

By Ghalib Sultan
Area 14/8

The picture on top says it all. A mob in the background and an exultant youth in the foreground with smoke, fire and burning homes all around. This was the scene in the heart of Lahore when Christian homes were set on fire because of alleged blasphemy by a Christian who had already been booked under the Blasphemy Law by the police on the complaint of a Muslim. The mob that went on the rampage looting and burning homes was apparently venting their rage. No one died and no injuries were reported but Pakistan’s image was destroyed beyond repair-collateral damage from the point of view of the bigoted and the intolerant but a mortal blow to Pakistan for those whose heads hung in shame.

Now that the smoke has blown away, compensatory payments made to those who lost everything, the rebuilding process begun and some arrests made a clearer picture is slowly emerging. The Police advised the people to run for their lives hours before the mob arrived and they ran-the men, the women, the aged and the children all ran for their lives in all directions away from their homes leaving everything behind. Why did the police do this-to facilitate looting and burning, to save lives or because they did not want or could not face down the mob to protect lives and property? If the Police had advance information did this information flow upwards and if it did was it ignored? And if it did not then why not?

There are credible reports that the mob came prepared for their grisly task—with sticks, stones, gasoline cans etc. If so then this was no spontaneous venting of rage. This was a well planned event for which a large number of people had been mustered and prepared. If this was planned then who was behind it?- those who wanted the land on which the colony was built?- or those who had political motives and wanted to undermine the political administration in Punjab or was it a combination of both?. The land mafia would have known the consequences of such an atrocity and it is unlikely that they actually believed that the land would fall in their lap after the pillage. The political motive is more plausible and is also borne out by the fact that after the attack on the Christians some apparently counter attacks were organized on the pride and joy of the Punjab government-the new Metrobus system.

The Punjab government moved quickly to limit the damage and to begin rehabilitation work. An inquiry has also been ordered and arrests made. No doubt that there has been political fall-out but on the positive side people have rallied in support of the Christian community and against the forces of bigotry and intolerance that exist in society. There have been many previous incidents of this kind but never has exemplary punishment been awarded to deter such behavior. In the final analysis the blame must also go to people who are ready to undertake such criminal and reprehensible behavior.

The Inadequacies of Pakistan’s Liberal Media

May 8, 2012

By Omar Farooque

From a tool for state propaganda to playing whistle blower in high profile scandals,the media of a country yields incredible potential by holding the reigns to the sway of public opinion. The interminable manifestation of violence in the country fuelled by religious extremism has by design or default blackened more pages than any other subject in the past decade.

They lie at both ends of the spectrum each vociferous of its ideological spinal cord;from Nawa-i-Waqt with adherence to the two-nation theory as its slogan to the Daily Times that refuses to print remotely pro-radical news. But the bloodcurdling fatwas cum op-eds in right wing papers aren’t solely responsible for invoking the honor of heaven bound ghazis and mujahids. Part of the onus for this must be borne by the liberal end of the spectrum that takes on an apologetic stance in matters of religious extremism. The sway towards violence,sensationalism and its successes are clear. So does this mean that the media has tried and failed in fulfilling its purpose of objectively disseminating information?

Policies pertaining to content apart,the influence of social factors is vital in determining the audience,scope and vision for a news organization. Sensationalism in electronic and print media,GEO TV’s obscene fixation with death and flying carcasses,are issues regularly hashed out every time one of these organizations over step the line of what’s viewer friendly and grotesque. Making money is of course important and sensational news always brings in more viewership;however the tendency to completely swing that way and forget the fact that these papers were birthed in the shadows of extremism and that their duty lies in tackling the lurking monster by educating the masses seems to fizzle out in reluctant apologetic hogwash.

When the right wing launches a tirade on how these ‘liberal’ papers have been funded by the US to be its mouth pieces and Zaid Hamid claims to back it with documental evidence,the legitimacy and authenticity of these institutions as sources of opinion and news drop several notches for the average man. While being in cahoots with Enemy number One is a definite no no,is this dubious source of funding the reason why you don’t see people jumping OFF the Qadri bandwagon instead of ON it? Why is it that where so many channels of alternate news are present the antiradical papers still won’t take a hardline approach towards extremism and fundamentalism? At best disapprove but no where will they outright condemn it and encourage people to do the same?

News of Quranic Verses being scratched off the Ahmedi Mosque was an incident that should’ve been condemned loudly,on the front pages,by every author with wide readership. A case for blasphemy should’ve been made and publicized to make apparent the gaping holes of justice in our society and our collective imagination.

This is less of an opinion piece and more of an experiment in order to learn why the liberal face of Pakistan hides behind its own veil of apology,diffidence and vacillation. What all has it achieved in terms of tempering extremism and what obstacles lie in changing the mindset of the average man,who’s sociopolitical consciousness starts and ends with religion and what the Mullahs say.


April 5, 2011

By: Salman Azeem

The dictionary explains ‘ho hum’ as being an ‘expression of tediousness or boredom’. Ho Hum, therefore, best describes the state of minds in Pakistan. There was a time several months ago when the media, political aspirants and others created the hype of an imminent change of government. Media debates and writings ranged over various possibilities. Politicians in the opposition ran around trying to forge alliances and hurl derogatory epithets at others. An activist judiciary was seen as the torch bearer of change and the ‘establishment’ was seen as being in support of the judiciary and the secret behind the scenes manipulator. Each new event whether on the streets of Karachi or Baluchistan or in FATA or Punjab was seen as another nail in the governments’ coffin. Lurid details of corruption, mismanagement and cronyism were being shouted from rooftops.

This is no longer the case now. The politicians in the opposition are running around like headless chickens – outwitted and out maneuvered. The media continues its diatribes but these are accepted and no longer make waves or even ripples – they are seen for what they are, ploys for revenue generation from advertisements. The judiciary is independent and going about its business with some cracks visible – no one expects miracles. The establishment has been accepted as having broken from the past and is seen as a bystander with its work cut out. Scams and scandals surface and disappear into investigations and court procedures. Lawlessness is being accepted as kidnappings, murders, random killings, bombings and street rage become a fact of life – not even making headlines any more. Bizarre incidents like the Davis killings and the Taseer-Bhatti murders provoke rage that peters out into despair. The government continues to function and the country gets run somehow. Economic decline, rising prices, increasing poverty and joblessness are topics for discussion because there is nothing else to discuss. Life goes on and the name of the game is acceptance and compromise. No one is excited anymore – not even by the 2013 elections.

No longer is the nation waiting for a savior to come galloping on a white horse. No one is expecting the strategic ally – the US or the much touted Friends of Pakistan to work a miracle in Pakistan. If anything the suspicion about US intentions has reached a crescendo. Reality has kicked in. The reality is that this elected government is going to complete its tenure – its accomplishments are being slowly seen from between all its warts. Political shenanigans are exposing people as never before. No one has so far said anything profound, strategic or visionary – the future looks dreary. There is grudging acceptance of the fact that the country has weathered difficult situations – some of Tsunami strength and held its own. Dire predictions continue to be made but they lack conviction and those making them lack credibility. The ‘establishments’ hands-off policy is being accepted as reality and even the pronouncements by the US fail to create a dent. This is a classic case of a game having been played to the finish leaving everyone exhausted – no one is crying foul and if someone is then there is no listener.

The time has come to move on. The media needs to revamp with meaty futuristic debates. The political scene needs new faces below thinking brains. The US needs to rethink strategy to change its image in public opinion. The ‘establishment’, the bureaucracy and the judiciary need to deliver – to the people. Those in power need to see the snowball that might roll on despair turned into rage to gain size, momentum and power before.

Open letter to The President, Prime Minister, Interior Minister, Chief Justice, and heads of all political parties, Pakistan

March 7, 2011

by Citizens for Democracy

Please see below Open letter to The President, Prime Minister, Interior Minister, Chief Justice, and heads of all political parties, Pakistan, re: murder of Shahbaz Bhatti and demand for action against calls for violence and vigilante action.
Deadline for endorsements (including name, profession, city): Monday March 7, midnight Pakistan time, after which we will compile signatures and send to the recipients and to media. Endorsements can be made here, or via email to Please share with friends. If anyone wants to translate it and circulate, please feel free. Thanks

Open letter to The President, Prime Minister, Interior Minister, Chief Justice, and heads of all political parties, Pakistan

Re: Murder of Shahbaz Bhatti and demand for action against calls for violence and vigilante action

The murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, again highlights the rampant lawlessness in Pakistan and the impunity with which the “forces of violence” act against “whoever stands against their radical philosophy,” to quote the late Mr Bhatti. These “forces” find fertile ground to operate in an atmosphere where calls to vigilante action are publically made and celebrated.

We urge the government and its functionaries to swiftly apprehend, charge, try and punish Mr Bhatti’s murderers, and also to take immediate measures to curb this trend.

We urge all political parties and parliamentarians to take a clear stand on this issue: No citizen has the right to cast aspersions at the faith and beliefs of any other citizen or to term someone else a ‘blasphemer’.

We urge the federal and provincial governments, the judiciary and the security and law enforcement agencies to ensure protection for those, like former information minister Sherry Rehman, who are publicly threatened by extremists

Some immediate steps that must immediately be taken include:

1. An urgent and meaningful shift in the long-standing policy of appeasing extremists, by the security establishment, the judiciary, the political class and much of the media, with a few honourable exceptions.

2. Hold accountable and charge under the law those who incite hatred and violence; zero tolerance for any public labeling of anyone as ‘blasphemer’, which in the current situation is an incitement to murder, even brazen declaration of criminal intent and commission of a crime. Some recent examples of such incitement are:
- Maulana Yousuf Qureshi, Imam of the Mohabbat Khan Mosque, Peshawar, announced a Rs 500,000 award for the murder of Asia Bibi if the Lahore High Court acquitted her of blasphemy (reported on December 3, 2010, a month prior to the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer; some newspaperseven wrote editorials supporting this call for murder.)
- Banners placed at public places in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi-Islamabad by “Tehreek-e-Nifaz-Tableegh-e-Islam” terming Tehmina Durrani as Pakistan’s Taslima Nasreen and demanding that she be hanged. These must be removed forthwith and the organisation, and administrative officers who allowed these banners to be placed, proceeded against.

3. Prevent the rising number of ‘blasphemy’ cases being registered, by laying down and enforcing a law whereby no such cases may be registered without being inquired into by a judicial magistrate.

Please include your name, profession, and city

Organisational endorsements from CFD supporting organisations include:
Professional Organisations Mazdoor Federations & Hari Joint Committee – POJAC, an umbrella organisation including: 1. Sindh High Court Bar Association; 2. Pakistan Medical Association (PMA); 3. All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC); 4. Mutahida Labour Federation; 5. Karachi Union of Journalists; 6. Pakistan Workers Federation; 7. All Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF); 8. All Pakistan Clerk Association; 9. Democratic Labour Union State Bank of Pakistan; 10. UBL Workmen Union (CBA); 11. National Bank Trade Union Federation; 12. Karachi Bar Association; 13. Pakistan Nursing Federation; 14. National Trade Union Federation; 15. Sindh Hari Committee; 16. Govt. Sec. Teachers Association; 17. Pakistan Hotel And Restaurant Workers Federation; 18. Mehran Mazdoor Federation; 19. All Sindh Primary Teachers Association; 20. Sindh Professor Lecturer Association; 21. Malir Bar Association, Karachi; 22. Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF); 23. Railway Workers Union Open Line (cba) Workshop; 24. Mehran Railway Employees Welfare Association; 25. All Pakistan Trade Unions Organisations; CFD members and those endorsing the above statement also include: 26. Awami Party; 27. Labour Party Pakistan (LPP); 28. Progressive Youth Front (PYF); 29. Communist Party Pakistan (CPP); 30. Peace and Solidarity Council; 31. Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education & Research (Piler); 32. Action Committee for Human Rights; 33. Dalit Front; 34. National NCommission for Justice and Peace (CJP); 35. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP); 36. Caritas; 37. Aurat Foundation; 38. Women’s Action Forum (WAF); 39. People’s Resistance; 40. Sindh Awami Sangat; 41. National Organisation of Working Committees; 42. Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF); 43. Child and Labour Rights Welfare Organisation; 44. Progressive Writers Association (PWA); 45. Port Workers Federation; 46. Shirkat Gah; 47. Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC); 48. Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA); 49. Sanjan Nagar Public Education Trust (SNPET); 50. Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network (PDSN); 51. Sindh Democratic Forum (SDF); 52. SAP-Pakistan; 53. AwazCDS-Pakistan; 54. GCAP-Pakistan; 55. Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF); 56. Labour Education Foundation (LEF); 57. Progressive Youth Forum; 58. National Students’ Federation (NSF); 59. The Researchers; 60. Tehrik-e-Niswan; 61. Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD); 62. Crises Support Group of Residents for Defence and Clifton, Karachi; 63. Baaghi: A blog for secular Pakistan; 64. Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP); 65. Ansar Burney Trust International; 66. Viewpoint International; 67. Pakistan Youth Alliance; 68. Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI); 69. Youth Together for Human Rights Education (YTHRE); 70. The Institute for Social Movements (ISM); 71 South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-Pk); 72. Institute for Development Initiatives; 73. Shehri-CBE; 74. Institute for Peace and Secular studies; 75. Youth Parliament of Pakistan; 76. Pattan; 77. Awami Jamhoori Forum; 78. Community Development Initiative (CDI)

MPs want harder challenge to terror

March 4, 2011

By Raja Asghar

Amid an international concern and national mourning over the assassination of Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, members of the National Assembly across party lines called on Thursday for a harder fight against terror and better protection to minorities.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani interrupted a house debate over Wednesday’s killing of the second state functionary falling victim to assassins’ bullets in Islamabad in less than two months over a controversial blasphemy law to make a belated announcement of three days of national mourning when, he said, the national flag would fly at half mast at government buildings.

Before that, in a rare move, all parliamentary groups on both the government and opposition benches joined a token walkout initiated by members of minority communities to mourn and condemn the killing of the cabinet’s only Christian member on an Islamabad street after an opposition Christian lawmaker set a defiant tone for the debate, complaining of a perceived atmosphere of discrimination against minorities in and outside the house and an apparent acquiescence of authorities to religious extremists.

The prime minister’s announcement of a three-day official mourning also came after all three Christian members who spoke before he arrived in the house had asked why the official mourning for Mr Bhatti was confined to a two-minute silence in the National Assembly on Wednesday while a national mourning was observed for then-Punjab province governor Salman Taseer after he was killed on Jan 4 by his own police guard outside a café in Islamabad.

International condemnations of the murder of a campaigner for inter-faith harmony included those from US President Barack Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Vatican, the British and Canadian prime ministers and the Indian government.

The debate in which more two dozen members spoke on Thursday, most of them calling for sterner action against extremist violence, was called on a suggestion from the prime minister on Wednesday to help his government formulate a new strategy to fight religious extremism.

He said then that he also planned to meet leader of parliamentary parties and convene a meeting of the Defence Committee of Cabinet, which also includes chiefs of armed forces.As the day’s main speaker from the treasury benches, Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Raza Rabbani cited several constitutional guarantees of protection and equality for minorities and assured them the present PPP-led coalition government would “not only protect … but also implement each word of the constitution”.

But this assertion of the respected minister, who also urged all political parties to move towards a national agenda by putting aside their partisan agendas and promote a culture of tolerance to realise what he called the “dream of (Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali) Jinnah” in order to make Pakistan a true federation, was challenged by a razor-tongued opposition back-bencher.

The government “neither protected nor implemented (these constitutional provisions) because you have compromised with terrorists,” retorted PML-Q member Ms Marvi Memon, who also asked what action had been taken against the group that claimed responsibility for Mr Bhatti’s murder?

Mr Rabbani accused unspecified elements opposed to Pakistan playing its rightful role in the region of trying to break the culture of political tolerance evolved by political parties while opposing the Musharraf regime and said: “It is time for the Pakistani nation to do some inner reflection, because Pakistan is bleeding, Pakistan is haemorrhaging ….”

Initiating the debate, Ms Asiya Nasir, a Christian from Quetta, whose three colleagues from JUI-F had refused to stand up for two minutes silence in the house for Mr Bhatti on Wednesday, made the most poignant speech of the day, in which she chose to address the Quaid-i-Azam’s large portrait behind the Speaker’s chair asking if this was the kind of Pakistan he had visualised where she said the minorities were discriminated against and “treated like untouchables”.

She said her daughter told her on Wednesday after Mr Bhatti’s murder that “mom let us leave this country”, and she added she feared she could be next target. “It is time for us to be or not to be,” she remarked before leading the walkout by members of minority communities from all parties, to be joined later by all opposition parties as well as the PPP and its ally MQM.

Akram Masih Gill of the PML-Q said he was feeling “an atmosphere of prejudice” against minorities even inside parliament, regretting that despite the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Pakistan, it had been provided in the Constitution that only a Muslim could be elected president or prime minister of Pakistan.

PML-N’s Nelson Azeem told the house his son also begged him on Wednesday to leave Pakistan now but he said he would not do it “because of the graves of our elders here” and voiced fears that “a country attained in the name of Pakistan will be destroyed in the name of Islam”.

Senior PML-N figure Makhdoom Javed Hashmi made a passionate defence of equal rights of minorities, calling the killing of a moderate person like Mr Bhatti “a shot at the chest of Pakistan itself”, and said perpetrators of such acts were actually seeking to “deface Pakistan” and to lead it to “collective suicide”.

PML-Q chief whip Riaz Hussain Pirzada and some other speakers called for the constitution of a judicial commission to probe funds coming to extremist outfits.

Post-mortem rationalizations…

March 3, 2011

By Shemrez Nauman Afzal

The media frenzy and political gimmickry after Salmaan Taseer’s assassination, and now Shahbaz Bhatti’s brutal murder, fails to answer questions, and instead, posits more queries and conundrums which are completely uncalled for

On the morning of March 02, 2011, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was gunned down near his house in I/8-3 sector of Islamabad. He did not have his security protocol with him. The assassins sprayed his car with bullets, and after confirming the death of their target, littered the murder site with pamphlets that proclaimed the incident as having been commissioned by the hitherto-unknown Punjabi Taliban.

As soon as news of the assassination broke out, civil society demonstrators and protesters held rallies throughout major Pakistani cities, while the Pakistani Christian community was divided on whether to take to the streets over the murder of their biggest politician in broad daylight, or to stay silent and remain within the shelter of their homes.

We only think about what to do, what to say, and (thanks to the media) what to feel AFTER something tragic and unthinkable has happened.

Yet, the tragic and unthinkable happens so often, that one would imagine we would be prepared for it by now, even if we are not desensitized to it.

Express Tribune, a mainstream newspaper, reflected the views of the protesters as follows: nobody is safe, not even the protesters.

Tomorrow if I say something that someone doesn’t agree with, I will also be killed. When people can kill with so much impunity in the capital, no one is safe.

Anyone who speaks the truth is unsafe.

This is another attempt by the extremists to silence the truth and those who dare to work for the rights of minorities, claimed the protesters.

And then we have the religious parties, drawing overstretched links between Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination and the excessive intolerance prevalent in our society, to the Raymond Davis case, the existence of clandestine CIA-contractor networks in Pakistan, and their links to terrorist organizations that are out to destabilize Pakistan (most notably the TTP and other regional and local groups affiliated with Al Qaeda).

The political and religio-political parties also failed to outrightly condemn the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti – some said that the murder of a minister is worthy of condemnation, others (like Khawaja Asif of the PML-N and Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi of Ahle-Sunnat-wal-Jamaat) said that the blasphemy issue makes all Muslims emotional and people should think a thousand times before commenting on it, and yet others drew links between foreign hands trying to destabilize Pakistan, and local elements who wish to draw attention away from Raymond Davis and onto ‘Pakistan as the hub of terrorism and extremism’.

What is the way out?

The progressive, liberal offensive to rescue Pakistan from this quicksand of hatred, from these existential threats, must now multiply.

The liberal, progressive, forward-looking, tolerant and modernity-oriented citizens of Pakistan – regardless of caste, class, creed, background, religion, faith, sect, endowment – must multiply the fronts over which they are currently fighting the Battle for Pakistan.

The scourge of intolerance, of extremism and bigotry, of hatred and hypocrisy, must be countered, checked and questioned. This must take place by retaking the mosques and the madrassas, by re-educating our youth, by interacting with them and mainstreaming them, and by attacking the mullah’s monopoly on so-called “religious discourse” that has very little to do with Islam, but a lot to do with the political goals and motives of the mullah’s.

At the same time, it must be remembered that any and every enemy of Pakistan will try to make the most of our divisions, of issues that can divide us, and over incidents that can diminish our resolve to solve problems just because we are unable to properly investigate and pinpoint the source of contention.

Pakistan wants to coexist peacefully with its neighbours and with the rest of the world.

But before that happens, Pakistanis need to learn to coexist peacefully with each other.

If a Federal Minister and a Governor can be gunned down in the Federal Capital in broad daylight, then it is a sign that all rational, progressive people in Pakistan are a minority.

That is exactly what the religious extremists want you and the world to think.

The offensive against hatred, intolerance, bigotry, hypocrisy and extremism must multiply. There is no better time to do it than now. Otherwise the current pace and quantum of right-wing extremism in Pakistan might lead to an equally deadly and destabilizing phenomenon of left-wing extremism, founded over an anti-mullah and anti-fundamentalist (if not anti-Islam) conceptualization.

Yet, we never prepare in advance, we never dedicate ourselves to these honorable pursuits; we wait for another brave Pakistani on the frontline to be martyred, and we wait for it to ignite our conscience and our passions for another short period of time, until we fall eerily silent once more.

This Pakistani characteristic of post-mortem realizations is really going too far. Tolerance implies coming to peace with things, with people, with words. Yet, we as Pakistanis – as individuals and as a society – fail to come to peace with anything, because of varied, diverse and differentiated opinions, facts, hypotheses, rhetoric and statements flying all over the place.

Everybody is a politician and a pundit, a commentator and a columnist, an officer and an opinionmaker, a newscaster with a ‘new’ way of looking at things. Why do we need all this? Can’t we think for ourselves?

Has the media become the modern, technologically advanced counterpart of the religious right and their militant extremist proxy cohorts? Both are brainwashing the Pakistani people and using massive doses of psychological warfare and propaganda warfare against Pakistanis, Pakistan, the state, and Pakistan’s interests everywhere (locally and abroad). Is this a healthy sign? Is a free yet irresponsible media really an asset to the people, or a pillar of the state?

I am just glad they did not show video clips of Shahbaz Bhatti’s body – if only the righteous and benevolent media had the heart (and the regulatory oversight) to not show Salmaan Taseer’s corpse in the hospital morgue. Yet, trust and sympathy – once lost – is quite difficult to regain.

Pakistanis must agree on a new social and political compact with each other. Pakistanis must ask themselves whether this Constitution and these laws actually and truly reflect the general will of the people of Pakistan, or not.

We as Pakistanis need to realize that while we are Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and Ahmadis; while we are Punjabi, Sindhi, Baloch, Pakhtun, Kashmiri and Gilgit-Baltistani; we are ALSO Pakistani.

And if we are good Pakistanis, if we are proud and conscientious Pakistanis, if we are progressive Pakistanis, then we embody Pakistan and its greatness. If we manage our overlapping identities properly, we are good human beings and an asset to our country.

We must remember that despite our differences, despite our divisive associations and divergent beliefs, we are all Pakistanis.

We are Pakistani Muslims. We must respect Pakistani Christians, Pakistani Hindus, and other Pakistanis of different faiths. Pakistan was created as a Muslim majority nation that was to be home for all the minorities of India, especially those who had suffered from the hands of India’s Hindu majority. Today, all Pakistanis – Muslim AND Non-Muslim – suffer from the hands of self-proclaimed warriors of Islam.

We are Pakistanis. We share an unbreakable bond with our brethren from different provinces and localities; this bond is deeper than any ocean and higher than any mountain. Neither man nor idea can overcome this bond, and no amount of blood spilled can damage this link between one Pakistani and another.

Farewell, Shahbaz Bhatti, Shaheed. Rest in Peace.

You are, and always have been, a great son of the soil. You are one of the bravest Pakistanis I have known.

I don’t know if the green-and-white flag of Pakistan deserves to be placed on the graves of heroes like you or Salmaan Taseer.

I don’t know if we, the rest of Pakistan, ever deserved great Pakistanis like you.

My heart weeps crimson tears of blood as I say goodbye to another brave Pakistani.

Fighting fanaticism

February 22, 2011

Elf Habib

The media has been lending almost tacit support to the currency of intolerance. The country, already battered by bloody terrorist onslaughts, is being further forced to fend off the fury and fanaticism of some hitherto apparently silent segments that have infiltrated into the most treasured security shields

The shock, sorrow and anger that stormed the nation after Salmaan Taseer’s assassination brought home stark realities to highlight the unbridled intolerance, fanaticism and obsession that seems set to obliterate the slightest dissent from the obscurantist notions of faith, conduct and behaviour. The widespread condemnation, mourning, memorial messages, vigils, candle-lighting, processions and protest rallies to vent love, reverence, grief and concern were in perfect order. However, far more potent and concerted steps are needed to reorient the maverick mindset and the attitudes that have abysmally sunk into some circles to enable them to act as self-styled vigilantes, judges, jurists and executioners. Salmaan had committed no crime, but even if someone felt the contrary, the legal recourse for redress would have been the lawful option. Yet his assassin’s reported outburst where he touted a premeditated, brutal murder as a holy feat and the tumult and bravura sweeping his congenital hordes, reflects the dread and design of a fanatic minority to derail the development of a tolerant and pluralistic society. A fatwa, for instance, was flung against Sherry Rehman, merely for suggesting some changes to the blasphemy law. The government and political parties, including some rather avowedly progressive ones like the ANP, have cowered under the hysteric outburst of some skeletal yet supercharged bigoted breeds. The media has been lending almost tacit support to the currency of intolerance. The country, already battered by bloody terrorist onslaughts, is being further forced to fend off the fury and fanaticism of some hitherto apparently silent segments that have infiltrated into the most treasured security shields. The widening gory gyre thus creates new challenges not only for the government but for all democratic forces, rights activists, intellectuals and commoners espousing a tolerant, interactive, pluralistic, peaceful and stable polity devoted to its industrial, economic and social development.

The government, political parties and judiciary in established democratic polities provide the mainstay, shield and stimulus to the diversity of thought, belief and harmonious debate and dialogue, leading to a broader multicultural and multi-faith spectrum. No attitudes, phenomena, beliefs or institutions in any democratic polity are precluded from the ambit of query, question, debate, review, revision and improvement. The repeated dictatorships here, however, stifled this surge, interrupted the political process and drove deeper divisions and distrust into various parties and regions spawning several regional, ethnic and sectarian outfits. Even our principal parties are now forced to stitch some quite disparate and cantankerous coalitions and submit to silly compromises even with the most dogmatic lobbies, hence sacrificing the most rudimentary steps to stem intolerance or promote debate and dialogue. The judiciary is also stymied by several similar constraints. Yet the government can certainly improve intelligence, the security apparatus, training and monitoring. Qadri’s elite corps, evidently, was neither trained to sift and separate personal feelings from professional duties nor vetted for its emotional stability. The absence of an in situ reflex or rapid response from Qadri’s companions to thwart his attack was an even more glaring professional failure. Such security lapses in a country where more than half the federal and provincial revenues are spent on the security sector cannot be condoned.

The security organs must strive to foster an essential professional ethos, extirpating the slightest propensity for fundamentalist notions and the cliques clamouring for vengeance against opponents, and must stop patronising the extremist factions. The other state organs, similarly, also have to cease appeasing intolerant thought or activities and work for the prevalence of an all-inclusive and all-enfolding sufi spirit and pluralism in line with thought and tradition in Islam. The existing legal recourse relating to the incitement of hatred and bigoted appeals to incriminate and annihilate individuals, apparently deemed to be deviant by some self righteous vigilantes, be faithfully implemented. The relevant rules required to mend the drawbacks must be explicitly formulated. The state can similarly initiate several effective steps to regulate the training and certification for various imams and preachers. This is actually an integral aspect of re-educating and re-orienting the mind, skill and outlook of our adult population and, evidently, also necessitates the revamping of the entire approach and mechanism of our religious instruction in schools and seminaries. Respect and tolerance for dissent, dialogue and pursuance, the poise and patience to pocket even the most provocative invectives or preferring a cool methodical legal procedure for redemption by curbing the instinctive impulse for instant vengeance have to be urged and imbibed at the earliest stages. This becomes unavoidable as the world rapidly shrinks to become an inevitable intermix of innumerable faiths, cultures, communities and ideas.

The state can certainly lead and stimulate these endeavours to a large extent but combating the intolerant mindset is more of a collective social responsibility involving efforts by institutions and organisations devoted to impart formal and informal education, influence and outlook. This necessitates the revamping of the syllabi and the mode of formal and informal instruction. But indirect impact and inspiration from the media, movies, theatre and literature is even more crucial. European societies have made some resplendent efforts in taming the fury, fire and free flow of the blood that soaked the Reformation and French Revolution The reaction to Darwin’s iconoclastic theory and Marxist ideas was quite chaotic and contentious, yet it lacked those antecedents of violent, gory feuds. In the US, the state braced a protracted struggle to stem slavery and secession while visionaries, reformers, media and movie magnates orchestrated some really remarkable themes and crusades to transcend racial barriers and expose the futility of clinging to the bygone cotton culture. Now, even video games have joined the genre in tearing down totalitarian dogmatism. Even some African states have swamped the stranglehold of apartheid and racial superiority.

Our media, unfortunately, has miserably failed in exposing the futility of the force and fanaticism for the imposition of any particular idea. It has never portrayed the ravages of morbid monolithic passions and has persistently spurned literature, movies and documentaries, historic evidence, debates and analyses illumining the instructive fate of the ideas that were once considered celestial and immutable. Accounts of societies swallowed by the schism and the strife riled by their stubborn insistence on the supremacy and enforcement of obscurantism are scrupulously ignored. So are the realities to realise the receding role and limitations of religion in the state and global affairs. The enthusiasts and proponents of liberal, logical and realistic thought have a far greater onus to disseminate a dispassionate understanding of the diversity of human thought, rites and the consequent need for tolerance and reconciliation.

The writer is an academic and freelance columnist. He can be reached at


January 18, 2011

By Ahsan Waheed

The Governor of Punjab was killed by his religiously motivated guard following a strike on December 31st that shut down the country in support of the Blasphemy Law; the Governor’s murder was followed by a massive street rally in Karachi in support of the same law and indirectly the Governors’ killer; the parents of a Judge of the Supreme Court were murdered in Lahore fuelling all kinds of speculation; most media debates on many TV channels are focusing on the divide in society between extremists and moderates; infiltration of law enforcing and security agencies by extremists; ongoing corruption scandals, lawlessness, the plight of the common man-rising costs, poverty, gas and power shortages etc, rampant (mostly unreported) kidnappings for ransom, lawlessness; and of course there is the non-stop coverage of politicians engaged in political activity that has no relevance to the street in Pakistan.

Summary of current instability in Pakistan reported by the media so far in January:

GEO TV reporter gunned down in Karachi-shot at point blank range in an obvious target killing; General Secretary of ANP (Awami National Party) attacked in Karachi-survives with injuries but one guard killed and the other in serious condition; a police official hacked with a sharp edged weapon in Karachi-seriously injured; Pakistan Railways likely to stop operations as they have run out of fuel and have no money to pay for fuel (have been incurring heavy losses with operations drastically reduced already); GT Road (Grand Trunk Road) blocked for nine hours by people protesting gas and power shortages; main gas supply pipe line in Baluchistan blown up by BLA (Baluch Liberation Army); PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) heavily overstaffed, running in huge loss asking for billions in bail-out and planning to hand over its major European and US routes to Turkish airlines; rail fares and prices of most edibles increased (people already hit by inflation); power shortages to be extended to nine hours per day, gas supply to industry to remain shut (gas and power shortages already torture to people in extremely cold weather); a daring daylight bank robbery in Peshawar and running gunfight in the streets; earlier there had been reports of a major bomb blast in Bannu(north west) and in Peshawer.

Political and Economic Issues:

The retraction of the RGST (revised general sales tax) and withdrawal of increases in gas prices under political compulsions has signaled that there may be no real tax reforms. Tax collection is focused on those already paying taxes and not on broadening the base leading taxpayers to question what they are getting in return in the prevailing human insecurity. Traders routinely evade taxes on sales offering customers tax free prices if they forego receipts. Street level officials offer bill-free power ‘connections’ and there are reports of illegal sale of smuggled fuel. There is no real move towards austerity nor are any steps being taken or examples set—the haves and have-nots are now being clearly seen and this has implications for the divide on religious basis as well as the rise of extremism. The Central Bank is reporting heavy borrowing by the Government to meet its expenditures, growing deficits, falling exports and a very heavy debt burden. Politically motivated ethnic strife is escalating in Baluchistan and Karachi (47 killed over three days including the Chief Ministers’ pilot) with no steps taken so far to bring the situation under control.

The recent defection of a government coalition partner (MQM) has demonstrated the fragility of the ruling coalition and the kind of pressures the government faces—eroding credibility and confidence in governance capacity– and raising fears of the long term consequences of an appeasement policy.

The military remains heavily involved in a counter insurgency campaign in the western border areas with increasing pressure from the US-Pakistan’s strategic partner-to extend operations into the North Waziristan area now seen as a sanctuary not just for those fighting in Afghanistan but for umbrella organizations (FATA and urban Punjab based linked) that harbor criminals and raise revenue from extortion, drugs, weapons, bank robberies and ransom to augment the flow of funds for the freedom struggle in Afghanistan– widely seen as a fight in the cause of Islam— and the insurgency in Pakistan. Anti-US sentiment continues to exist and grow because of the Drone strikes (a policy never fully explained) and the ‘myths’ that Vice President Biden did his best to dispel with little success.

Consequences and Implications:

The evolving situation is leading to a flight of capital and human resources. Except for remittances from Pakistanis working abroad and aid from donors there is no foreign capital coming into Pakistan. What is keeping a lid on what could become an explosive social situation is a semblance of prosperity in rural areas (less expenses on living, higher prices for farm produce), steady growth in consumer and service oriented ventures in urban areas because of quicker returns and the spending power of the urban elite, remittances from abroad and resilience in the average person.

Pakistan remains functional because of its developed institutions that are now under pressure because of a growing lack of competence and an overall degradation as demand sophistication declines. 2011 is being seen as a preparatory year for elections and 2012 as an election year. In spite of shortcomings and media criticism there is acceptance of the existing coalition government as the best alternative under the circumstances and there is still hope that the situation will be turned around.

What is leading to despair and desperation is the absence of a message of hope and reassurance from the leadership and the daily images of politicians locked in petty wrangling, personal agendas and moving in bullet proof vehicles within long motorcades. No one is calling for military intervention-yet, and this gives a time window to start turning the situation around —something that has to be done methodically and deliberately and not through reactive and knee jerk responses to events. This will only happen if there is a realization that the state is being surely and steadily overwhelmed by the forces of extremism and lawlessness in an environment of rapid economic decline —an unacceptable fate for a state armed with nuclear weapons.

Plan of Action: A methodical ‘recapture’ of the state has to be structured around the following major considerations:

A coordinated and integrated civil-military strategy and approach to address, resolve and deal with these crises is urgently needed. In a media dominated environment the military is sensitive for the requirement of full support from civil society. Civil society is being fed a steady diet of the governments shortcomings, corruption, incompetence and insensitivity to the plight of the people with little reaction or response from the government. The military hesitates to risk its credibility and cohesion by extending total support in such an environment. This situation warrants a civil-military discussion to clear the air and come on the same page. The civilian government has to take the initiative.

The image of a government that is in power through manipulation of the system has to change. Public sector enterprises need to be brought under the management of trustees or governors with impeccable records of achievement in the private and public sector. The steps outlined by this body should then be implemented -no matter how unpalatable.

A merit based system should become the norm and discretionary powers and personal or party preferences should be shunned. This will bring competence at all levels. This will include the bureaucracy and police where expediency has brought about serious decline. The people selected for responsible positions should be given job and tenure security and liberty of action within their spheres with zero political interference. This will involve a top down or bottoms up review of the existing structure.

No matter how unacceptable there is a need for federal offices like the Presidency and Governors to be non-political. This will reduce friction and put responsibility squarely where it should be.

The ambiguity in policies like the drone strikes, the US-Pakistan relationship, the war on terror and relations with India and Afghanistan as well as the perception of the military calling the shots is leading to serious problems. A ‘national policy Advisory Board’ with experienced policy makers as members under a rotating chairmanship from within can make credible and rational suggestions giving weight and substance to government policy. The Board will provide only advice and nothing more—with acceptance being at the government’s discretion. If well orchestrated this system can deliver results.

The ‘accountability’ process is turning into a witch hunt with its obsession on the past. A major political party (PML-N) has demanded accountability from 1947! This needs to be rationalized into a limited, ie ten year, time frame so that the past is not used to pressurize the government or target individuals. The judiciary needs to be consulted and involved so that there are no compromises. The country needs to function in a fear free environment.

There is a need to understand the degradation of the internal and external environment. Crime control, traffic laws, and procedures have to be enforced. The menace of kidnapping has to be eliminated. For some time there may have to be a ban on political and religious gatherings for security reasons and to enable officials to concentrate on their real duties. An example of austerity at all levels must be set both in dress, in behavior and requirements for transportation travel and official functions.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 105 other followers