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Category — media comment

First Trump, then China: as Pakistan loses support it should lose the pretence on cross-border too

By Tom Hussain in South China Morning Post, Sept 9, 2017
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist and Pakistan affairs analyst
In 1992, when Pakistan first came under international diplomatic pressure to halt terrorist attacks on India emanating from its territory, Islamabad’s chief diplomat and the architect of its modern-day strategic alliance with China, Akram Zaki, told me: “Pakistan’s foreign policy is in a minefield without a map”. It still is.

By naming Pakistan-based terrorist groups in the declaration issued at the end of the BRICS leaders meeting in Xiamen on Monday, China has publicly reminded its all-weather ally that the time has come for it to put an end to its relationships with non-state actors.

Coming two weeks after US President Donald Trump issued a humiliating ultimatum to Islamabad, and ahead of a diplomatic support-seeking tour of Beijing, Moscow, Ankara and Tehran by Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Mohammed Asif, the timing and multilateral context of the message is definitive.

China may be working overtime to help Pakistan negotiate a way out of a diplomatic dead end, in part to protect its multibillion-dollar “Belt and Road” investments, but the onus is on Islamabad to come to terms with the changing realities of Asian geopolitics.

The most daunting challenge for Pakistan is to come to terms with the folly of a self-defeating narrative which paints Afghanistan and India as bigger sponsors of cross-border terror than itself.

While there is considerable truth to the Pakistani assertion that dirty wars are being waged against each other by most states with a stake in the “Great Game” in Afghanistan, two wrongs do not make a right. Besides, China has stayed above the fray, making its growing role as a neutral arbiter acceptable to all.

Nor does it help Pakistan that its almighty military leaders refuse to allow a constructive introspection of their dubious policies. They reacted vindictively when leading English-language newspaper Dawn last October cited Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry as telling a meeting of civil and military leaders that China had “indicated a preference for a change in course” of Pakistan’s handling of jihadist groups.

Rather than heed Chaudhry’s advice, the military accused the government of conspiring to humiliate it and forced then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to sack Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed for leaking the story. The newspaper was vilified as “anti-state” and social media activists critical of the military were disappeared and allegedly tortured.

They were painted as traitors and blasphemers, making them vulnerable to assassination by extremists.

But it’s one thing to force a narrative down the throats of a captive domestic audience, another to expect foreign governments, friendly or otherwise, to buy into one.

In the aftermath of the Trump ultimatum, Pakistan misinterpreted Chinese statements of moral support as unconditional backing for its untenable diplomatic position. Pakistanis were even led to believe China’s diplomatic backing would render the country immune to feared acts of American retribution for Taliban and Haqqani network attacks planned on Pakistani soil.

The falsehood of the narrative was exposed by the Xiamen declaration because its wording, rather than being a sudden change of China’s position, was a facsimile of the statement signed last December by all the participants of an India-hosted round of the “Heart of Asia” multilateral conference on Afghanistan, including China and Pakistan.

The subsequent “rejection” of the BRICS declaration by Pakistani Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan on Tuesday was another bizarre example of how denial is undermining the credibility of Islamabad’s position.

Foreign Minister Asif did well to limit the damage by countering that Pakistan should “put its own house in order rather than embarrassing its friends”.

At the heart of it all lies Pakistan’s refusal to acknowledge cross-border terrorist activity continues to be conducted from its territory. This is emblematic of the country’s lack of leadership, which is the product of the deep internal divisions created by incessant bickering between competing arms of the state.

Time and again, terrorist groups have exploited these divisions at great cost to Pakistan. The Haqqani network faction of the Afghan Taliban was largely responsible for prolonging the Pakistani Taliban insurgency in the northwest Waziristan tribal regions bordering eastern Afghanistan, described by the Obama administration as the epicentre of global terrorism. Ultimately, Pakistan had to deploy a third of its standing military to overcome them.

In turn, Afghanistan-focused militants and Pakistani Taliban insurgents have drawn support from anti-India groups in eastern Punjab province, such as Jaish-i-Mohammed and Jamaat-ud-Dawah. They cynically camouflage their terrorist credentials by posing as patriots fighting against India, whereas they have long been part of al-Qaeda’s network. Members of the groups helped Osama bin Laden take refuge in Abbottabad, where he was killed by US special forces in May 2011.

Pakistan’s decisionmakers would do well to revisit the recommendations made by an army task force of three army colonels in 1990 to disarm militants returning from the Afghan jihad against Soviet occupation.

They were overruled and had to bear the brunt of the fateful decision. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani went on to serve as Pakistan’s army chief of staff for six years at the height of the Taliban insurgency. As chairman of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff, Tariq Majid had to endure the kidnapping of his son-in-law by terrorists. Both foresaw that jihadis would undermine the legitimacy of Pakistan’s campaign against Indian rule in disputed Kashmir, the centrepiece of its foreign policy. Pakistan’s present army chief of staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, now faces a similar choice. www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/2110392/first-trump-then-china-pakistan-loses-support-it-should-lose

September 24, 2017   No Comments

China’s Himalayan Climb-Down: edit in The Wall St Journal

A three-month standoff between Chinese and Indian troops in a remote corner of the Himalayas ended this week with both sides agreeing to withdraw. Beijing is claiming victory, but this is face-saving bravado. New Delhi successfully repulsed a Chinese attempt to assert control over the disputed region.

In June China quietly began construction of a road across the Doklam Plateau, an area that Indian ally Bhutan also claims. The area overlooks the Siliguri Corridor, a stretch of territory 27 kilometers wide at its narrowest point that leads to the country’s landlocked northeastern states. The Indian government was understandably alarmed because the new road would allow the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to move tanks and artillery within striking range of the corridor, also known as the “Chicken’s Neck.”

Lightly armed Indian troops entered the disputed area in mid-June, bringing the Chinese road construction to a halt. Some 300 soldiers from each side camped about 100 meters from each other.

Beijing demanded that Indian forces withdraw unconditionally and kept up a barrage of threats and maneuvers. The Indian government remained largely silent, appealing for a diplomatic solution.

The PLA regularly crosses the Himalayan frontier to expand its area of control and poses as the victim when challenged. These tactics are similar to those used by the Chinese Navy in the South and East China Seas, where it seeks to intimidate other claimants to islands and waters.

In 1962 China and India fought a brief border war after Chinese forces built a road across the disputed area of Aksai Chin. The PLA routed the Indian Army in that conflict. Over the past few months, Chinese officials and state-run media promised to teach India another lesson if it didn’t withdraw from Doklam.

India is better equipped to resist Chinese pressure today because it is a nuclear power and has considerable conventional forces near Doklam. The strategic vulnerability of the Chicken’s Neck also stiffened its resolve.

But the key difference was India’s willingness to wait out China rather than moving more of its forces into disputed areas, as it did in 1962. Unable to blame India for a military clash, Beijing had little choice but to open talks.

On Monday India got the resolution it wanted, an agreement that both sides would withdraw and China would cease its road-building. The bulldozers left along with the PLA troops.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi deserves most of the credit for the positive outcome. It chose to make its stand on high ground morally and militarily. As a responsible great power, New Delhi refused to be drawn into escalation by Beijing’s bellicose rhetoric. India’s deft handling of the dispute shows that principled resistance can face down China’s creeping aggression.https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-himalayan-climb-down-1504221994

September 1, 2017   No Comments

Support for the NCHR: edit in Dawn, July 27, 2017

A WELCOME break from the past was witnessed on Tuesday when members of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights argued that the parliamentary panel ought to concentrate on rights violations in the country instead of criticising the National Commission for Human Rights. On previous occasions in the past, the forum has been the focus of complaints and point-scoring for, allegedly, having ‘embarrassed’ the country, when in truth it has only been attempting to carry on with its work. This time, though, once Human Rights Secretary Rabiya Javeri Agha reiterated that the NCHR was completely independent, MNA Munaza Hassan commented that there was a good deal of human rights work to be done. This included, she added, making public the standing committee’s performance report to see if any item on its agenda had been completed. Other parliamentarians, too, spoke up to agree that there were many important issues that were being neglected by the committee.

Putting it thus is to vastly understate matters; the reality of Pakistan’s abysmal human rights record is widely known and concerns have been voiced not only inside the country but also by international observers. It is imperative that the NCHR be afforded maximum autonomy and resources so that it can do whatever is possible to alter the country’s human rights trajectory. Numerous challenges lie in the way of this goal, as, at the moment, the rights of Pakistan’s citizens are being violated on practically all fronts. For the situation to change, and for people to believe that there is concern in the corridors of power about their wellbeing, the government will have to listen to what others are saying about our rights record. It will have to ensure that there is no interference in the work of institutions that have been tasked with promoting human rights in the country and probing complaints of violations, and that Pakistan is fulfilling both its constitutional and international obligations.https://www.dawn.com/news/1347835/support-for-the-nchr

July 27, 2017   No Comments

Journalist’s arrest: edit in Dawn, July 1st, 2017

THE arrest of a journalist in Quetta on Sunday illustrates the extent to which the legislation on electronic crimes can be used to stifle dissent.Zafarullah Achakzai, a reporter for a Quetta-based daily, was taken into custody by security personnel in plainclothes, a questionable modus operandi in itself, and charges were filed against him by the FIA under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016.Mr Achakzai’s ‘crime’, according to his family, was to have posted comments against “national security institutions” on social media.His remarks were critical of the police for having arrested MPA Majeed Achakzai after a traffic policeman in Quetta was run over by a four-wheeler apparently driven by the legislator.

In the process, the reporter also questioned the competence and integrity of the security agencies, in particular the Frontier Corps which is at the forefront of law-enforcement in Balochistan.One may disagree, even vehemently, with Mr Achakzai’s opinions. For him to be arrested for expressing them, however, is taking things too far.Rights campaigners fought an extended and ultimately futile battle against the more draconian provisions in the electronic crimes bill before it was passed last year.Civil society’s misgivings, particularly over those sections of the law that were vaguely worded and could thus be liberally interpreted to intimidate citizens, were clearly justified.Many branches of the state apparatus do not always function according to acceptable standards.

Are the people of this country, ostensibly a democracy, not entitled to the democratic freedom to speak their minds?Speech that incites violence or hatred is one thing, but to clamp down on criticism, valid or otherwise, of institutional shortcomings is quite different.Moreover, even though he was acting in a personal capacity on this occasion, Mr Achakzai’s arrest also raises concerns about the media’s watchdog role.After all, it is often reporting by journalists that results in uncomfortable questions being asked of the authorities, an inconvenience that an increasingly authoritarian state would surely be pleased to do away with.https://www.dawn.com/news/1342480/journalists-arrest

July 2, 2017   No Comments

Pemra threatened – two edits, May 10, 2017

Pemra threatened: edit in The News, May 10, 2017
In an extraordinary press conference on Monday, Pemra Chairman Absar Alam detailed the campaign of intimidation and threats being carried out against him and his employees for daring to do their duty of regulating the media. Alam played a recording of a threatening phone call made to a Pemra employee. This is not the first time Pemra and its workers have been threatened. In fact, in the past there have also been physical attacks on them. These recent threats seemed to be in reference to a TV channel which had its licences cancelled because its directors did not receive security clearances from the interior ministry. It is telling that in his press conference, Alam referred to the hate speech being spread on the media; everyone knows that it has been a hallmark of the said TV channel. Indeed, the channel’s parent company is still being investigated for the infamous fake degree scandal and other possible wrongdoings and a Pakistani man connected to the company recently pled guilty of a conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the US. That this man was caught in the US after managing to elude justice in Pakistan shows how little appetite there is for holding them accountable for their crimes here. This is especially true in the case of this media group and its backers; and conjecture on the media and elsewhere about who might be making the threats only makes the situation more worrisome. Questions around the expensive machinery, equipment and facilities that the channel appears to own have been raised when its own declared accounts failed to justify them. The seemingly unlimited funding available to the channel would suggest that it has undue influence which is now being directed at the media regulator.

Pemra should be applauded for finally taking note of the hate speech being broadcast on the electronic media. Alam has stressed that the regulator is committed to blocking content that violates the spirit of NAP. Pemra has long been considered a toothless body but it must be praised for becoming more proactive in recent months. Its chairman has pointed out that it has taken action in 357 cases, but these cases end up in court where the channels manage to get stay orders issued. Even show-cause notices issued by the regulator end up being challenged in court. The Pemra chairman has appealed to the judiciary to consider this issue constructively. Now add to these problems the threats to Alam and his staff and it becomes impossible for Pemra to function effectively in a climate of hate and fear. Alam’s appeal to the authorities to ensure the safety of Pemra’s staff should be heeded immediately. It is also the duty of the government to investigate who is issuing such brazen threats and ensure they are punished. But some are doubtful that this will happen since the prevalent view in the media and elsewhere is that powerful elements within the government are at play. Media freedom brings with it the duty to not empower extremist voices and jeopardise innocent people. It is bad enough that taking action against such channels is difficult; that it is now also accompanied by threats of violence is chilling. www.thenews.com.pk/print/203476-Pemra-threatened

Serious Threats : edit in The Nation, May 10, 2017
The leaked phone conversation between a Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) employee and an unknown caller – threatening the employee to allow for a channel to be brought back on air regardless of the orders from government – is a dark reminder of how bureaucratic officers are often threatened and coerced to not do their jobs properly with the threat of injury and death as an incentive to comply. The call in question is all but proof that certain media houses are backed by powerful elements, who do not fear the law or the state enough to comply with its wishes. Not only that, they are also clearly willing to take matters into their own hands if their outrageous demands are not met.

PEMRA Chief Absar Alam’s plea to the government, the army chief and others is serious in the extreme and must not be taken lightly. If the regulatory body is to carry out its duties effectively, the protection of its staff and their families must be made a priority. It is natural that threats are made against a body tasked with regulating powerful organisations, however, that does not mean that this is to be tolerated. The threats are a direct challenge to the writ of the state – the caller even went as far as reminding the PEMRA employee that the government will be replaced, but permanent physical injury was more lasting – and the government should treat them as such.

PEMRA, like all other institutions, is by no means perfect, and has erred on more than one occasion. Banning shows that were not controversial but dealt with important societal issues and acting with delay on hate speech on air are only two examples of unjustified steps taken by the institution. However, PEMRA cannot be faulted for doing its job. If a media house or a TV channel does not agree with the policies or decisions being made by the government or the regulatory body regarding what goes on air, there are proper channels to take these complaints to. Threatening to kill or maim someone or their family only tells us that the demands being made are unjustified and cannot be granted under due process of the law.

If this threat is not acted upon, more are likely to surface in the future, not to mention that other media houses will be encouraged to spurn the authority of the regulatory body whenever it makes a policy that is not to their liking. Finding out the source of the threats made, their purpose and throwing the book at the perpetrators is fundamental to ensure the future of regulation of electronic media in Pakistan.http://nation.com.pk/editorials/10-May-2017/serious-threats

May 10, 2017   No Comments

From militants to talking heads : edit in Daily Times, 10-May-17

A week after the interview of former TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan on GEO was banned by the electronic media regulator, another private television channel aired the interview of Noreen Leghari, a young woman radicalised by the Islamic State extremist group. Let us examine the issues that this raises.

Firstly, Noreen ought to have gone through a fair trial, and the issue of punishment and rehabilitation ought to have been left to the courts. It is not the duty of security agencies or the media to decide who can be forgiven and who cannot. This state is treading a dangerous path by setting such a precedent for depicting dangerous militants as our ‘angry brothers’ and ‘daughters of the nation’.

Secondly, with state agencies allowing the media access to such individuals in the first place, the impression is created of an open clash between state institutions. While PEMRA took action against Ehsanullah Ehsan’s interview following the criticism from across Pakistani society, its ineptness over the continued practice of giving illegal airtime to captured militants raises many questions over its ability as a regulator. This is especially the case if we consider PEMRA chairman Absar Alam’s recent statements to the effect that the employees of the regulatory authority are facing severe threats from anonymous persons.

Lastly, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership cannot continue to live in a state of denial about the presence of the Islamic State outfit and its allies in the country. The IS group has already caused enough carnage in Pakistan to be recognised for the dangerous entity that it is.

As for Noreen Leghari herself, there can be no dispute over the fact that she needs access to formal institutions for rehabilitation and psychological assistance. But making a talking head out of her despite the fact that she was caught red-handed, planning an attack on Easter this year, is outrageous.

The fact that the state authorities are backing this new trend of confessional statements and airtime for criminals on media is injurious also to Pakistan’s foreign relations. When facing constant allegations of support for various armed militants in the region — how can Pakistan afford to turn those it has captured like Ehsanullah Ehsan or Noreen Leghari into media celebrities?http://dailytimes.com.pk/editorial/10-May-17/from-militants-to-talking-heads

May 10, 2017   No Comments

Defenceless rights: by Yasser Latif Hamdani in Daily Times, May 8, 2017

The writer is a practising lawyer
The Pakistani edition of the International New York Times has yet again censored an op-ed by a leading Pakistani writer about our recent embrace of militant commander Ehsanullah Ehsan. It is next to impossible to censor anything on the Internet and I am sure more people read it precisely because it was censored. There was nothing in the article I did not know as a reader but someone, somewhere, deemed it dangerous for the Pakistani people to read.

I wonder though who makes the decision to censor international newspapers in the country. Is it the local printer out of the desire to stay on the good side of the powers that be in the country? Or perhaps it is some shadowy department that takes these decisions late at night? Either way I wonder if they have thought about how they have made this country the laughing stock of the world.

In theory Pakistan is a constitutional democracy with fundamental rights including freedom of expression and the right to information. Pakistan is also a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Therefore Pakistan is doubly bound by constitution and international law to respect these fundamental freedoms that ought to be guaranteed to persons living in the borders of Pakistan. I wonder if the geniuses making arbitrary decisions to censor have ever bothered to read these documents with which Pakistan is legally encumbered.

Unfortunately the jurisprudence in Pakistan is always about circumventing and limiting rights rather than expanding them. Article 19 of the constitution for example promises freedom of expression and speech but every case law you find under this fine constitutional article is about how limits on these rights are justified. Same is true of Article 20 which promises unfettered religious freedom subject to law and morality. Yet the “landmark judgment” on the issue, Zaheeruddin vs State 1993 SCMR 1718 is all about how religious freedom can be curtailed and that curtailment justified, using amongst other things a spurious and strange application of copyright law. Time and again the judiciary clips the freedom of conscience and the right of individuals to live freely as citizens of this country. Judges may pronounce so and so as not being sadiq and ameen but they shy away from ever allowing fundamental rights to be implemented in any way shape or form close to how those words were originally intended or ought to have been interpreted to ensure a progressive and wholesome society in Pakistan. Gone are the days of Justice M R Kayani. In very real terms the constitution has become the unlit dawn that Habib Jalib warned us about.

Instead, sections of our judiciary are more interested in clamping down on Valentine’s Day (in utter and total disregard of the constitution) and encouraging mob lynching. Speaking of lynching, no week has passed since the brutal killing of Mashal Khan (remember him still or have we forgotten him in the din of Panama and Dawn leaks?) that some mob has not attempted to lynch someone in Pakistan. Whither Article 9, the right to life? Whose responsibility is it to ensure that the right, life and liberty of citizens is protected? The Ministry of Interior has this mouthful on its website: “To make Islamic Republic of Pakistan a country where rule of law reigns supreme; where every Pakistani feels secure to lead a life in conformity with his religious beliefs, culture, heritage and customs; where a Pakistani from any group, sect or province respects the culture, tradition and faith of the other, where every foreign visitor feels welcome and secure.” Note that there is no mention of fundamental rights. As for religious beliefs, read majority’s religious beliefs and that too interpreted by certain rabid clerics. How can any foreign visitor feel welcome in such a place? Forget poor Non-Muslims in this country who are repeatedly made to feel second, nay, third class citizens in the country. Indeed I would go further and say that despite our parroting of equal rights mantra it is actually a legal, political and academic question now as to whether Non-Muslims can even be considered citizens of this benighted land.

The buck stops at the judiciary in my humble opinion, with all due respect and reverence to that great pillar of our state. It is the judiciary whose job it is to stand guard in defence of our fundamental rights. It is the judiciary which ought to defend Non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan from the tyranny of the majority. It is the judiciary who is tasked with ensuring the common man is protected from an overbearing and wretched state that in turn fuels a society which devours its own. It is the judiciary that has failed to hold the executive and the legislature accountable. Instead the judiciary has more often than not acted as a mere rubber stamp for a state gone mad and an unbridled majoritarian and fascist society that believes in trampling the rights of the marginalised, the weak and the dissenters.

One can only appeal to the high and mighty lords to do the justice they ought to do and cry halt before it is too late. Pakistan is slipping away. A future historian will record the verdict that our judiciary let it slip right out of its hands. http://dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/08-May-17/defenseless-rights

May 8, 2017   No Comments

The state’s secrets: Edit in Dawn, May 4th, 2017

SIX years from the shocking episode, and in the midst of today’s turmoil over national security, Minister of State for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb has bluntly rejected the possibility of making public the Abbottabad Commission report. Ms Aurangzeb did suggest that, at some indeterminate point in the future, a government may decide to release the commission report, but made it clear that the so-called sensitive nature of the report would have to be kept in mind before publication. The minister’s remarks appear to be in line with official thinking on the matter and are highly regrettable. There were two questions at the heart of the Abbottabad episode. One, how was the world’s most-wanted terrorist, leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, able to live undetected in Abbottabad for many years? Two, how was the US military able to insert troops deep inside Pakistan; conduct an operation on the ground in a major town far from an international border; and withdraw its troops several hours later without being detected or challenged by the Pakistani security forces at any stage, in any place, on ground or in the air? To those two fundamental questions, a third must be added: was anyone held responsible for the sanctuaries Bin Laden was able to find in Pakistan for many years and for the inability to detect or stop a major US incursion on Pakistani soil?

With the first two questions unanswered, or perhaps with the answers buried in the secret Abbottabad Commission report, the question of public accountability is impossible to answer. Therein lies the real threat to national security: how can Pakistan be made more secure and its people safer if the state is unwilling to acknowledge its failures, explain what went wrong, determine who was at fault, identify who is to be held responsible and clarify what steps have been taken to prevent a repetition of a convulsive episode? In the US, the events of Sept 11 led to a 9/11 commission report that exhaustively detailed both the attacks and the institutional failures that allowed the attacks to happen. As a result, wide-ranging intelligence and security changes were made in the US, including the creation of a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. Fifteen and a half years later, there has not been another attack inside the US that has remotely approached the scale of the 9/11 destruction.

Can any reasonable citizen of Pakistan or observer of the state claim with any degree of confidence that the country has been secured from a repeat of an episode like May 2, 2011? The problem is really of institutional culture and a resistance to change and censure. From the Hamoodur Rehman commission to the inquiry into the Salala attacks, a culture of secrecy has dominated. If Pakistan is to have stronger institutions, transparency and accountability must be embraced.

May 4, 2017   No Comments

Tracking extremism: By Muhammad Amir Rana? in Dawn, Apr 23, 2017

The writer is a security analyst.
THERE is apparently no direct link between the brutal lynching of Mashal Khan, the arrest of Naureen Leghari, a convert to the so-called militant Islamic State (IS) group, and the surrender of Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA) leader Ehsanullah Ehsan.

Together, however, these incidents may depict varying expressions of tendencies in extremism and terrorism.

Mashal Khan`s case was an expression of collective behaviour of extremism, which can be invoked and exploited by interest groups for mala fide intentions. This can also be called the `criminal exploitation of extremism`, in which criminals take advantage of the masses` religious sentiments, knowing that the state and its institutions will hesitate to take action. These attitudes are creating a conducive environment for ultraand hyper-extremist groups to operate in the vulnerable spaces that exist in every class and institution in Pakistan.

Naureen was not the first victim of the violent extremist tendencies in the country. She was arrested in Lahore, while she was travelling to Syria for the nusra (support) of IS. Her case is similar to that of the Muslim diaspora youth in the West, who are recruited in cyberspace with their families having little idea. In Pakistan, radicalism is mainly a family phenomenon. The process starts with a male member, and gradually, female members of the family transform. Naureen`s inclination towards IS is a matter of concern, as her family was not aware of her transformation. This is the first time evidence has been found that the Middle Eastern terrorist group is targeting educated Pakistani youth. The potential for IS influence to spread, particularly on campuses and amongst the upper-middle classes, has not been measured yet.

The overall socio-religious atmosphere and activities of radical groups on campus are alarming. The problem is not confined to a few universities; this is a story of every campus.

The contradictory statements given by Punjab`s Counterterrorism Department and the InterServices Public Relations about Naureen`s travel to Syria reflect how the police handles such sensitive cases and manipulates information. To get creditand to justify huge budgets, counterterrorism departments manipulate information and exaggerate reports of the killing and arrest of militants.

Very little is known about the terrorist activities they were involved in.

The surrender of the JuA leader is big news, as the group was involved in major attacks during the past few months. The JuA has denied the reports about his surrender and claims he was arrested at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Whatever the case, this is an undeniable success. What is to be seen now is how security institutions deal with the aftermath.

All these three incidents were reported within a week. The picture emerging from foreign and Pakistani media warns of how extremism in society has reached a level that it can motivate a mob to lynch anyone without proof. And while it is fine if a few terrorists surrender, it does not indicate that the entire problem has been eliminated, as terrorist organisations such as IS still have human resource.

Naureen is an example. Some suspicious minds may go a step further and see the surrender of the JuA spokesman as part of the process of converting the `bad` into the `good`, as happened in the case of the Punjabi Taliban leader, Asmatullah Muawiya. He was found to have been involved in major terrorist attacks in the country but later detached himself from the anti-Pakistan groups.

The state and the common Pakistani may not agree with the picture. Extremism changes people`s perspectives. The social and religious imagination becomes narrow, if not abnormal. One may argue that these are three separate incidents, and have nothing to do with each other. One may bring statistical evidence to support the argument and point to the number of terrorists that have been killed since the last attack in the country. The overall decrease in such attacks may also be a good reason to claim success. Naureen`s case may be explained away as one isolated incident, as IS is not present in Pakistan. As far as Mashal Khan is concerned, the violence that led to his murder may be `justified` as a sudden reaction of the faithful. This is how we think.These three incidents could constitute good case studies for understanding the dynamics of extremism, crime, negligence, terrorism and counterterrorism strategies. However, examining such phenomenon scientifically is not possible in a society that is not ready to accept science as a pure discipline in its educational institutions.

The little work on the subject done by local and international scholars indicates that the common man is becoming more sensitive about his religious and sectarian identity and affiliation. Even the expression of religion is becoming more sectarian, with different identities expressing themselves more vociferously, to the denial of others, facilitated by sectarian parties allying with mainstream parties, the presence of sect-based madressahs, and the changing geopolitical rivalry between Shia Iran and Wahabi Saudi Arabia. As old groups like the Pakistani Taliban decline, other groups like IS make inroads, relying on the resources of Pakistani Taliban militants.

Religious rituals once participated in by all are now are claimed by some, excluding others. Almost all sects have their rituals or events marked publicly to show strength. In southern Punjab, for instance, shrines and Sufism were a form of religious expression that people took as cultural expression; but now, even in that `city of saints`, intolerance is rising, expressed in a narrow religious-social context. In this process of the transformation of religious expression, religious and sectarian minorities are suffering greatly.

However, the state has a counterargument and claim to make. The National Action Plan was formed to address such deep-seated issues.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb and now Operation Raddul Fasaad have rooted out the militant infrastructure, and physical spaces have shrunk too. While the state cannot fix the society`s thinking process, it can take several initiatives, from educational to security sector reforms. But who is the state? From where are its operators coming? Do they have the will or the vision to reverse the processes. http://epaper.dawn.com/DetailImage.php?StoryImage=23_04_2017_008_004

April 23, 2017   No Comments

Losing Momentum: edit in The Nation,April 21, 2017

Only a day after the National Assembly unanimously agreed to amend the blasphemy law and place safeguards for false accusations, on Wednesday, both Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) declared that they were against the idea of changing the controversial law.

Both JI and JUI-F have now stated that the blasphemy law itself is not the problem, those that take the law into their own hands – as in the case of Mashal Khan – are the main issue and should be punished accordingly. But what both parties choose to ignore, is that false accusations of blasphemy are a real problem.Mashal Khan was falsely accused, like many others before him, and long before an investigation could even begin, he was butchered on the steps of the university he used to study in.They fail to see that being accused of blasphemy is tantamount to a death sentence in this country, and that is why our legislators need to step in.

Contrary to the belief of JUI-F and JI lawmakers, the blasphemy law is anything but perfect and a colonial creation.Scrapping it altogether seems out of the question at this point in time, it must be changed to ensure that it is not exploited as it is on most occasions.On Wednesday, yet another man was killed by three sisters because they believed he had committed blasphemy more than a decade ago.A 295-C case had been registered against him in 2004, after which he had left the country.His arrival back to Pakistani soil all but hammered the final nail in his coffin, because the vigilante sisters sought him out in his home and murdered him in cold blood.They did not notify the police of the suspected blasphemer’s arrival, nor did they wait for an investigation, and his murder tells us that the silence of the state has been perceived as tacit approval by all those who kill in the name of protecting their religion’s honour.

And this is exactly why the law is problematic, because each time, individuals or groups believe they can take the law in their own hands to exact justice.The state’s inability to punish these offenders, vocally speak out against supposed blasphemers long before their guilt has been proven, and indifference towards amending the law is exactly why we stand here in the first place.If both JUI-F and JI actually stand for justice (as they claim), getting in the way of changing a law that denies justice to all those accused under it is highly irresponsible.The narrative against false allegations of blasphemy is finally being established in the country, we must not let it die down due to a few parties that use the moralistic stance when it suits them, but never stand for the right thing when push comes to shove.http://nation.com.pk/editorials/21-Apr-2017/losing-momentum

April 21, 2017   No Comments