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Category — Pak Media Comments

The hair-raising tale from Karachi’s central jail: EDIT

EDIT in Pakistan Today, Sept 24, 2017
Five years after PML-N promised transparency, progress and improvement, the country is gearing up for another general election. There is no progress in eliminating load-shedding (the promises made were dismissed as a spur of the moment, off-script emotional declaration), transparency is apparently only acceptable when demanded of and not by the opposition (or the judiciary — as the government hems and haws over the LHC’s order to make the Model Town report public), and the police force is either sporting new duds (Punjab’s camouflage uniform) or aiding and abetting terrorists and high profile criminals.
So much for improvement.
This should shock the civil society and parliamentarians into calling for an intense inquiry into the incident and strict punishment of those involved. The striking incident is an explicit example of the lack of training, standard operational procedures and accountability in the police force with cases now registered against more than 10 officials. But what is truly hair raising is that it implies what many have feared as Pakistan grew further embroiled in the war on terrorism: an increase in the influence of religious extremism in the people charged with defending both the law and Pakistan’s citizens. If we can’t trust our guardians — who do we trust? www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/09/24/the-hair-raising-tale-from-karachis-central-jail/

September 24, 2017   No Comments

Mainstreaming of terror outfits: There are no signs that groups like JuD, LeT and JeM have been disarmed

by Marvi Sirmed in Daily Times, September 24th 2017.
The writer is a staff member
The recent by-election in Lahore’s National Assembly constituency NA 120 has ignited an important debate about the counter violent extremism, radicalisation and terrorism in the country. For many, the candidates fielded by Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) linked Milli Muslim League (MML) and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), led by Barelvi extremists was alarming.

But there is a far greater number of ‘experts’ and commentators, belonging to even the liberal quarters supporting it as the best strategy to ‘eliminate’ terrorism by allowing them in the political and social mainstream if they renounce violence.

The proponents of ‘mainstreaming’ are quoting Northern Ireland’s IRA/Sinn Fein duo and a more recent process in Afghanistan wherein a former militant warlord Gulbadin Hekmatyar was allowed to join politics. The narrative, howsoever it seems appealing, is thoroughly misleading to say the least. Talking about the Afghan process, it was led by the political leadership of that country with transparency and openness to the extent that several drafts of the ‘peace agreement’ were signed with the militant group, the text of which appeared in media and was commented upon by a range of commentators, before finally declaring the group ‘former militants’.

Also, Afghanistan’s scenario is absolutely sui generis, with a history of warlordism, which was so intertwined with the political fabric of the country that it still is quite difficult to completely isolate warlords from their tribal areas of political influence. Almost the entire parliament comprises these former (or current) warlords. In this backdrop, it is a sensible approach to bring the rogue warlords to the folds of legitimate political activity, to prevent them from joining or to isolate them from their existing alliances with domestic militants and terrorists actively engaged in crimes against Afghan people and state.

Coming to the Northern Ireland process, ever since this successful peace process it is pretty common in the world of counter terrorism to try applying the lessons learnt during this textbook case of negotiating with the terrorists. In 2012, Jeffrey Donaldson and Denis Haughey, two prominent Irish politicians flew to Afghanistan to offer advice to Hamid Karzai’s government to help kick-start a formal process of peace talks with the Taliban. Donaldson was in the Ulster Unionists’ negotiating team in 1998 for the famous Good Friday Agreement, while Haughey led the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) team in the Brooke-Mayhew Talks and later the talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement. Although the Irish and the Afghan insurgencies has altogether different ideological shades, with the former demanding the right to self determination and the latter committing acts of terrorism on Afghan people in order to impose their rule and their own version of religion. Yet there were some applicable lessons from the Irish experience that Afghanistan could employ in dealing with its own domestic militants.

The Northern Ireland peace process, however, is starkly different from what happened in NA 120 recently or has been happening generally in Pakistan despite military operation Zarb-e-Azb and the National Action Plan (NAP). The peace process followed in Northern Ireland was stretched over various years and culminated in the complete disarmament of the insurgency and its leader’s mainstreaming into the political process. The process was completely transparent wherein various agreements were achieved and announced, but not before briefing the parliament thereon. One could cite speeches by John Major and later by Tony Blair to the parliament briefing on the process.

In case of JuD, all of it might not be applicable or even comparable. Sinn Fein was political face of Irish Republican Army, an underground organisation with domestic agenda that disarmed and surrendered weapons to be accepted as legitimate actor in political process. The groups like JuD, LeT and JeM are already quasi-state supported and there is no sign they have been disarmed. Secondly, these groups have been carrying out violent activities outside Pakistan. This will certainly affect our image internationally.

Since they are not protagonists in a civil war, their international targets and victims have to accept their demobilisation. Otherwise, Pakistan’s international isolation would exacerbate.

More importantly, these groups will inject xenophobia and extremist views in the body politic if given free hand in politics. They’ll propagate their xenophobic ideology to masses who are already ripe to fall for the trap. If it happens, the state would gradually lose its agency to change the policy if it wants to change it in future. The recent example being the anti conversion law that Sindh’s provincial assembly passed. After strong opposition led by JuD and other groups, the provincial government decided to let go of a law made by the elected representatives.

The optics of such an opaque ‘mainstreaming’ of these terrorist organisations won’t go down well with the world. Whosoever is propagating the image of us as a terror-supporting nation, would be dancing to see all this because this gives them enough meat to continue with their hoopla.

The question, then arises, how else to deal with these Frankenstein monsters? The answer is simple; the state should immediately stop all kinds of ideological or logistic support to these groups. If there is a process of negotiations, parliament must be requested for input and buy-in. Once the disarmament is achieved, it must be properly announced with evidence of arms decommissioning, so that the entire world knows what these groups are committing themselves to. A carefully devised de-radicalisation framework should be developed for these groups before allowing them any political activity. For a specific period, all activity by these groups must be watched by a specially designated Commission to ensure they don’t eulogise their militant achievements and glorify their violent methods and objectives. We have to have guarantees in place to ensure that while mainstreaming the violent extremists, we are not mainstreaming extremism. http://dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/24-Sep-17/mainstreaming-of-terror-outfits

September 24, 2017   No Comments

Decline of some groups means rise of others : op-ed

by Dr Raza Khan in The Express Tribune, Septe 23, 2017.
The writer is a political, economy and security analyst and a governance and public policy practitioner:
In Pakistan, the role of Muslim religious and sectarian political parties has always been important. These parties and groups have been representing the ultra-conservative sections of society and appealing to votes of this stratum of society. However, none of these parties have ever been able to win a majority in any national election. Only in the 2002 elections, an alliance of these parties known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal had won around 50 National Assembly seats and attained a majority in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) province. Despite being unable to win national elections or a substantial number of seats of National Assembly and provincial assemblies, religious parties have been getting a noticeable number of votes in each electoral constituency.

For quite some time, religious and sectarian parties in Pakistan have been grappling with multiple challenges. This is despite the fact that the two larger Muslim religious political groups, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JIP) are still part of the federal government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the K-P government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. But by and large, these outfits are beset with troubles and facing strife. These range from organisational problems to incompatibility of their narrative and arguments with the values and discourse of the postmodernist age, which have also attracted a lot of people in Pakistani society and affected our political culture. Like elsewhere, Muslim religious parties in Pakistan have had based their politics on ideologies and grand or meta narratives which are no more relevant in the postmodernist age. Rather we are living in the post-ideological age where issues, identities and personalities are more relevant than ideologies or a grand discourse. The present situation of Muslim political groups can be analysed within that context. Here we have an interesting example of the recently held election in the National Assembly constituency (NA-120) of Lahore.

A key dimension of the NA-120 election was the humiliating defeat of the JIP. The party only polled around 500 votes. The JIP has always had a sizable vote bank in Lahore, a key metropolis of Pakistan. The party has been getting more than 5,000 to 10,000 votes in most constituencies of Lahore and even won some of them in the 2002 national elections. The September 17th result of NA-120 must have come as a big blow to the party. So the demagogic antics of JIP head Sirajul Haq have resulted in the decline of the party instead of rejuvenating it. The JIP, although a coalition partner of PTI in the K-P government, has been refusing to support the latter in elections elsewhere in Pakistan. The JIP has gained a lot from its uneasy alliance with the PTI but its strategy has failed in K-P — at least politically. This is because of the incompatibility of the party’s politics with the spirit of the times. Similar is the case of the JUI-F. The ‘perfect society’ which these parties promise to their followers and people at large can never be created, forcing the people to disbelieve their arguments. Even the leaderships of these outfits themselves know that such a perfect society cannot be created. Consequently, leaders of these parties have been more after power and perks.

Another important aspect of the NA-120 election has been the impressive showing by two independent candidates who were backed by purely sectarian parties. The one belonging to that got around 6,000 votes, while Hafiz Saeed-led Milli Muslim League (MML), the political face of the Jamaatud Dawa, bagged more than 4,000 votes. The MML represents the Ahle Hadith school of thought. The impressive vote tally of these Muslim sectarian groups could be seen in the light of political values of our time in which identities and issues are of prime importance. These parties got so many votes because their supporters are more concerned about their sectarian identities and issues.
https://tribune.com.pk/story/1513613/decline-groups-means-rise-others/

September 23, 2017   No Comments

Bringing militants into the mainstream: Editorial in Dawn, September 20th, 2017

In the long term, the by-election result may be remembered most for the candidates who finished third and fourth.

The resurgence of the religious ultra-right in politics ought to be a matter of concern for state and society, with two new parties capturing 11pc of the overall vote cast in NA-120. The parties, which did not exist at the time of the last general election, owe their creation to two different radical ideologies.

Labbaik Ya Rasulallah is a Barelvi grouping that campaigned against the PML-N government for executing convicted murderer Mumtaz Qadri, while the Milli Muslim League has been created from the ranks of the Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaatud Dawa/Falah-i-Insaniyat network and endorses the worldview of Hafiz Saeed.

While the MML could not formally participate in the poll because of a technicality, the organisation’s candidate campaigned brazenly as an independent, and the ECP found itself unable to take action against it for flaunting its ties to a banned group. The two radical campaigns bode ill for next year’s general election.

If sections of the state are willing to experiment with the so-called mainstreaming of militant groups that have not taken up arms against the Pakistani state, democratic institutions must ensure that the terms of engagement are precise and democratic. The current approach of testing by stealth the viability of mainstreaming militant groups is unacceptable.

The MML attempted to participate in the by-election as if the usual rules applicable to normal political parties did not apply to it. In fact, in the case of MML and similar groupings that may emerge, special rules need to apply.

To begin with, there must be a clear and public denunciation of terrorism, militancy and extremism, and recognition that the constitutional democratic process is inviolable. The political process in the country cannot be distorted for the sake of an untested and unproven theory of mainstreaming that sections of the state may be willing to experiment with.

Such groups, if they can be permitted to be part of the democratic process at all, must be regularly audited by the state and the reviews made public. The NA-120 saw mosques being used as campaign centres by the LYR and MML. The ECP should review its rules governing such activities and local law enforcement must regularly monitor mosques, madressahs and social welfare centres that are used for political activities to ensure that violent ideologies and extremism are not promoted.

The democratic process is open and accommodating to a wide range of political thought; but that openness cannot extend to groups that may want to use it to destroy the rule of law, the Constitution and democracy in Pakistan. There needs to be a clear policy for militants willing to renounce militancy, but funnelling them secretively into the democratic process cannot be the right one. www.dawn.com/news/1358842/bringing-militants-into-the-mainstream

September 20, 2017   No Comments

Pak Police: edits Sept 21, 2017

Standardising The Police : edit in The Nation, Sept 21, 2017

Police reform seems to be on every province’s agenda at the moment. Despite this shared goal, Punjab Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) – the three biggest provinces – are heading in different directions with their restructuring.Innovation and reform remain important tasks, especially in the police force, and a degree of difference between provincial law enforcement setup is acceptable, but not all changes are for the better.The Sindh government was forced by the Sindh High Court (SHC) to reinstate AD Khawaja as the Inspector General of Police (IGP) for Sindh after being removed by political machinations.The forceful verdict – directing the police to look after its own affairs such as postings and transfers without political interference – will be instrumental in separating law enforcement from the government of the day.

In Punjab, in spite of this, or perhaps because of this, a draft law is being prepared by Rana Sanaullah Khan’s law ministry to formally and legally vest the powers of control and oversight of police into the hands of the Punjab Chief Minister and his cabinet.Another prominent proposal is to designate the Lahore urban area as a separate police zone with its own Chief Metropolitan Police Officer (CMPO) – separate from the rest of provincial policing and appointed directly by the government.Unsurprisingly the Punjab police force is protesting against this draft law, rightly claiming that the hidden in this reform are moves that will erode the independence of the police making it subject to the whims of politicians.

Senior police officers are pushing back against the bill in the assembly and a case regarding it has been filed in the Lahore High Court (LHC).With the Punjab provincial assembly dominated by Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML—N) lawmakers, the court seems to be the only forum through which the law enforcement can prevent their autonomy from being taken away.

KP’s reforms, creating a specialized narcotics investigation and prosecution wing under the tax and excise department – and taking powers away from the police and anti-narcotics force (ANF) – is also being met with pushback from the police department.However, this initiative, which seeks to specialise and not control, needs to be made law to streamline narcotics policing.In the light of such divergent approaches, and some fundamental contradictions between provinces and their police departments, the federal government needs to intercede and set some uniform standards – at least as far as appointments and oversight of top police officials are concerned.Under the 8th amendment, policing has been devolved to the provinces, but it is the job of the federal government to keep policing standards consistent. http://nation.com.pk/editorials/21-Sep-2017/standardising-the-police

Security clean-up: edit in The Express Tribune, Sept 21, 2017.

There is an aura of discomfort with the news that militants have been shifted from the Karachi Central Jail to other districts of the province and some even to other provinces. Members of the LeJ and other outfits have been both bold and crafty in breaking their way out of prison. What is clear is that the prison system needs an urgent revamp as officials at the Karachi Central Jail have themselves faced charges of abetting the escape of inmates. The Karachi Central Jail is already overburdened making management complicated, and corrupt officials within further exacerbating the system cannot be tolerated. Furthermore, it would serve law enforcement in this country well for the government of Sindh to keep intelligence information, especially the whereabouts of such high-profile inmates, hidden from the public.

Only when there is a direct threat to the people should information be divulged. An example is the intentional release of two militants on account of corrupt officials. The silver lining in this escape was that the Rangers conducted an effective operation for weapons recovery that it had not achieved in 25 years. The force must continue its work until Karachi no longer requires a paramilitary force for its safeguarding. Although peculiar that such a search of its kind had been ignored for two and a half decades, allowing the murders and the act of families being broken to occur, the momentum of a dramatic security clean-up needs to be accelerated.

Currently, Karachi is playing a dangerous game of superficially enhancing its economy with an abhorrent security infrastructure. If it is unable to keep anti-state elements at bay, the efforts at development could all come crashing down one day. It is imperative that high-profile prisoners are entrusted to loyal law-enforcement agents and that any element that even so much as tries to endanger the safety of fellow citizens be censured and imprisoned as per the law.https://tribune.com.pk/story/1511688/security-clean-up/

Prisons’ dilemma : edit in Daily Times, Sept 21st 2017.

High-profile inmates of Karachi jail have been shifted to prisons in other districts across the country after the authorities concerned came to learn about their illegal activities through a report prepared by intelligence agencies. The move has been explained as part of an attempt to ‘break an organised network’ of prisoners involved in illegal activities.

We hope that the irony in the discovery of illegal activities at a place meant to enable its residents to learn to live lawfully is not entirely lost on the authorities concerned. While shifting inmates from prisons where they maybe a security risk is understandable, it cannot be considered a permanent solution to the loopholes existing in our prisons, including lack of adequate security arrangements.

Militant outfits have carried out at least two massive jailbreaks across the country over the last few years. Bannu jailbreak in 2012 was the largest so far in which 400 inmates escaped. The most recent one took place in Karachi this June when two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) men, under trial for 64 murders, escaped.

To say that security measures at our major prisons are disappointing will be to say the least. Over the years, we have been facing multiple law and order challenges — ranging from Karachi’s gang wars to religious terrorism spanning the entire country. These challenges have only recently seen us invest in capacity building of our law enforcement agencies. Our prisons still remain neglected. We have yet to come across any serious effort at devising a plan for the institution without which efforts at maintaining law and order and countering extremism cannot go too far.

To begin with, there is a dire need to have separate facilities for hardcore criminals and religious militants. There is justification for keeping them and ordinary criminals side by side.

Shifting inmates from one jail to another is not and should not be a permanent solution. It is about time officials we chalk out an actual plan to ensure that we are vigilant enough against any illegal activity taking place from inside our jails.

Moreover, security for prisons is not just a Sindh problem, but it is an issue across the country. Without fixing prisons, we cannot expect the facility to serve the purpose it has been established for in the first place: to enable inmates to re-integrate in the society as lawful citizens who contribute to our collective well-being, both in material and intellectual terms. http://dailytimes.com.pk/editorial/21-Sep-17/prisons-dilemma

September 19, 2017   No Comments

by Quratulain Fatima in Daily Times, September 19th 2017.

The writer is a policy practitioner, an Oxford public policy alumnus and Oxford Global leadership initiative fellow
Up till now, the attempts to bar forced conversions through specific laws have fallen flat. The proposed bill against forced conversions was tabled in November 2016 in the Sindh Assembly. However, the bill got stalled due to strong objections from certain religious hardliners, and has not been ratified

Jinnah’s September 11 speech has been quoted time and again to assert state responsibility towards minorities’ protection. Despite this and constitutional protection to minorities, they face many types of persecution. Hindus are estimated to be around 2 percent of the Pakistan’s population. However, it is feared that the Hindu population is dwindling at an alarming rate. According to the Pakistan Hindu Council, religious persecution, especially forced conversions remain the foremost reason for migration of Hindus from Pakistan.

Pakistani Hindus are losing daughters to forced marriages. These forced marriages are hidden behind sham conversions to Islam. Religious institutions are pivotal in promoting this practice and supporting the conversions of minor Hindu girls. Consent remains the foremost requirement for conversion and marriage. However, under the tenets of Islam as well as Pakistan’s law, minors cannot give informed consent and consent under coercion is void. Girls are often minors and legally lack informed consent even if they are coerced through the promise of marriage.

Religious institutions like Bharchundi Sharif and Sarhandi Pir support forced conversions and are known to have support and protection of ruling political parties of Sindh. So much so, Mian Abdul Haq alias Mian Mitha, a former legislator of Pakistan People’s Party was found involved in the case of Rinkle Kumari’s forced conversion and marriage in 2012.

Recently, abduction of a school teacher, Ameeta Kumari in Gambat by an influential feudal made rounds on social media. Also in 2017, 16 years old, Rvaita Meghwar was abducted near Nagar Parkar in southeastern Sindh Province and married off to a Muslim man twice her age. These incidents are preceded by a consistent stream of conversions of lowers caste minor Hindu girls for the past many years. According to the National Commission of Justice and Peace and the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) around 1000 Christian and Hindu minority women are converted to Islam and then forcibly married off to their abductors or rapists. This practice is being reported increasingly in the Districts of Tharparkar, Umerkot and Mirpur Khas in Sindh.

Hindus form a major minority in lower Sindh. They have co-existed peacefully with Muslims for centuries. This has changed in the wake of extremism that engulfed Pakistan since the 1980s. Apart from being vulnerable to the Blasphemy law, Hindu communities are becoming highly vulnerable due to abductions of women and their forced conversion to Islam. Since violent extremism particularly strikes the lower classes who aren’t able to defend themselves, the upper-class Hindus are apparently safe from this onslaught.

According to a submission to UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, by the World Sindhi Congress (WSC), Pakistani Hindus face two kinds of forced conversions. One is bonded labour and the other is forced marriage. Both are affecting the lower caste Hindus wherein forced conversions specifically target Hindu girls.

Up till now, the attempts to bar forced conversions through specific laws have fallen flat. The proposed bill against forced conversion was tabled in November 2016 in the Sindh Assembly. The bill recommends a five-year punishment for perpetrators, three years for facilitators of forceful religious conversions, and also makes it a punishable offence to forcibly convert a minor. The bill got stalled due to strong objections by certain religious hardliners and has not been ratified.

However, there is a remedy in other laws. There are laws enacted that protect minors and are invoked in the case of marriages to cover forced conversion. These laws include Section 365-B of the Pakistan Penal Code which delegitimises a marriage under duress or force, the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, 2013 act against child marriage in Sindh, and certain sections of the Pakistan penal code against forced marriage, kidnapping, abducting or force into marriage.

Unfortunately, in the case of forced conversions of lower caste Hindu girls, the feudal and extremist pressures hamper implementation of the laws. Forced conversion cases pertain mostly to lower caste poor Hindu families who mostly do not report and seldom pursue cases. Therefore, the reported number of forced conversions is greater than what it actually is.

There has been intense reporting of forced conversion cases throughout the media in recent times. However, policy processes lack provisions for concrete actions. Most importantly, the government of Pakistan should immediately ratify and implement the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Act 2016 against forced conversions. An accountability mechanism must be established to ensure religious institutions do not become party to forced conversions. Protection should also be provided to the victims, their families, and judges presiding over the cases. Penalties should also be devised and imposed on law enforcement agencies that align with powerful feudal and political interests.

These arrangements should augment Article 36 — Protection of minorities — of the Constitution of Pakistan. It should weave into the larger framework of minority protection and equal opportunities as an equal citizen of Pakistan. http://dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/19-Sep-17/forced-conversions-of-pakistani-hindu-girls

September 19, 2017   No Comments

Pak by-election : editorials

Dangerous signals : edit in Daily Times, September 19th 2017.
The ruling PMLN may have won the NA 120 by-election. Yet it has nothing at all to celebrate. Not when this was contested on equal footing against the Milli Muslim League (MML). This is the political front of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which, in turn, is said to be the charity wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group allegedly behind the Mumbai attacks. The one man who remains a constant, threading together this entity in all its various reincarnations is Hafiz Saeed, accused of ‘terrorism’, carrying a $10million-bounty on his head.

It remains nothing more than a technicality that the MML candidate contested the election as an independent. The fact is that the party’s man came in third in terms of the number of votes cast.Crucially, at a time when Pakistan is under international fire like never before over the harbouring of terrorist groups, including, LeT — the latter was seen contesting elections in former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharfi’s constituency, against his wife no less.

Meaning that what we have witnessed is the ‘mainstreaming’ of a terrorist group by the civilians. Seemingly, Imran Khan has forgotten how to ride. There can be no other explanation for his moral high horse being put out to graze in a nearby field. This is the same PTI chief, after all, who had his party boycott the 2008 elections on the grounds that an election fought on the back of Gen (rtd) Musharraf’s NRO was itself undemocratic. Yet fast-forward to today and His Imminence apparently has no qualms about a democratic process that allows aUN-designated wanted man to enter the playing field. We suggest that Khan revisit his youth to remind himself of the rules of the game.

Indeed, the above only lends credence to claims long held by Khan’s detractors that he is firmly in league with khaki plans. Especially given the claims by Lt Gen (rtd) Amjad Shoaib. The latter announced that the country’s security forces are behind the plan to legitimise groups such as JuD. This may or may not mean that they see this as an alternative to disarming militant proxies. It may or may not also mean that peace with India can never be a serious consideration. The fact that the MML emerged on the political scene within two weeks of Nawaz being deposed is telling. Indeed, the plan is said to have been floated to the latter a year ago, with the then PM refusing to play ball. Which in itself is interesting given that the ruling party is said to have funded the JuD to the cool tune of Rs 83 million, while also giving the group a heads-up about being placed on the UN terror list. Did Nawaz fear losing political ground to the group? Whatever the case, Lt Gen (rtd) Shoaib’s claims need to be properly investigated. As part of this process, Nawaz must be once more recalled to the stand.

We have already warned the US about the possible fallout from what may or may not be attempts at weakening Pakistan’s fragile democracy. Now we are turning our attention to the country’s civilian leadership — including all opposition parties. What was recklessly allowed to happen at the NA 120 by-election could just be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. Meaning that this so-called democratic participation could end up seeing us designated as a terrorist state. And if this were to happen then it should be all of the political set-up in the dock. http://dailytimes.com.pk/editorial/19-Sep-17/dangerous-signals

Religious Parties Gaining Ground: edit in The Nation, Sept 19, 2017
While the entire population is contemplating the close contest between Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI) in NA-120 elections; the factor that is going unnoticed is the rise in support of the extremist parties. Two ultra-right religious parties were contesting the elections from the constituency, and if these elections were a litmus test for the coming general elections, than the support these parties garnered is alarming.

After PML-N and PTI, the party to get the most number of votes was Tehreek e Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY).The party emerged this year and is headed by an Islamic scholar, Maulvi Khadim Hussain Rizvi.While much is not known about the scholar; the thing that everyone remembers him by is his blatant support for Mumtaz Qadri and his speeches, which are intolerant of dissenting views and full of hatred.

TLY managed to get 7,180 votes in the election.These are a significant of votes, which have displaced the position of PPP in the dynamic.This signifies the growing influence of the extremist ideology in the political scene.Although the “religious parties” have never had the majority to form a government, but the vote count signifies a new trend.

The party preceding TLY was the Milli Muslim League (MML).It is a renamed faction of Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD); the banned extremist organisation.MML clearly announced their support for Hafiz Saeed, a known terrorist and criticized the government for “illegally” confining him.Despite them claiming no ties with JuD, their comments are fooling no one.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) did deny recognizing the party and giving permission for contesting the elections, but despite that they did contest and managed to get 5,800 votes.If they have managed to ignore the instructions of the ECP, then it shows how incapable our governmental bodies are.At the same time, it is a failure of the federal government that while state machinery was being used to get more support for the ruling party, all other priorities were sidelined.We have been claiming to fight off the extremist thought from Pakistan and promising the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), but proscribed organisations are contesting such crucial elections with relative impunity – and great aplomb too.This highlights the failure of our state to effectively tackle these groups and should worry us all in coming times.
http://nation.com.pk/editorials/19-Sep-2017/religious-parties-gaining-ground

September 19, 2017   No Comments

Redressing the grievances of our minorities: by Yasser Latif Hamdani in Daily Times, Sept 18, 2017

The writer is a practising lawyer.
The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 incorporates the Objectives Resolution as Article 2-A. Two clauses of the Objectives Resolution deal with “minorities” in Pakistan. The first states: “Wherein adequate provision shall be made for the minorities freely to profess and practise their religions and develop their cultures”. The second states: “Wherein adequate provision shall be made to safeguard the legitimate interests of minorities and backward and depressed classes”. Then in principles of policy under Article 36, the Constitution states “The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services.”

These constitutional clauses have never been acted upon. The minorities — especially that forced minority Ahmadis- are not allowed to “freely to profess and practise their faith” in Pakistan today. The provisions made to safeguard the “legitimate interests” of minorities are less than adequate. The state has failed to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, let alone secure their due representation in the Federal and provincial services. The five percent quota earmarked for them is hardly ever filled. By and large the few government jobs Non-Muslims find themselves occupying are menial jobs as sanitary workers and the like.

So what are the ‘legitimate’ rights and interests of minorities? The first and foremost legitimate right of a minority is to live their lives freely unfettered by the tyranny of the majority. Countless blasphemy cases, often trumped up and false, show that this is not the case in our Islamic Republic. The minorities have no recourse because even their representation in the assemblies in form of reserved seats is actually dependent on the sweet will of majority Muslim parties. For all practical purposes the reserved seats that Non-Muslims have in the National Assembly, the Senate and the provincial assemblies are worse than useless to them. Instead all they have are empty slogans about how well Pakistan treats its minorities and how it is a sacred Islamic duty to protect the minorities.

The only way the state can actually fulfill its constitutional duty to safeguard legitimate rights and interests of minorities is if the state allows them to have effective real representation. The first way would be allow the minorities to have a double vote i.e. in addition to electing their representatives as any other citizen through joint electorate, a separate vote on reserved seats for minorities. If this is not acceptable because on the face of it this violates the principle of joint electorate, the second way is to reserve general seats for Non-Muslim candidates in constituencies where they form 20 percent or more of the voters. That would ensure that at least a certain percentage of those elected would be from the minorities. There is precedent for that in India where Dalits have reserved constituencies. Given that Pakistan’s religious minorities are somewhere around five percent, we are talking about a paltry 17 or 18 seats in the National Assembly. The overwhelming Muslim majority of Pakistan should show grace and concede these to the Non-Muslims of the country. It would go a long way in showing the world that we treat our citizens equally no matter what their faith.

Similarly at least five percent of all cabinet portfolios at both the Federal and provincial levels should go to Non-Muslims with the number being higher in Sindh where there is a larger population of minorities living. This should be written into the constitution. Even in purely Islamic institutions like the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Federal Shariat Court there should be representation for Non-Muslims with a communal veto to ensure that none of the decisions taken in these institutions infringe upon the legitimate rights and interests of minorities. Only a communal veto can be an effective safeguard against tyranny of the majority.

Pakistan has barred Non-Muslims from becoming President since 1956 and Prime Minister since 1973. This is also a form of discrimination but one, which seems to have become non-negotiable for the Muslim majority. Ideally this should not exist but if there must be this bar given Pakistan’s status as an Islamic state, surely the Non-Muslims can be compensated in another way, such as the introduction of a Vice President and Deputy Prime Minister mandatorily drawn from the minorities. Our legislators can also reserve the office of the speaker of the National Assembly for a Non-Muslim in deference to the fact that the very first person to preside over the inaugural session of Constituent Assembly of Pakistan was Jogindranath Mandal. There can be a Federal minorities’ commission drawn from minority communities which can not only advise the Federal Government on minority issues but can adjudicate complaints of minority communities and redress serious grievances of the kind that have led to mass exodus of Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis from Pakistan.

Measures like this will go a long way in making Non-Muslims feel like they belong to Pakistan as much as any Muslim does. Remember a country is only as good as it treats its minorities and marginalised communities. Our score on these counts is very low despite the obligations that the Constitution of Pakistan imposes on the state. It is time that those fine words are supplemented by a concerted effort on part of government to ensure that every citizen of Pakistan, no matter what his or her faith, is made to feel like an equal citizen with equal rights and obligations. If Pakistan can do this, it will show the world how a Muslim majority country can treat its Non-Muslim minorities justly and fairly. http://dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/18-Sep-17/redressing-the-grievances-of-our-minorities

September 18, 2017   No Comments

Another ‘educated’ Daesh recruit : edit in Daily Times, September 17th 2017

In the past few years, the so-called ‘Islamic State’, more commonly known as Daesh, has created a global network. It’s recruitment methods make use of advanced social media platforms wherein Daesh presents itself as an attractive opportunity for young Muslims, particularly in the West, to “reconnect with Islam”, “follow the path of true Muslims”, and so on. One of the active Daesh franchises is the Khorasan group, based in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, many young Muslims around the world fall victim to this propaganda, and serve the purpose of spreading Daesh-led violence. This organisation manages terror cells as well as lone wolves throughout the world.Many terrorists are declared as Daesh operatives after the fact.

A case in point is 22-year-old Muhammad, a graduate of Aitchison College – Pakistan’s eliteschoolwho proceeded to study in the US on a scholarship. His family found out that two years into his IT degree programme, he became interested in Daesh literature, and grew a beard after moving back to Pakistan. A little while later, he absconded from his home in Peshawar’s Gulbahar area, and according to an SMS received by his brother from an Afghan number, Muhammad hadarrived in Afghanistan.He asked his family to stop worrying for him. Muhammad’s family first registered a report with the police on August 27 about his disappearance; and later filed another report stating that Muhammad had joined an anti-state group of his own volition and they (his family) had disassociated themselves from him. The Police later found out that Muhammad had been in contact with Daesh Khorasan militants for months, and had crossed the border to reach Afghanistan.The FIA and other intelligence agencies discovered video footage of him crossing the border. Muhammad had earlier sold his phone in Peshawar’s Saddar Bazaar, which the police confiscated: only to find that it had been wiped completely.

Why are the youth finding such extremist ideologies that justify use of violence, attractive?What happens in the schools and colleges; and what are the drivers of radicalisation among young men such as Muhammad? These are extremely important questions that are yet to be addressed by Pakistani state. With a state that cares little about its citizenry – let alone focus properly on its youth bulge – Pakistan’s civil society must rise to the challenge. Other than the usual argument for the implementation of the national action plan against terrorism, research by academics and journalists that can help us understand as to why well-educated young men and women are turning violent. We need to put an end to jihadist instruments for national security purposes and revamp our education system. It is now an existential question. http://dailytimes.com.pk/editorial/17-Sep-17/another-educated-daesh-recruit

September 18, 2017   No Comments

Strange signals: edit in The News, Sept 16, 2017

After 14 years of working in the war-torn Kurram district, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, has been asked by the government to pack up and leave. The move is part of a larger clampdown on the operations of local and international NGOs across the country. The decision to refuse access to MSF is inexplicable – especially given the timing. Terrorism inside the Kurram district has been on the rise, the resettlement of IDPs is still ongoing while the government is also planning to repatriate Afghan refugees, which means that the need for medical assistance near the Afghan border is high. Local medical facilities have not recovered from almost a decade and a half of war and terrorism. The assistance of international health charities with experience of working in conflict zones is essential. We are no longer in the days when the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s lair in Abbottabad in 2011 was reported to have been assisted by an international NGO. That affair has continued to have an impact on health workers, especially on polio workers who remain targets of terrorist attacks.

The recent actions against INGOs have sent rather confusing signals about where the counterterrorism priorities are being placed. It is increasingly hard to decipher how the government and security apparatus are interpreting their interests. Basic requirements and demands that all INGOs register, declare their work and be monitored might be fine; but a number of NGOs have had to face orders to shut shop. Many have been restricted from working in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and – surprisingly – southern Punjab. Given that no staff belonging to an international NGO has been charged with anything related to terrorism, there are few clues available to explain why access is being restricted so tightly. These decisions also raise questions internationally about Pakistan’s priorities – especially at a time when it is facing greater scrutiny over its handling of terrorists such as the Haqqani Network. There needs to be a formal explanation for the pack up orders for MSF; and it is likely that the government will be asked to explain the decision by international powers. Forcing out NGOs with such credible reputations is a bad strategy; the government would do well to revisit it.https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/230310-Strange-signals

September 16, 2017   No Comments