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Category — Pak Media Comments

Sit-in at Faizabad : op-ed by M A Niazi in The Nation,Novr 24, 2017

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.
The Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasoolallah sit-in at Faizabad has proven a headache for anyone travelling to Islamabad, or between it and Rawalpindi, and has claimed at least one victim, the child who died because he could not make it to PIMS in time, but it has sent out a number of messages, and scored a number of points.

Perhaps the most significant is that it has established followers of the Brelvi school of thought as a major source of street power. Previously, it was assumed that the Jamaat Islami and the Jamiat Ulema Islam enjoyed street power through their student wings, the Islami Jamiat Tulaba, which was strong in ordinary colleges and universities, and the Jamiat Tulaba Islam, which drew strength from Deobandi madressahs, respectively. The 2015 sit-in not only boosted Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehrik Insaf, but also highlighted the staying power of Allama Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehrik, which was Brelvi in inspiration.

The Faizabad sit-in has shown that not only has there emerged a new player in the street power stakes, but a new contender for the position of the wielder of Brelvi street power has also emerged. The touchbutton issues are established as anti-Ahmedi-ism and the blasphemy laws. It should be remembered that the TLYR is a new platform, and mobilises the outpouring of support for Mumtaz Qadri, the police guard who killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in 2011, and was ultimately hanged for this crime in February 2016.

This sits ill with the common concept of Brelvis as more peace-loving and tolerant than Deobandis, who are thought to be under Salafi influence, originating in Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam. It must not be forgotten that Brelvi and Deobandi is a distinction which merely identifies where a particular cleric studied, and which school the founder of that institution attended. To take an example, graduates of the Jamia Haqqania in Akora Khattak are accounted Deobandis because the Founder of the Jamia, Maulana Abdul Haq (father of its present head, Maulana Samiul Haq) studied at the Nadwatul Uloom, Deoband. The late Pir Pagaro claimed that he was neither Deobandi nor Brelvi, because his madressah, the Jamia Rashidiyya in Pir Jo Goth, had been founded before either madressah at Deoband or Bareilly.

Both Deobandis and Barelvis have the same course of study, sharing texts in common. Both belong to the Hanafi school of the Sunni sect, and the only difference lies in attitudes towards Pirs. It is more a question of attitude: Deobandis are as fervent believers in tariqat as Brelvis. It is among the Wahhabi Ahle Hadith that it is denied, even though certain Ahle Hadith ulema are no less rigorous in their spiritual observances.

Because of the commonality of texts, Brelvi scholars do not deny the doctrines of jihad, blasphemy and on Ahmedi-ism. They may not stress them, but they hold them to be correct. Any attempts to make these doctrines confirm to a nonviolent interpretation have to come from individual scholars. It is perhaps one of the strengths of Islam that it possesses no central authority. There is no authority which can command obedience. The only authority was the Caliph, but after the Caliphate was abolished in 1924, even that was no more. This is not to say that some posts are not prestigious, and given more weight than others, such as the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar. However, a refusal to accept his opinion casts no one outside the pale of Islam; in the way that refusal to accept the Pope’s pronouncement would take a Roman Catholic out of the Church.

Coming to the recent imbroglio, nothing better illustrates the saying originated by Italian dictator’s longtime Foreign Minister Ciano, but revived by US President John F. Kennedy: “Victory has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” Though an internal party inquiry has been conducted by a committee headed by Senate Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq, and a report presented to party chief Mian Nawaz Sharif, the public stance of the government is that it does not know who is responsible. Law Minister Zahid Hamid denies any responsibility for the offending change in the MNA’s declaration. He piloted not just the legislation of which that change was a part, but also the legislation which reversed it. Zahid Hamid, a former Musharraf-era Law Minister, is one of those rare persons who straddles both Musharraf’s and Mian Nawaz’s governments. The extent to which the matter has gone is shown by his having had to deny that he was an Ahmadi. It should be remembered that his father, the late Brigadier Hamid Nawaz had been a Bhutto-era MNA, his brother Shahid a Punjab Governor in the 1990s, and the question of whether they had been Ahmadis would have been settled by now.

It should be noted that the Anti-Ahmadi riots of 1953 were led by Maulana Abdus Sattar Niazi, who was a Brelvi too. The assumption by outside observers that Brelvis are somehow more amenable to abandoning the use of violence, should not ignore the use of Sufi orders by the Osmanlis in their Janissary corps, and the role of these orders in the 19th century Daghestani resistance, which is symbolized by Imam Shamyl, who was a Sufi master.

The use of the sit-in tactic has two apparent sources. First, there was Imran Khan’s sit-in. Second, there was a sit-in after Mumtaz Qadri’s chehlum in March 2016, by which the TLYR had already been formed. Further, the by-election in NA 120 which followed Mian Nawaz’s disqualification saw a TLYR-backed candidate get more votes than the MML-backed candidate, and both more than the PPP candidate.

The TLYR would thus get votes that would normally go to the PML(N). The TLYR showed in the NA 120 by-election that there were more Brelvis out there than Ahle Hadith. While Ahle Hadith are still a minority, Brelvis are part of the mainstream.

People are not used to think of themselves as Brelvi or Deobandi, probably because they share common doctrines, and are identical in personal law. However, there are certain clear distinguishing features setting apart the Sunni, Ahle Hadith and Shia sects. Nonetheless, all have in common the Quran and a corpus of Hadith (the Sunnis and Ahle Hadith have the same corpus; the Shia have their own sources, but there is enough overlap for them to be followers of the same religion). No matter how one tries to look at it, all three sects prescribe the same rewards for martyrdom, and thus the same fearlessness.

If one was to accept that the PTI had its sit-in scripted, it is easy to see the TLYR one as equally scripted, and by the same scriptwriter. It thus becomes yet another effort to co-opt an important part of the political spectrum. Just as the PTI is meant to erode the PPP, the TLYR is supposed to wear down the PML(N). This is one context within which to see the sit-in, but not the only one. http://nation.com.pk/24-Nov-2017/sit-in-at-faizabad

November 24, 2017   No Comments

Occupy Faizabad: By Shahzad Chaudhry in The News, Nov 24, 2017

How it built up; how it got here, and how it has now reached that notional critical mass sticks like a bone in the gullet. There is simply no running away from it. But grow it did, right under our eyes; and foolishly, despite prior examples of how in each such case the state looked silly.
Remember the very first test to the Nawaz government when a certain Malik Sikandar held Islamabad city hostage for six long hours after images of him and his family were beamed across the world as he went about cavalierly disregarding any supplications for letting the city be free from his gun-toting and cigarette smoking ways – straight from a script of a Hollywood blockbuster. Every now and then he fired, in the air and at the people, just to assure curious onlookers that he was the real deal and not to be messed with. Surreal, yet true, it was played out live on TV screens. The government had no answer. One man spited the collective intellect of the government.
Then Imran Khan sat at D-Chowk for 126 days as the entire city went up in a turmoil around him. This could be attributed as political agitation though after the initial fancy had worn off the tolerance-thresholds of the citizens began to crack and the sheen of the PTI’s politics began to wear thin. Ditto this time. A bunch of clerics and members of a recently registered political party have resorted to holding millions of citizens to ransom in the name of religion. They came with the intent to register their objection to the changed format of the undertaking for being a Muslim in the newly legislated Electoral Reforms 2017 and have decided to stay to relish the limelight without caring how it impacts anyone else.
Someone facilitated the group to congregate for a day in Faizabad, permitting it to travel from Lahore, across the breadth of Pakistan through its most critical arteries to gather and then occupy the capital city’s most critical choke-point, control of which can literally paralyse Pakistan’s twin cities wherefrom hundreds and thousands commute daily. It has been 17 days and there aren’t even signs yet of them yielding to decent coexistence. The group called Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah makes the Islamic Republic of Pakistan look quixotic; the only nuclear state of the Muslim world, one in dire economic straits though, and fighting a critical war against terror and extremism while virtually standing on the anvil of a political meltdown, is devoid of any ideas or will or interest to return the city back to its people.
The slogan that this group employs is most sensitive to any Muslim and seemingly has also straitjacketed the state into a voluntary restraint and thus ineffectiveness. But what really betrays is the lack of intent, interest or right thought from those who mind the state to obviate its malignant fallout. To some, in this may lie the comfort of the paradox which gives respite to the ruling party from its debilitating predilections by diverting public intention while it corners itself into virtual absence. The citizens and the nation hauntingly ask: complicit or incompetent? The dharna group has the government in Islamabad in a fix and is not letting it go.
This may seem to be an administrative failure but hop to more fundamental governance areas like policy formulation and one seems to be peeping down a gaping hole. There is no one minding the fort these days. It already is a cliché, sadly reeking of truth, but there is no government and matters of the state remain unattended. Without decent recourse the state appears jaded and weakened. One element of credibility of exercising state power is that it remains the most potent, never in doubt of its immense effectiveness – whether that be inside the borders or against an external threat. What this sit-in has done is to shake these assumptions about the state. This bodes poorly in terms of the state’s deterrence value externally or in its impact against internal disquiet. Pakistan is in the throes of such buffeting.
The economy is imploding under the weight of twin deficits and an ever burgeoning debt basket and this government cannot replace its ineffectual, indicted and now proclaimed offender finance minister with another. That is ultimate paralysis. The best that the government can do is to declare the finance minister on leave, not daring to replace him even as he has declared himself sick and unable to perform his functions. The sit-in at Faizabad wishes to secure the resignation of the law minister who in their opinion has wronged on the point of a fundamental religious belief – even though the omission now stands corrected – and have successfully mutated the connotation into a rallying cry feeding their other interests. What was a rag-tag assembly has now assumed a character and proportion of its own. Dealing with it now would entail a cost.
And finally, when any position of relative importance opens up, the most common name touted to fill-in is of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal. In effect, he is already half the finance minister for he sits in the National Finance Commission and the Council of Common Interests, and leads the JCC on CPEC, even as he presides over the Planning Commission in the executive position of its deputy chairman. Were he to also be formally appointed the finance minister that will perhaps be a first – for someone to hold as many portfolios with diverse specialisations. And of course he is still this country’s interior minister responsible for controlling and clearing the sit-in which continues to spite the central authority of the federal government even as it continues to deny millions their fundamental right of free movement.
Why so? And this is interesting. The more popular refrain is that were Dar and the law minister to be replaced it could threaten the safety and security of a disqualified and now-indicted Nawaz Sharif. Because the two might spill the beans – Ishaq Dar adding to his repertoire of admissions that later became known as the Hudaybia testimony; and Zahid Hamid, a roving technocrat of many former governments, who may fill in with even more evidence in the ongoing tribulation of NS before the courts.
Left to the incumbent, PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi would have been happier to see an ineffectual cabinet member go, replacing him with someone present and functional. But so arid is this assembly of politicians that but one individual alone has the make-up to attend to this state’s multiple malignancies. Where pray, are the technocrats of the Senate meant to provide specialised assistance in governance of the state? Swept away into oblivion by their convenient replacement with failed politicos who must still be parked in good humour regardless of their merit for any good other than the din to fight a leader’s corner? We remain captives of an autocratic mediocrity cloaked in the hallowed sham of democracy. Dictators at least got things done.https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/248007-occupy-faizabad

November 24, 2017   No Comments

Prolonging the standoff: By Niha Dagia in The Express Tribune, Nov 23, 2017

The writer is a practising counselling psychologist and a part-time journalist.
The Faizabad blockade is well into its third consecutive week of paralysing the twin cities, depicting an all too familiar image of a government reluctant to take on the protesters gathered there. In some ways, it is a tale of diminishing writ yet there is a method in this madness.

The government’s hesitation — which arguably is enabling the protesters into blatantly defying the judiciary — may seem out of place, even appalling. Still, it is not surprising as a political mess at this point can prove to be the distraction Nawaz Sharif needs to quietly make his way towards general elections next year. The ruling party may be looking to reiterate its ‘martyrdom’ at the hands of the judiciary, playing the role of a government besieged from all sides.

On November 21, the interior minister took full responsibility for not complying with the Islamabad High Court’s orders to evict protesters. His excuse for wanting to “peacefully” negotiate with the demonstrators whose blockade has already caused at least one death seems lame.
The precedent set by the government in depicting itself powerless in front of a few holding the capital captive despite having the option of seeking the help of the armed forces under Article 245 to disperse the protesters, ignoring IHC warnings and the Supreme Court taking notice of the situation further highlights the PML-N’s incompetency to govern and its indifference to the common man’s struggle.

One would think that a sit-in crippling civilian life for more than two weeks warrants attention from the top brass yet we see no hurried meetings between the prime minister and the army chief to find a solution. Such a lukewarm response to the Faizabad crisis raises questions. Even popular political leaders have shied away from urging a quick resolve through the use of force.

Reasons for the averseness can be many: the political parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), are unwilling to draw the ire of religious groups as their support will be needed in general elections to garner votes, the government fears any show of force may lead to a situation similar to Lal Masjid or simply because neither the civilian nor the military establishment wants to be on the wrong side in the debate of finality of the prophethood.

Given that the amendment igniting the controversy was scrapped and the clause restored, the demand to remove lawmaker Zahid Hamid is not only irrelevant but can potentially endanger his life owing to the sentiments around the issue and efforts by the religious parties to decribe the amendment as blasphemous.

The government stands in a position where leniency shown to the protesters would not just show weakness but also encourage other groups to intensify pressure by blocking roads, staging sit-ins for demands that can be beyond the state’s influence. And if it allows security forces to comply with IHC orders to evict protestors by force, it risks armed clashes. Delaying it further can lead to an even bigger crowd with heightened passions, in a re-enactment of the 2014 dharna staged by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

Only this time around, the protesters are close to losing their zeal and energy waiting for the state to act — as it drags its feet in the dialogue process. The cold weather seems to be adding to their woes, dampening the spirits of the participants.

Yet if the Supreme Court decides to call in the army under Section 190 to remove the blockade it may give the PML-N a get-out-jail card in terms of keeping its vote bank intact and keeping religious sentiments at bay.

By prolonging the situation and not taking a fundamental stand, the government has cornered itself and allowed the judiciary (and military establishment) to sweep in to make the tough calls — weakening the hands of democracy.https://tribune.com.pk/story/1565723/6-prolonging-the-standoff/

November 23, 2017   No Comments

State failure & extremism: By Rasul Bakhsh Rais in The Express Tribune, Nov 22, 2017.

The writer is a professor of political science at LUMS, Lahore.
There are many pathologies and symptoms of state failure in Pakistan among which failure to counter religious extremism is the most obvious one. The monster of religious extremism — intolerance of other sects in Islam and religious beliefs and acts of targeted violence against minorities — has been in the making for decades. While the extremist groups, leaders and movements have been on the rise and creating greater public and social space for themselves, the state institutions and the ruling groups have been surrendering their power and shirking their responsibility to protect security of life and freedom of citizens. The narrative of state failure in Pakistan — an intellectual taboo some decades back — is for real now. Failure to recognise the state failure and do something about it is bound to further weaken the state and make society more vulnerable to attacks from the religious extremists.

There is little doubt about who I am talking about; yes, those who use our sacred religion or any other religion for violence of all forms from hate-speech to physical harm like murder, militancy, terrorism and suicide bombings. These people no matter what elevated positions in religious or social hierarchy they occupy, their choice of violent means for achieving their social or political objectives makes them an enemy of the people, society, and even the religion they pretend to profess. No religion by its spiritual values, moral ethos and teaching allows violence against society, which the nation-states — based on citizenship and multi-faith populations — represent. Actually, if we look at the past 40 years of history of the region, the connected theatres of a terrible war, religious violence has taken a structural form, a stubborn character and growing religious industry.

More than 70,000 citizens have lost their lives among whom a good number of those killed are from the Shia sect, Ahmadis and Christians is an undeniable fact. What kind of a state and society we are, if people professing a particular faith, which is a fundamental right universally acknowledged, can be targeted, killed and even expelled from their ancestral places. Is religious freedom only for the majority, the powerful?

The personal tragedy of tens of thousands of children, women, scholars, poets, intellectuals, political and social activists, soldiers, policemen and tribal maliks makes the tragedy of Pakistan. The tragedy is further compounded, as it goes on and on with ruling groups —the PML-N — taking the course of political expediency. In the face of these horrible acts of violence, it wanted to negotiate with the TTP even after the terrorists had trashed seven negotiated agreements. The security forces took decisive action, leaving the ruling political clique to a choice between watching from the sidelines or following in their tracks.

A new religious group, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik, has paralysed the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi by marching from Lahore and occupying Faizabad interchange. Once again, we see political expediency shaping the choice of the ruling clique. The response of the PML-N is no different in this situation than a normal attitude of a banana republic. Failure to act in such situations created by religious groups is a normal response of the government.

The power of extremist groups has grown because the power of the state to act in support of law, justice and in public interest has considerably declined. Popular support has rarely energised religious extremist groups; instead, it will always be the inability of governments to act against them in support of the law when they have to. https://tribune.com.pk/story/1564652/6-state-failure-extremism/

November 22, 2017   No Comments

MMA – a dream or reality?

By Mureeb Mohmand in The Express Tribune, Nov 22, 2017
SHABQADAR : After the recent announcement of an electoral alliance between the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), many are left wondering about the chances of the re-emergence of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

JUI-S leader Maulana Samiul Haq met PTI chairperson Imran Khan on Saturday in Islamabad and both the leaders agreed to establish an electoral alliance ahead of the 2018 general elections.

The move has raised the question of whether the MMA can still be revived. Many believe there will be a repeat of the 2002 alliance as leaderships of the various parties that had entered the alliance then have announced that during a meeting on December 15, the status of MMA will formally be announced.

When Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) senior minister for local govt Inayat Ullah was asked about the upcoming meeting in Karachi, he told The Express Tribune that even though the leaders of six parties – JI, JUI-S, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F), Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan (TJP) and Jamiat Ahle Hadees Pakistan (JAP) – had announced a meeting on the MMA revival, it was still not clear whether they would actually announce the alliance’s revival or deliberate on it further in bid to bring other religious parties under one flag.

Inayat Ullah said the JI wanted to revive the MMA but if other party leaders did not agree, it might create hurdles, dashing the dreams for a strong religious party alliance during the 2018 elections.

He was asked about the JUI-S decision to form an alliance with the PTI and Maulana Sami’s disapproval of the JUI-F and the JI for not abandoning their alliances with the federal and provincial government.

In response, he said it was decided in Lahore during the previous meeting that after the MMA was revived, the JI and the JUI-F would have to obey whatever decision the executive council took. But he added that it would be premature to abandon the alliance at this stage as the status of the MMA itself was uncertain.

When the same question was put to JUI-S central vice amir and Sami’s son, former MNA Maulana Hamidul Haq, he told The Express Tribune that Sami wanted a broad-based electoral alliance of like-minded parties – whether they religious or others.

When asked why they established an alliance with the PTI and whether they would like to make the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) a part of the proposed alliance, he said, “The JUI-S believes that the PTI leans more towards religion than most parties which is clearly seen by the Islamic reforms they introduced in K-P, some of which include abolishing interest as part of private loans and teaching Quran and Hadith as a compulsory subject at the school level.”

He further elaborated by saying that they had reservations about the MMA in the past as well with the way they were running the government in K-P and the same was also mentioned then. He said his party’s shura would decide whether they would stay with the PTI or join the MMA, adding that JUI-S shura had not endorsed the alliance yet.

Haq said that with Sami heading the DPC, he would try to make all parties in the DPC join the alliance with the PTI. He also questioned the past performances of both the JI and the JUI-F during the MMA government in K-P, saying that they had failed to introduce sharia in the province.

The JUI-S leader criticised the JUI-F alliance with the PML-N, blaming them for the amendment in the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat clause of the constitution. He slammed them further by saying that “today Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah is staging a protest while the JUI-F is sitting in the cabinet” with the PML-N.

“How can we sit with a party that supports the PML-N in the federal government and how can we form an alliance with the parties that refuse to let go of the government for the MMA?” he asked.

Analyst view

Peshawar University’s International Relations Department’s Dr Ijaz Khattak was asked if December 15 will be seen as the day the MMA is revived, he replied he was not hopeful.

Apart from the JUI-S, the JI and JUI-F have many differences in opinion on key issues which include the Fata merger with K-P, Panama Papers case and Nawaz Sharif’s corruption, especially since the JI supports the PTI in K-P and the JUI-F is PML-N’s coalition partner in the government.https://tribune.com.pk/story/1565003/1-mma-dream-reality/

Discussing Sami’s role in the MMA, Khattak said although the JUI-S had no electoral strength in K-P in the presence of the JUI-F and the JI, they had their own standing in religious circles.

However, Khattak said if revived, the MMA would not be as impressive as it was in 2002, as times have changed drastically.

However, Pakistan Studies Department chairperson Dr Fakhrul Islam is hopeful about the religious party’s revival as promised by the leadership. He said that the revival of the party is demanded by almost the entire religious sphere. Dismissing the alliance between Sami and PTI, he said that even though Sami and his seminary have a legacy it will not impact the MMA, as JUI-S does not have any electoral background.

He further shed light on how even when Sami was a part of the MMA, between 2002 to 2008, he had more issues with the JI and JUI-F than with MMA opponents, clearly highlighting his unhappiness even then.

Islam’s view was that although the MMA will feel Sami’s absence in the alliance but at the same time the party will gladly live without the pressure that his presence brings, in the form of criticism for MMA policies. www.tribune.com.pk

November 22, 2017   No Comments

The flames of bigotry: by Zahid Hussain in Dawn, Nov 22, 2017

The writer is an author and journalist.
IT all started with just few hundred zealots blocking Islamabad’s main highway. Now into its third week and with thousands more joining in, the blockade has virtually brought the administration to its knees. Pampering and pleading have failed to move the defiant clerics; even the court order to end the siege has fallen on deaf ears. The paralysis of the state has given the fanatics a greater sense of empowerment.

What is more troubling is that the flames of bigotry are sweeping across other parts of the country creating a dangerous confluence of religion and politics. The controversy over the missing oath that has apparently been exploited by the newly formed Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) to whip up religious sentiments has turned into more of a political issue bringing the beleaguered government under severe pressure.

It is the fear of a blowback that seems to have limited the option of using force. The repeated extension of deadlines and seeking the help of religious leaders to end the stand-off demonstrate the helplessness of the administration in a midst of a political crisis. The political fallout of the 2007 Lal Masjid military operation and the 2014 Model Town police action keeps haunting the embattled government.

But giving in to the irrational demands of a political-religious group would further weaken the authority of the government and the state. The administration has failed to learn from the consequences of the policy of appeasement and the delayed action against the Lal Masjid militants. Undoubtedly, there would have been no need for such massive use of force had the then military-led government acted a year earlier when the vigilante squads organised by Lal Masjid clerics went on the rampage. The police could have easily tackled the matter then without much bloodshed.

It may not be appropriate to draw a parallel between the two situations. But it would have certainly been much easier for law-enforcement agencies to remove a few hundred protesters when they started to block the road earlier this month. There was certainly no groundswell of support for the unruly mob; in fact, there has been huge public outrage over the blockade. But that initial dithering on the part of the administration encouraged some other groups to join the siege, making the situation much more volatile.

It was certainly not a spontaneous move when the protesters led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi marched into Islamabad travelling all the way from Lahore. There seems to be a clear plan behind the siege. It is quite intriguing why the Punjab government did not stop the TLY supporters despite the fact that the issue of the missing clause about the finality of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had already been resolved.

It is quite evident that some senior members of the ruling PML-N also played a role by stoking the controversy because of political expediency. Some of the opposition party leaders have also jumped into the fray for their own vested political interests. Then questions have also been raised about whether the newly formed TLY enjoys tacit support of some intelligence agencies to undercut the PML-N vote bank. All these factors have created a monster and stoked the flames of bigotry that may burn down their own homes.

Notwithstanding the rise of religious extremism in the country, this new phenomenon spearheaded by clerics like Khadim Hussain Rizvi is more dangerous as it evokes wider emotional appeal among the less-educated populace. The filthy language used by these clerics and the open incitement to violence has made the lives of not only members of minority religious communities but also moderate Muslims more vulnerable to mob violence.

In his landmark report on the 1953 Lahore religious riots former chief justice Muhammad Munir wrote: “…[P]rovided you can persuade the masses to believe that something they are asked to do is religiously right or enjoined by religion, you can set them to any course of action, regardless of all considerations of discipline, loyalty, decency, morality or civic sense.”

This applies to present-day Pakistan that has rightly been described as among the most intolerant nations in the world. In this overwhelmingly Muslim-majority country, everyone’s faith is being questioned. The slightest perceived deviation or allegation of blasphemy can cost one his/her life. It reminds one of the Inquisition in mediaeval Europe.

Just listen to the speeches of Rizvi and his fellow clerics being live-streamed on social media to understand the kind of vitriol being spewed in the name of religion. The law of the land is certainly not applied to these merchants of hate who are holding the nation hostage.

It is pathetic that the law minister has to prove his allegiance to faith and beg forgiveness for an oversight for which he was not directly responsible. The demand for his resignation is not just about his person but the sanctity of parliament. Conceding to this demand would further strengthen these extremist forces that consider themselves above the law.

For sure, efforts must be made to bring this blockade to a peaceful end. But the government must not allow any group to challenge the state’s authority. One cannot understand the administration’s dithering despite the order of the Islamabad High Court to clear the siege. The order declared that no group could be allowed to infringe upon the rights of the people or disrupt the administration.

Indeed, it is primarily the responsibility of the government to protect the rights of the people and uphold the rule of law. But the issue of extremism must also be the concern of the state and other stakeholders in the democratic setup. There is a need for a joint effort to deal with this rising menace that threatens the national fabric.

The use of religion as a policy tool by the state and its confluence with politics has divided the nation along sectarian lines and fuelled bigotry. The ongoing siege of the capital presents a serious challenge to not only the government but also the state. https://www.dawn.com/news/1372094/the-flames-of-bigotry

November 22, 2017   No Comments

Islamabad seize: two edits/Nov 22, 2017

The politics of siege: edit in Dawn, Nov 22nd, 2017
THE democratic right to protest has been hijacked and the federal capital and the country’s fourth most populous city, Rawalpindi, have virtually been held hostage. It ought to have been an unacceptable state of affairs. But a misguided protest by far-right religious parties, led by the freshly minted Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, and a mishandled response by the federal government have snowballed into a full-fledged political and law-and-order crisis. Leave aside for a moment the reason for the protest and the demands of the protesters who have made life miserable for hundreds of thousands of commuters between Rawalpindi and Islamabad for over two weeks now. If it were any other group of citizens — nurses, teachers, government employees or farmers — would their protest have been allowed to disrupt the lives of the denizens without any end in sight? Why, then, is this impunity afforded to a gathering that has threatened violence, made extreme demands and undermined the democratic order in the country?

To be sure, the democratic right to protest must be protected against undesirable and illegal encroachment by the state. However, the core of the TLY’s complaint has already been addressed by parliament and demands such as the sacking of federal ministers cannot be countenanced; it would set a terrible precedent and encourage future protests. Just as clearly, the protesters must not be evicted in a violent manner. The clumsiness of the state security apparatus could trigger violence that may spiral out of control. A negotiated settlement, with all institutions of the state firmly lined up to bring a peaceful end to the protest at the earliest, is the only sensible path out of the crisis. The failure to do so until now is a reflection of the lack of coordination and communication among state institutions. A firm, united message from all major institutions has not been in evidence so far.

The problem, however, clearly goes beyond the latest siege of Islamabad. Whether it was the PPP and PML-N’s ‘long march’ politics or the PTI’s several attempts to paralyse life in the capital, the democratic right to protest has morphed into dangerous demonstrations of street power. There is a line between legitimate democratic protests and protests that destabilise democracy or are anti-democratic — and it appears that line has been crossed in Pakistan. Quite how new rules can be negotiated among the political class is unclear, but it is apparent that this new phase of politics of sieges is unsustainable. Making parliament the locus of political activity could be one way of pulling back from the brink. Another possibility is that the mainstream parties determine new rules for protests in Islamabad that allow protesters to make their point without massively disrupting daily life. If the danger of escalation is not addressed, some kind of dreadful violence may materialise sooner than later.https://www.dawn.com/news/1372093/the-politics-of-siege

Beyond the ridiculous : edit in The Express Tribune, Nov 22, 2017.
To say that the virtual lockdown of large parts of Islamabad by a right-wing religious party for a fortnight goes beyond the ridiculous is an understatement. Equally to say that the government and its various agencies have displayed comprehensive incompetence is no understatement either. Multiple deadlines for the resolution of the crisis have come and gone. Consultations are endless and fruitless. Ever-increasing and preposterous demands by those manning the blockade make a negotiated resolution increasingly unlikely. There is more than a chance that those ‘protesting’ are seeking to push the government into a violent confrontation that will then be exploited and held up as an example of just how much the government is a mere tool in Western secular hands.

Meanwhile the life of much of the capital city of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is throttled; traders are losing money hand over fist, and commuters massively inconvenienced to say nothing of the cost of wear and tear on their sorely pressed private cars. The latest wrinkle is that the Supreme Court has taken suo-motu notice on the basis of Article 15 of the Constitution which allows and protects freedom of movement to the general public. Contempt notices have been issued to a basket of high-ranking officials and the SC has given yet another deadline of 23rd November.

None of this needed to have happened. If the law-enforcement agencies had got a grip from the outset and diverted the ‘protesters’ to the Parade Ground they could have squatted there for as long as they liked with no inconvenience to anybody. The issue which supposedly triggered the protests has long disappeared into the background. It was rectified swiftly once its sensitivity was recognised but the ‘protesters’ are having none of it and want scalps. This needs to end and it needs to end now. There is little choice but to physically remove the people blocking the Faizabad interchange. This is not going to be pretty or neat and there is nobody to blame but an incompetent maladroit government. Allowing them space is an unparalleled ceding of power and a clear indicator of who really is in charge.https://tribune.com.pk/story/1564716/6-beyond-the-ridiculous/

November 22, 2017   No Comments

Missing women: edit in The News, Nov 21, 2017

With the next general election scheduled for 2018, the ECP has given out some rather disturbing news. It seems at least 12.1 million women are missing from the electoral rolls, as has been revealed by the ECP’s director general for gender affairs. This is a shocking figure. How can a free, fair and representative election go ahead with 12.1 million missing women? Apparently, Nadra has no data about the missing women voters. The blame seems to have been placed on the absence of national identity cards but this is still not a legitimate excuse for why so many women have been omitted from the electoral rolls. The missing female voters are among a myriad of issues that the ECP faces when preparing for the 2018 elections. The controversies and disagreements over the new census figures and the process of delimitation of constituencies have already taken up a large amount of time and energy. In all that, we hope the issue of disenfranchised women is not forgotten.
The ECP has been empowered a bit more by the new electoral laws. It must take proactive action to ensure the full participation of women voters in all constituencies. The situation as it stands at the moment, with 12.1 million missing female voters, is not acceptable. No legitimate election can be conducted with so many voters simply excluded from the lists. This also brings up another issue. In many constituencies, women are prevented from exercising their right to vote – even when on the voters’ lists. The ECP has been given the power to declare a poll null and void if the number of women voters is less than 10 percent of the total votes polled. The enforcement of such a law will be a major victory for the democratic process in Pakistan. The missing female voters issue must be taken up as a national priority for any legal enforcement to be effective. The ECP has promised that Nadra will undertake an emergency mobile CNIC registration campaign. This needs to be planned and started very soon. The ECP then needs to report back within a pre-determined timeline on the progress made in identifying and registering the missing female voters. Otherwise, the next election will remain tainted.

November 21, 2017   No Comments

No state for human rights: By Salma Butt in The Express Tribune, Nov 21st, 2017.

The writer is a youth development expert
The Universal Periodic Review’s (UPR) third session was held at the UN human rights council headquarters in Geneva on November 13th, where Pakistan presented its third report in the presence of 117 countries.

The UPR is more of an ethical global bonding than legal. The UN member states present their reports voluntarily and seek recommendations from other countries to improve their rights situation.

Before they present the report, they hold pre-discussions on its findings but in Pakistan there had been no talks either in the national parliament or provincial assemblies. The status of UPR remains a silent issue and unknown to the public.

In Pakistan, we are dealing with the human rights issue encompassing children, women, youth, transgender people and religious minorities — almost all segments of society. Though there are independent bodies working on such issues at different levels, we have not yet found a forum that consolidates various efforts under one platform, as together there can be diversity and variety in the scope, findings and implementation by different actors.

The NGOs and civil society develop a shadow report every year on human rights based on the work done by them at the grassroots level. The report is prepared at least six months prior to the session by consulting the civil society at the provincial and national levels, and holding lobbying meetings with international agencies in Pakistan, which is then finally submitted in Geneva three months before the final session. However, at the government and state levels the delegation’s nominations and preparations of the report is often a hasty process without consultation. As a result, the NGO report is always in contradiction with the government’s reports when it comes to facts and figures. These then become two isolated inductions on the same issues from one country at a global platform. But the gap can be bridged through an active role of the parliamentary standing committees that could form a single forum.

For this, the parliamentary standing committee on human rights at the national and provincial levels can create a space to gather different actors for consultation, discussion, unanimity and consolidation in the form of an in-house publication presented before parliament and provincial assemblies. This could discuss what should be put forward in the report at the UPR and what are the recommendations Pakistan received from the forum previously, how many of them were endorsed and what were noted or rejected.

The committees should also call for proposals at the provincial level on the status of human rights that could be presented at the national level in the form of pre- and post-debriefing reports before parliament and provincial assemblies for debate, media discussions and public forums. If the issues are highlighted unanimously through consolidated effort it can attract global funding as well as strengthening legislation process on human-rights issues.

The inclusion of citizens is also significant. Citizens in general are unaware of how and when the UPR recommended for advocacy of better policy to facilitate their rights.

Recommendations we received this year include freedom of expression and abolition of Article 295-C (blasphemy law), violence against women, etc. For the first time ever, Pakistan also received recommendations on elimination of all kinds of discrimination and abuse against transgender people, and the Transgender Protection Bill being tabled in the Senate furthers the cause.

It’s time the recommendations were highlighted in an open discussion at the parliamentary forum, with stakeholders and collaborators instead of shelving them until the next UPR. Building national consensus through consultation under the patronage of the parliamentary forum can earn us goodwill within Pakistan as well as at the global forum. https://tribune.com.pk/story/1563782/6-no-state-human-rights/

November 21, 2017   No Comments

Stephen Cohen’s Idea of Pakistan: by Ahmad Faruqui in Daily Times, Nov 19th 2017.

The writer has authored “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan.”
Cohen is America’s leading expert on South Asia. What he says in this book, which came out in 2004, is still relevant to the quandary facing Pakistan today.

Stating that early on Pakistan fell into the grip of an oligarchy comprising the army, the civil service, and the feudal lords, Cohen reminds us that Aristotle regarded oligarchy as the evil twin of aristocracy.

While Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan was that of a secular state, Iqbal’s vision was suffused with religious overtones. Over time, the tension between these two visions was exploited by various groups to push their own agenda.

Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad, a former civil servant, deposed the democratically-elected prime minister in 1953, striking the first of many mortal blows on democracy. He acted in connivance with the army chief General Ayub Khan. The US looked the other way, anxious to enlist Pakistan into the Cold War.

In 1954, the US provided Pakistan hardware and munitions to raise five-and-a-half army divisions and ten air force squadrons. This strengthened the position of the army-dominated military in the political establishment, and led to Ayub’s coup in 1958. Three more coups would occur as history unfolded.

Cohen presents three conflicting visions for the future of Pakistan: a state for the Muslims of South Asia, an Islamic state, and a democratic state.

The first vision fell apart in 1971 with the secession of East Pakistan. At partition in 1947, Pakistan accounted for two-thirds of the Muslims in South Asia. Now it accounts for only one-thirds, negating the main tenet of the two-nation theory.

Of course, this has not bothered the ideologues from calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir. Cohen rightfully says that the relentless pursuit of Kashmir has done more damage to Pakistan than any other single issue. Elsewhere, he has argued that Kashmir is just a symptom of a bigger problem between the two siblings.

Recognising the disparity in conventional forces, Pakistan has adopted the strategy of waging a covert war in Kashmir, in addition to building nuclear weapons. It has armed, trained and funded guerillas that operate in Kashmir as ‘freedom fighters.’

Since the Afghan-Soviet war ended in 1989, these groups have embraced the use of terror for political gains and have even attacked targets in India. Cohen traces their terrorist ideology to Maudoodi’s writings, but this appears to be a weak inference since the latter never supported terrorism.

The second vision is that of an Islamic state. There is no unique interpretation of an Islamic state, since there are numerous sects and sub-sects within the Islamic faith. The pursuit of this vision is fraught with danger since any brand of Islam that comes into power would seek to impose itself over the others.

The third vision is that of a democratic state. Such a state would provide civil and human rights to the citizens. A democratically-elected government would determine national security strategy and defense policy. The army would not determine who would be elected to public office. That would appear to be the ideal end-state. But it is doubtful whether the Pakistani military with its oversized political agenda will ever let this vision come to pass.

Cohen rightfully critiques militarism and describes how it has harmed national security. The army, at 600,000, is 50 percent greater in size than it was during the 1971 war, when half of the country was lost. By diverting resources from social, political and economic development, it has compromised national security, a fact acknowledged by the Abbottabad Commission.

Ironically, the West has often supported militarism in Pakistan. Samuel Huntington of Harvard called Field Marshal Ayub Khan a Solon after the great Athenian lawgiver. Nixon praised General Yahya for giving him the opening to China. Reagan and Thatcher praised General Zia for being a bulwark of freedom against the USSR. Bush praised General Musharraf for his role in the war on terror.

Over time, “Pakistan has adapted to changing strategic circumstances,” Cohen observes, “by ‘renting’ itself out to powerful states,” such as the US, Saudi Arabia and now China. This strategy has not yielded any clear benefits to Pakistan.

Cohen presents six scenarios of the future: (1) continuation of the status quo, which involves rule by the oligarchy, now known as the Establishment, (2) liberal, secular democracy, (3) soft authoritarianism, (4) an Islamist state, (5) divided Pakistan and (6) postwar Pakistan.

These scenarios, while intuitively plausible, represent Cohen’s personal opinions. They lack the rigor that would have come from using cross-impact matrices of driving factors or a Delphi process involving multiple experts. He also seems to assign probabilities to the scenarios but the methodology is unclear.

He notes that American policy toward Pakistan has always given short-term gains priority over long-term concerns. This is no longer feasible, since ignoring the long term could have grave consequences.

While discussing the ebb and flow of the tide in American-Pakistani ties, Cohen does not explore the reasons why the tide has always been at a flood when a Republican administration has been in power in the White House and a military dictatorship in Islamabad and at ebb otherwise.

Currently, terrorism has zoomed to the top of the American agenda but it needs to be given a long- term preventive quality, not just a short-term military quality. He says the US should incent the government of Pakistan to increase the share of its expenditures that go for education, especially primary education, by reducing military aid if a minimum amount is not spent on education.

In Cohen’s view, the army remains the biggest threat to democracy in Pakistan, not corrupt politicians. Elsewhere, he has called it the largest political party. Even when it is not in power, it has unlimited access to the government’s budgetary and foreign exchange resources and dominates the nation’s foreign policy. These points are amplified in Aqil Shah’s book, Army and Democracy, which is also a great read.

The Idea of Pakistan covers a lot of ground. However, by the time one gets to the end, many questions remain unanswered. For example, Cohen says the Pakistani army is long on memory and short on foresight, but he does not discuss why that is the case or whether it will ever change. In addition, by presenting a scenario where the oligarchy continues to rule as the most probable scenario, he seems to be endorsing Pakistan’s recidivist militarism. He says it is improbable that liberal democracy will take hold in Pakistan. Just a couple of decades ago, the same had been said of Latin American and Eastern Europe where democracy is now widespread.

The book’s implicit hypothesis is that Pakistan’s insecurities have led to military rule. But why is that not true of India, since it has security problems with Pakistan and China, and has to contend with numerous separatist movements?

Cohen does not rely on surveys or polls to enrich his analysis, nor does he provide a cross-country comparison. Despite all these limitations, the book is a classic and a must-read.

November 20, 2017   No Comments