Tag Archives: Pakistan

Remembering innocents

If you require my personal opi­nion, I don’t like this law at all. Even people who are deeply religious have spoken out against this black law. I have showed my solidarity with minority communities who are being targeted by this law and, in doing so, I have sent across a firm message. The actual problem is that the government is not prepared to face religious fanaticism head on. The thing I find worrisome is that if you examine the cases of the hundreds tried under this law, you have to ask, why is it that only the poor and defenceless are targeted? How come over 50 per cent of them are Christians when they constitute less than 2 per cent of the country’s population. This points clearly to the fact that the law is abused to target minorities. What I find particularly loathsome is that when you speak of amendment, people assume you condone the crime. If I am against the death sentence, it does not mean I condone murder. The sentence against Aasia is inhumane. I have been handed over an appeal for a presidential pardon which I will convey to the president and soon Aasia will be pardoned. The blasphemy law is not a God-constituted law. It’s a man-made law. It was founded by General Ziaul Haq. Hence it’s a law which gives an excuse to extremists and reactionaries to target weak people and minorities. Salmaan Taseer a vocal critic of the blasphemy law, showed his overwhelming support for Aasia Bibi and his response on blasphemy laws in an interview with Newsline on December 23, 2010

On 4 January 2011, Salmaan Taseer was assassinated at the Kohsar Market in Islamabad by his bodyguard, who disagreed with Taseer’s above stand on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and Aasia Bibi. Ever since he was murdered for attempting to reform blasphemy laws in 2011, politicians have been reluctant to take a firm stance on the issue. Religion supposed to provide sanctuary to those who are insecure intellectually or physically not to take life of those who have difference of opinion or no opinion.

On 13 April 2017 a mob of hundreds of students marched through the university campus chanting religious slogans as they searched for Mashal Khan, he was grabbed from his room by a mob, while they stripped naked and beat their colleague Mashal Khan with sticks and bricks, the 20-25 students of the Mardan university enjoyed precisely this feeling of righteousness. They said Khan had posted content disrespectful of Islam on his Facebook page and so they brought it upon themselves to punish him. Ultimately, one student took out his pistol and shot him in the head and chest and then his body desecrated by a mob accusing him of committing blasphemy. Hundreds of others watched approvingly and, with their smartphone cameras, video-recorded the killing. This indicates that much of the Pakistani public endorses violent punishment of suspected blasphemers. Why? How did so many Pakistanis become bloodthirsty vigilantes? Politicians and clerics have both spoken of the need to prevent false blasphemy allegations. But there is less agreement on whether blasphemy laws should actually be altered. A great deal of the condemnation has revolved around the mob taking the law into their own hands. Mashaal Khan had blasphemed! Until this was finally exhibited to be false, no proper funeral was possible in his home village.

Mr Iqbal Khan said my son, was murdered by people who he had trusted would teach him. He will never come back, but his memory may live on eternally. I know justice will not bring my son back. Still I urge all political parties, for your children’s sake and mine let’s become one. Let’s send out the message loud and clear.  

No one should be frightened of going to school.

We lost Mashaal Khan but I don’t know what message we gave to the world in his demise. Mr Iqbal Khan has astounded everyone with a composed response to his son’s brutal murder, no tears from him but an imperturbable and indomitable warrior who is trusted to get justice for his son. Mashaal Khan had Iqbal Khan for a father, a respected figure with strong social bonds and political beliefs who has become an inspiration for thousands of people like me.

Could the case change blasphemy laws?

I am afraid no, we will be raging again for someone innocent, who will become the target of blasphemy, hundreds of articles will be written and countless condemnations from the lawmakers.


June 21

June 21, the sun brightens our skies longer

Democracy: is a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

Feminism: The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.  The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Feminism at its core is about equality of men and women, not sameness. Feminism is not about hating men.

Although democracy and feminism are not as democratic and feminist as they should have been, but we still have something to celebrate because of the struggle of Benazir Bhutto. I often quote the fragments of her speech delivered at Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. In her speech she advocated Islam, women empowerment, and democracy. Let me quote some again to refresh our memories and celebrate her day of birth, because she still is alive for whatever she had contributed towards democracy ant women empowerment:

Empowerment is not only a right to have political freedom. Empowerment is the right to be independent; to be educated; to have choices in life. Empowerment is the right to have the opportunity to select a productive career; to own property; to participate in business; to flourish in the market place.

Muslim women have a special responsibility to help distinguish between Islamic teachings and social taboos spun by the traditions of a patriarchal society. This is a distinction that obscurantist would not like to see. For obscurantists believe in discrimination. Discrimination is the first step to dictatorship and the usurpation of power. In distinguishing between Islamic teachings and social taboos, we must remember that Islam forbids injustice; Injustice against people, against nations, against women.

It shuns race, colour, and gender as a basis of distinction amongst fellowmen. It enshrines piety as the sole criteria for judging humankind. It treats women as human beings in their own right, not as chattels. A woman can inherit, divorce, receive alimony and child custody. Women were intellectuals, poets, jurists and even took part in war. The Holy Book of the Muslims refers to the rule of a woman, the Queen of Sabah. The Holy Book alludes to her wisdom and to her country being a land of plenty. The Prophet Muhammad himself married a working woman Bibi Khadija.

Women are not only victims of physical abuse; women are victims of verbal abuse. Often men, in anger and frustration, indulge in the uncivilized behaviour of rude and vulgar language against women. Unfortunately, women at times also use vulgar language to denigrate another woman. The discrimination against women can only begin to erode when women are educated and women are employed.

When I was growing up, women were not educated. I was the first girl in my family to go to university and to go abroad for my studies. Now it has become the norm for girls to be educated at university and abroad when the families can afford it. I have seen a lot of changes in my lifetime.

The end of the cold war should have ushered in peace and an era of progress of women. Regrettably, the proliferations of regional tensions and conflicts have belied our aspirations. As in the past, women and girls have again been the most direct victims of these conflicts—the most helpless, and thus the most abused. The use of rape as a weapon of war and an instrument of “ethnic cleansing” is as depraved as it is reprehensible. The unfolding of this saga in different parts of the world, including Jammu and Kashmir and Bosnia Herzegovina has shaken the conscience of the entire international community.

A woman proud of her cultural and religious heritage, a woman sensitive to the obstacles to justice and full participation that still stand before women in almost every society on earth. As the first woman ever elected to head an Islamic nation, I feel a special responsibility towards women’s issues and towards all women. And as a Muslim woman, I feel a special responsibility to counter the propaganda of a handful that Islam gives women a second class status.

There is a moral crisis in the world, a crisis of injustice and inaction, a crisis of silence and acquiescence. The crisis is caused by centuries and generations of oppression and repression. This conference, therefore, transcends politics and economics. We are dealing with a fundamental moral issue.We must shape a world free from exploitation and maltreatment of women. A world in which women have opportunities to rise to the highest level in politics, business, diplomacy, and other spheres of life. Where there are no battered women. Where honour and dignity is protected in war and conflict. Where we have economic freedom and independence. Where we are equal partners in peace and development. A world equally committed to economic development and political development. A world as committed to free markets as to women’s emancipation.

We must shape a world free from exploitation and maltreatment of women. A world in which women have opportunities to rise to the highest level in politics, business, diplomacy, and other spheres of life. Where there are no battered women. Where honour and dignity is protected in war and conflict. Where we have economic freedom and independence. Where we are equal partners in peace and development. A world equally committed to economic development and political development. 

And even as we catalogue, organize, and reach our goals, step by step by step, let us be ever vigilant. Repressive forces always will stand ready to exploit the moment and push us back into the past.

I have never claimed that Benazir Bhutto was perfect, no one is, but she still managed to offer the world an alternative model of feminism. And in her campaigns, she advocated new services for women and opposed sexual discrimination, though few measures were adopted under her government. If anyone personified the feminist and democratic struggle in Pakistan, it was Benazir Bhutto. She challenged tradition, patriarchal norms and defied cultural boundaries. She continues to reign on as the most influential Pakistani of our times, overshadowing sportspersons, politicians, generals and Islamist jihadists. She challenged terrorists publicly even when she knew that the price of that challenge could be her own life.

Benazir Bhutto was a zealous guardian of her father’s legacy, populist, appealing and glamorous face of Pakistan and a trailblazing feminist. She was a lighthouse for democracy in Pakistan: “Benazir Bhutto doesn’t cease to exist the moment she gets married. I am not giving myself away. I belong to myself and I always shall.”

In her famous speech Benazir Bhutto quoted the German writer, Goethe: Freedom has to be re-made and re-earned in every generation. We must do much more than decry the past. We must change the future.

Let me quote my own words again to conclude the article: the day lasts longer on June the 21st to celebrate the achievements of Benazir Bhutto for Democracy and Feminism.

Bood abad dayam Shahr e Lahore

The Hindu realm of Loh-awar annihilated with the departure of last Rajput king, who was defeated by the powerful Ghaznavi forces. Lahore was plundered by Genghis khan’s army. Khilji and Tughlaq dynasties didn’t give any attention to Lahore. Then came the Moghuls, Babur’s invasion brought the end of Lodhi’s kingdom.

Lahore reached the peak of its architectural glory during the rule of the Mughals. During this time, the massive Lahore Fort was built. A few buildings within the fort were added by Akbar’s son, Jahangir. Jahangir’s son, Shahjahan was born in Lahore, who extended the Lahore Fort and built many other structures in the city, including the Shalimar Gardens. The last of the great Mughals, Aurangzeb, who ruled from 1658 to 1707, built the city’s most famous monuments, the Badshahi Mosque and the Alamgiri Gate next to the Lahore Fort.

Jalal ud din Muhammad Akbar was the third Mughal emperor, who moved his Capital from Fatehpur Sikri to Lahore and elevated the city from a provincial centre to a capital city of the Moghul Empire. The first residence prepared for Akbar was on an island in the River Ravi. At Lahore the Mughal Empire under Akbar and Shah Jahan was to reach its zenith.

The Lahore Fort is a citadel in the city of Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. It contains 21 notable monuments, some of which date to the era of Emperor Akbar. Lahore fort Built, damaged, demolished, rebuilt and restored several times before being given its current form by Emperor Akbar in 1566. The Lahore Fort was almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century when the Mughal Empire was at the height of its splendour and affluence.

Shahi Mohallah which is located deep in the heart of the vibrant city, in the very pious location of Lahore surroundedby Badshahi mosque, Data Sahab Darbar and Imam Bargah Gam e Shah. Not far from the Taxali Gate, this was built when Akbar expanded the original Walled City while rebuilding Lahore Fort. Shahi Mohallah did not exist before 1575; it wasthe centre of the city’s courtesan’s culture for the Lahore’s Mughal era elite during the 16th century. By the time emperor Shah Jehan ascended the throne a lot of people connected to royal activities, because of its adjacency to the court settled here, and children of the court were being educated and cultured in the fine arts by people living here.

Akbar’s son, Jahangir, built the first Shalamar garden in the Kashmiri landscape and his son Shah Jahan who was born in Lahore witnessed the construction of Shalamar Garden in Lahore. Shalamar Gardens were built primarily to entertain guests. The origins of Shalamar Garden are directly attributable to another garden of the same name built by Jahangir in Kashmir. The waterworks in Lahore required extensive engineering to create artificial cascades and terraces. Ali Mardan Khan was given the task whose name is closely associated with the construction of several buildings. His most distinctive work is a canal which brought water from the Ravi River to the suburbs of old Lahore, contributing to the construction of the Shalamar Garden.

The Wazir Khan Mosque was also commissioned during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as part of an ensemble of buildings that also included the nearby Shahi Hammam baths. Wazir Khan Mosque is renowned for its elaborate embellishment in a style which draws from the decorative traditions from several regions. 

Moti Masjid, despite being a small mosque and having limited usage, is no less striking than any other Mughal Era mosque. The building has its own valour and splendour, and constitutes all the elements of a mosque in a limited space. Moti Masjid is situated in Lahore Fort behind the Clerk’s House. It is one of the two mosques built in marble by Shah Jahan. The second such mosque was built at Agra Fort.

Lahore was the beloved city of Dara Shukoh, where he was serving as governor before he engaged in a civil war with Aurangzeb to claim the throne. Under Dara Shukoh, one can argue that the Mughal throne was heading towards embracing not only religious tolerance but also religious pluralism. Towards the end of his stint as the Lahore governor, Dara Shukoh summoned red bricks from Jaipur. He sought to build a pathway from the Lahore Fort, which would lead halfway across the city to the shrine of the Sufi saint Mian Mir who had died in 1635. Before Dara Shukoh could complete his pathway from Lahore to the shrine of Mian Mir, he was captured and killed by Aurangzeb’s men. Aurangzeb ordered that a mosque be constructed out of the pile of red stones that Dara Shukoh had summoned for the task. This is how the iconic Badshahi mosque of Lahore came into existence. Aurangzeb, unlike the previous emperors, was not a major patron of art and architecture and instead focused, during much of his reign, on various military conquests which added over 3 million square kilometres to the Mughal Empire. As a symbol of the mosque’s importance, it was built directly across from the Lahore Fort and its Alamgiri Gate, which was concurrently built by Aurangzeb during construction of the mosque.

Shahdara Bagh is the site of several Mughal erasmonumentally, including the Tomb of Jahangir, the Akbari Sarai, Tomb of Asif Khan, Bara Dari of Kamran Mirza, and the Tomb of Nur Jahan. Jahangir who died in the foothills of Kashmir who is buried in the Dilkusha Garden. His body was brought in a funeral procession from Kashmir to Lahore. Nur Jahan is buried at her tomb in Shahdara Bagh too, which she had built herself. Upon her grave is inscribed the epitaph:

Upon my grave when I die,

No lamp shall burn nor jasmine be,

No candle with unsteady flame,

No bulbul chanting overhead,

Shall tell the world that I am dead.

The decline of Mughal Empire began after Aurangzeb’s death. Lahore was again ravaged by invaders. The last attack on Lahore was made by Shah Zaman Durrani who besieged the city…..

To conclude the glorious Mughal era, I couldn’t find anything better than the prayer of Dara Shukoh for my beloved city Lahore:

Khuda Punjab ra mehmur darad

Ba Khak e Auliya manzur darad 

Bood abad dayam Shahr e Lahore 

Waba wa Kahat Z bakha dur darad

__Dara Shukoh 

May God keep the Punjab prospering!

May He protect the land of the Saints!

Oh, may Lahore be always full of bliss!

May disease and famine never visit it!

__ Pran Nevile

Attacks Won’t Silence Us

Starting from ‘you’re a bitch’ to ‘you deserve to be killed because you’re against the state’. This is one extreme to another. Everything that goes in between, you can imagine.

Umaima Ahmed works for The News on Sunday said this in December 2018. Many journalists in Pakistan face online harassment and in the case of women, the abuse they get is often sexual in nature.

A survey in 2018, among Pakistani journalists by the Digital Rights Foundation, showed that 66 percent of respondents had experienced ‘digital insecurity’. This includes, but is not limited to, being hacked, threatened, blackmailed and being harassed over a sustained period of time. Many women whochallenge the status quo face extraordinary backlash and abuse. There is self-censorship not only because of the abuse they face online, but also because there is real fear of that becoming offline abuse. When it comes to women journalists, it’s very sexual in nature. People abuse them not based on their content but based on how they look and their body. They body shame them. Such online abuse threatens media diversity in a country where women already make up a small fraction of journalists. Women are coming out of their comfort zones and out of their homes. The more they are reclaiming spaces, the more they are facing challenges, said Nighat Dad

Nothing has changed I am afraid since then, on August 12, a joint statement signed by some 50 women journalistscondemning a “well-defined and coordinated campaign” of harassment on social media, including abusive language and threats of violence, vicious attacks through social media are being directed at women journalists and commentators in Pakistan, making it incredibly difficult for us to carry out our professional duties. The statement further outlined the systematic abuse the female journalists are subjected to beinstigated by government officials and then amplified by a large number of Twitter accounts, mainly declaring their affiliation to the ruling party. In what is certainly a well-defined and coordinated campaign, personal details of women journalists and analysts have been made public. To further discredit, frighten and intimidate us, we are referred to as paddlers of “fake news”, “enemy of the people” and accused of taking bribes. Critical posts are drowned under sexual slurs and baseless allegations. There have also been multiple reports of pictures and other personal information of female journalists being accessed and spread online, endangering their safety. The group of journalists also retreated that they are being prevented from exercising their right to free speech and participate in public discourse

The statement demanded the government to immediately restrain its members from targeting women in the media. Asking Prime Minister, Imran Khan should send out a clear message to all party members, supporters and followers, to desist from launching these attacks, whether directly or indirectly. The government should hold all such individuals within the government accountable and take action against them.

In response to the joint statement, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Pakistani authorities to ensure that the online threats and hate messages are stopped. We regard the highest levels of the Pakistani government as either responsible or complicit in these recent cyber harassment campaigns against certain women journalists who don’t toe the official line, said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

Benazir Shah said the social media harassment usually follows a very specific pattern. First government officials target you, calling your tweet ‘fake news’ or accusing you of being an ‘enemy of the people’ or a ‘lifafa’ journalist.

As expected, trolls responded back with filthiest language to the female journalists. Special Assistant to the prime minister on political communication, Dr Shahbaz Gill responded on social media earlier today accusing Benazir Shah and Mehmil Sarfaraz of being a supporter of PPP and PMLN, who are specifically trying to link only PTI with harassment. 

Not long ago, an alleged audio call of Member Provincial Assembly of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf Uzma Kardar wasleaked on social media, wherein the she was heard saying that First Lady Bushra Bibi has restricted the movement of PTI leaders in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s residence. There’s a line in the house which nobody can cross. She controls everything in the house. She also said that establishment isplaying a very prominent role and has controlled the media. There is a clear message that establishment and government are on one page. It is good because no government can survive without the support of establishment in Pakistan.

On June 15, Special Assistant to the PM for Overseas Pakistanis and Human Rights Development Syed Zulfiqar Bukhari criticized Uzma Kardar on twitter for her disrespectful remarks about the First Lady. The PTI MPA could be heard saying indecent things about Bushra Bibi in the audio. One can’t expect her to understand the calibre of First Lady but it is extremely shameful of Uzma Kardar to be talking behind her back, prime minister and First Lady’s respect comes foremost for all of us. Embarrassing behaviour from anyone who claims to be associated with the party.

Ultimately Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan removed treasury MPA Uzma Kardar from his ministry’s media strategy committee and the slot of the Punjab government’s spokesperson. If an MPA of sitting government can be removed within a week of a leaked audio, why prime minister’s office cannot issue a statement in favour of the women journalists?

I sincerely expect Prime Minister Imran Khan to take immediate notice of this dirty campaign on social media and instruct his advisors to abstain from attacking female journalists instead. It is in the interest of whatever democracy is left in the country not to silence the voices with force and online harassment. 

Let me repeat it again with that attacks cannot silence women journalists.

Eyewitness to extremism

Majority in Pakistan recognises the fact, that the people of the Islamic republic are not sectarian-minded. Before jihad took hold of Pakistan in 1979, and extremist clerics became threatening, there was considerable harmony between the sects. Muharram was not the season of sectarian violence and pandemonium. The Tazias of the Ustad and Shagird in the city of Saints, Multan. Shah Jamal Wala Tazia of Jhang and the Tazias of Chiniot is the true legacy of shia-sunni unity. 

The Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had faced vigorous opposition throughout his premiership years. In 1977 the opposition was united under the revivalist banner of Nezam-e-Mustafa. According to supporters of the movement, establishing an Islamic state based on sharia law would mean a return to the justice and success of the early days of Islam. In an effort to stem the tide of street Islamisation, Bhutto had also called for it and banned nightclubs, horse racing, and the drinking and selling of wine by Muslims. 

On 5 July 1977, General Zia-al-Haq led a coup d’état. Hecommitted himself to establishing an Islamic state and enforcing sharia law, established separate Sharia Judicial courts to judge legal cases using Islamic doctrine. New criminal offences of adultery, fornication, and types of blasphemy, and punishments of whipping, amputation, and stoning to death, were added to Pakistani law. Offices, schools, and factories were required to offer praying space. Conservative Islamic scholars were added to the Council of Islamic Ideology. Separate electorates for Hindus and Christians were established in 1985 even though Christian and Hindu leaders complained that they felt excluded from the country’s political process.

Despite reservations expressed by the Shia Ulema, Zia al Haq promulgated a new ordinance regarding automatic annual deduction of the 2.5% Zakat from bank accounts. In July 1980, the Shia political organisation Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Fiqh-i-Jafaria, under the leadership of Mufti Jafar Hussain, organised the largest Shia demonstrations in Pakistan’s history at Lal quarters ground in Islamabad. Most of the participants were from Multan, Shorkot and Bakkhar district. When the demands of Shias were turned down by the military government, the Shia leadership decided to march towards Secretariat Islamabad. As soon as the announcement was made, Islamabad Police was ordered to attack the crowd with teargas, which created a panic in the crowd and they all started marching towards the Secretariat. One of the teargas shells hit one of the demonstrators in the head which went through his skull and the victim died at the spot. The crowdreached Secretariat Islamabad after few hours, where the sit-in was announced by the Shia leadership. The sit-in forced Zia after two days to backtrack and he agreed to exempt Shias from Zakat deduction and change the laws for inheritence. Known as the Islamabad Accord, President Zia al Haq viewed it as a personal humiliation as it sent a strong message across the country that his so-called ‘Islamisation’ was not acceptable to all Pakistanis.

As a matter of fact that was the beginning of the opposition of Shias at State level. It was the Islamabad Accord which signalled the start of sectarian war in Pakistan more than Saudi-Iran proxy war or Afghan Jihad. Military Dictator President Zia al Haq viewed Shias as a threat to be controlled and, therefore, first instigated a split in the Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Fiqah-Jafaria in 1984 with the help of his intelligence agencies. Second, and more importantly, he approved the appearance on the scene of the anti-Shia sectarian organisation Anjuman Sipah Sahaba later renamed Sipah Sahaba Pakistan. The formation of the Imamia Students Organisation soon after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the rise of Arif al Hosseini to top positions who was later murdered in Peshawar on August 5, 1988. The emergence of a new class of Shia religious clerics who had either spent most of their time in Iran or were ideologically allied to Tehran. More importantly, it also invited backlash against Shias when the Saudis bankrolled Pakistani-state sponsored madrassahs during the Afghan Jihad in the 1980s, which resulted in the rise of sectarian outfits. The first major sectarian riots in Pakistan broke out in 1983 in Karachi and later spreading to Lahore and Balochistan.

“In May 1988, low-intensity political rivalry and sectarian tension ignited into full-scale carnage as thousands of armed tribesmen from outside Gilgit district invaded Gilgit along the Karakoram Highway. Nobody stopped them. They destroyed crops and houses, lynched and burnt people to death in the villages around Gilgit town. The number of dead and injured was in the hundreds. But numbers alone tell nothing of the savagery of the invading hordes and the chilling impact it has left on these peaceful valleys.” The Herald April 1990 

Malik Ishaq, the leader of one of Pakistan’s most notorious anti-Shia extremist groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi declared Shia Muslims “the greatest infidels on earth” and demanded that the Pakistani state “declare Shia non-Muslims on the basis of their beliefs.” Lashkar-e-Jhangvi death squads are believed to have been responsible for the killings of thousands of Shias throughout the country, including a campaign of targeted murders in 2011 which killed Shia doctors, lawyers and politicians residing in Karachi.

A fierce crackdown by security forces in 2015 which resulted in a dramatic drop in sectarian violence. The crackdown culminated in July 2015 when Malik Ishaq was killed in a firefight with police along with 13 fellow militants. The shootout wiped out much of the top leadership of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

On September 11 and 12 this month, mainstream religious right-wing parties, allied with banned outfits, held mass rallies to demand stricter blasphemy laws and for the Islam Protection Bill recently passed by the Punjab Assembly to be replicated across Pakistan. The protesters demanding a ban on Muharram processions that marks the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson and his followers on 10, Muharram 61 AH. The commotion followed the detention of a Shia cleric in Karachi under blasphemy laws for leading Ziyarat-e-Ashura, a prayer that salutes the martyrs of the Battle of Karbala, on Channel 24 News on Sept. 13. Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority issued a notice to the news channel and suspended its license for 15 days, and its owner was arrested.

The tragic irony of this increasingly violent sectarianism is that Friday’s demonstration saw thousands of protesters rally near the tomb of Muhammad Ali Jinnah who himself was a Shia Muslim though he maintained a secular public religious identity and preached the same for the country. Once a respected and well-integrated minority in a country and count the nation’s founder as one of their own, Shia Muslims within Pakistan have become a community under siege in recent years and are facing a situation which is increasingly being described by many as a slow-motion genocide.

The Pakistani state and political parties have been a bystander, and an accomplice, in the Shia cleansing. The Tahaffuz e Bunyad-e-Islam legislation, passed by the politicians in Punjab Assembly. The political ramifications of such a gathering cannot escape anyone, particularly in the wake of the fact that an anti-Shia movement there had once led to the killing of a large number of Shias, including professionals and other prominent persons. The State of Pakistan must not ignore the fact that the sectarianism is a dangerous political tool, even worse than religiosity. Wake up!

Annihilation of Minorities

On March 24, 2019, the then Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said:

“The minorities in Pakistan make up the white of our flag and all of our flag’s colours are precious to us. Protection of our flag is our duty.”

Addressing a function to celebrate Holi with Hindus in 2017, the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif insisted that it was not anyone’s job to decide who will go to hell or heaven, but to make Pakistan a heaven on earth. He said that forcible conversion and destruction of worship places of other religions is a crime in Islam and in Pakistan as he greeted the Hindu community on the occasion of Holi. In his inclusive message to minorities in Pakistan, he stated

“No one can force others to adopt a certain religion,”

“Islam gives importance to every human being regardless of his caste, creed or religion and I say it clearly that forcing anyone to convert his religion is a crime and it is our duty to protect the worship places of the minorities in Pakistan.” 

On March 24, 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan had put a probe into reports of abduction, forced conversion and underage marriages of two teenage Hindu girls in Sindh province and to take immediate steps for their recovery. He also told the Sindh and Punjab governments to devise a joint action plan in light of the incident, and to take concrete steps to prevent such incidents from happening again.

In mid-September this year the Parliamentary Committee on Minorities headed by Senator Anwar ul Haq Kakar had decided to travel to various areas of Sindh to meet the victims of forced conversion. The committee determined to visit all provinces and hold meetings with the provincial, district governments, civil administration and police officials so as to create an integrated system of detection, reporting, vigilance and response concerning forced conversions

On October 19, 2020 Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar spoke to the press alongside committee member MNA Lal Chand Malhi and civil society activist from Tharparkar Krishan Sharma, following a recent visit by the committee to parts of Sindh where forced conversions of young Hindu girls have been described. . Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar, said the issue was sensitive, serious and complicated, the most complicated part of the situation is that what is considered as forced conversion by the aggrieved community is considered wilful conversion by religious groups, which includes Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, people like Mian Mithu of Sindh and even Tablighi Jamaat, but at the same time all conversions are not under duress and threats. The finding of the committee adds an interesting facet to the discourse around the forced conversion issue. Although conversion to seek a better lifestyle is also considered forced conversion, economic reasons can be considered exploitation and not force, as eventually it is after consent. Most instances have some degree of willingness. He added that there was a tenuous line between consent and exploitation, the conversion of Hindu girls in Sindh could not be considered forced. The committee did not see any trace of kidnapping and illegal confinement of Hindu girls who later came to give statements in court.

During the visit, members of the committee held public meetings in Sukkur and Mirpur Mathelo in Ghotki district, as comfortably as a meeting with senior officials in the Sindh government in Karachi. Meetings were held with the households of victims of forced conversions, officials and accused groups. Approximately 200 members of the Hindu community participated in a public meeting in Sukkur while around 800 people attended the meeting in Mirpur Mathelo. The most vulnerable districts for forced conversions are Sanghar, Ghotki, Sukkur, Khairpur and Mirpurkhas. There have been negligible reported cases from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while a few cases involving Christians have been reported in Punjab.

The committee have done a relatively thorough job of stretching out the layers of how and why forced conversions take place. Mr Malhi said that people such as Mian Mithu and Pir Sarhandi house girls and manage the system to prevent the girl away from her family. He stated there was no evidence that they were backed by an authority, political power or state organ. Mr Krishan Sharma said there are two kinds of forced conversions, the first involving kidnapping and illegal confinement. The second is rampant in Sindh and that has to be taken care of by the state, this is procedural forced conversions, [in which] the whole organization of the country, from the police, the courts, etc. are violating the laws and facilitating such conversions. Senator Kakar said that people who encourage young ladies from the Hindu community to move out and marry according to their own wishes are not as liberal about their own daughters.

The committee identified social and economic marginalisation as the reason why some girls willingly convert; to assign all incidents of forced conversions under this category is unfair and insensitive. Although the committee categorically said that the government had neglected in its responsibility to shield minority communities from forced conversion. They denounced all manner of religious conversion under social or economic duress. Identified it as exploitation, calling them, conversion as an effect of the social, administrative and economic marginalisation of the Hindu community in Sindh.

I am in entire disagreement with Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf lawmaker Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani who said: Times are changing and we should take advantage of this era, as all those who used to encourage kidnapping of minor girls, marry them and announce that they have converted to Islam are on the back foot now. Even today the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi cancelled a seminar of noted economist Dr Atif Mian, who goes to the minority Ahmadiyya community, due to the threats the university administration was facing from extremists.

“Sorry to report that my zoom economics seminar at IBA Karachi has been cancelled due to threats that the university administration was facing from extremists,” tweeted Dr Atif Mian.

Prime minister Imran Khan mentions Riyasat Medina in his every speech; I would like to remind him that providing security to the minorities is the basic principle of such form of governance. If the economic conditions are not improved and the minorities are passed on to the influential religious groups, I am afraid we will be left with religious groups only in the land of Sufis. Federal and provincial governments must improve the economic conditions to stop conversions due to the economic pressure, or accept it that, the annihilation of the minorities is a planned practice.

Emancipate the minorities from economic and religious pressures.

Military is supreme

In 1957, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto became the youngest member of Pakistan’s delegation to the United Nations. Bhutto became one of the youngest politicians in Pakistan when he entered the government led by President Ayub Khan. In 1958 Bhutto became the youngest cabinet minister when he was given charge of the Energy ministry by Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who had seized power, through a successful coup d’état. In 1960, he was subsequently promoted to minister of the Commerce Ministry, and minister of Water and Power. He aided President Ayub in negotiating the Indus Water Treaty in India in 1960. In 1961, Bhutto negotiated an oil exploration agreement with the Soviet Union, which also agreed to provide economic and technical aid to Pakistan.

In 1963, after his appointment as foreign minister, he opted working for greater independence from Western powers and for closer ties with China. Bhutto was made the foreign minister at the height of reaction to a US decision to give military aid to India following the attack by China on India’s Himalayan border. President Ayub depended heavily, on Bhutto for carrying out new foreign policy initiatives. But Bhutto’s opposition to the peace with India after the 1965 war over Kashmir caused him to resign from the government, and in December 1967 he founded the Pakistan People’s Party, which won a majority of seats from West Pakistan in 1970.

By the time Bhutto was given the control of the government in 1971, Pakistan was torn apart, isolated, demoralized, and emotionally shattered after a bitter defeat at the hands of arch-enemy India. East Pakistan became Bangladesh with the help of India. The trauma was severe in Pakistan, a psychological setback and emotional breakdown for Pakistan; the citizens were stunned at the defeat. They were amazed by the incompetence of their military ruler. The army was unpopular; Bhutto was the only alternative as President Yahya’s successor.

In his address to the nation on December 20, 1971, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto said:

“I would not like to see Martial Law remain one day longer than necessary… We have to rebuild democratic institutions…we have to rebuild a situation in which the common man, the poor man in the street, can tell me to go to hell.”

One of the first thing Bhutto did as President was to dismiss General Hamid as Chief of Staff and appoint General Gul Hassan. He announced reforms limiting land ownership and a government take-over of over a million acres to distribute to landless peasants. More than 2,000 civil servants were dismissed on charges of corruption. Bhutto visited India to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and negotiated a formal peace agreement and the release of 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war. Bhutto also promised to hold a future summit for the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute and pledged to recognise Bangladesh. Although he secured the release of Pakistani soldiers, he was criticised by many for allegedly making too many concessions to India.

“The sporadic fighting between the insurgency and the army started in 1973 with the largest confrontation taking place in September 1974. Saddam’s government provided support for Baloch separatists in Pakistan, hoping their conflict would spread to rival Iran. In 1973, Iraq provided the Baloch with conventional arms, and it opened an office for the Baluchistan Liberation Front (BLF) in Baghdad. This operation was supposed to be covert, but in 1973, the operation was exposed by M.I. when senior separatist leader Akbar Bugti defected to Bhutto, revealing a series of arms stored in the Iraqi Embassy. On the midnight of 9 February 1973, Bhutto launched an operation to seize control of the Iraqi Embassy, and preparation for siege was hastily prepared. The operation was highly risky and a wrong step could have started a war between the two countries. The operation was carefully analysed and at 0:00hrs (12:00 am), the SSG Division accompanied by Army Rangers stormed the Embassy. Military Police arrested the Iraqi Ambassador, the military attaché, and Iraq’s diplomatic staff.”

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On 30 March, 1973, fourteen Air Force and twenty one army officers were arrested on charges of plotting to overthrow the government. Major General Zia ul Haq headed the subsequent court martial and used the opportunity to inform Bhutto about the proceedings and offer his services to him.

Bhutto made sure that 1973 Constitution authorised the Parliament to pass laws for the punishment of those found guilty of treason, and included an oath to refrain from indulging in political activity, the Constitution explicitly formalised it:

I …do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan and uphold the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. I will not engage in any political activities whatsoever and that I will honestly and faithfully serve the Pakistan Army/Navy/Airforce as required by and under the law.

Bhutto promoted Zia ul Haq from Brigadier to Major General, after King Hussein of Jordan had put in a word for him appreciating his services in Jordan. Zia was in Jordan at the time of the Black September Operations against Palestinians, was believed to have taken part in the massacre on the orders of King Hussein. In February 1976 Zia ul Haq was appointed as COAS, he stood eighth in the seniority list at that time of promotion. Rest is history.

Reason for giving a brief overview of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s career is because of the recent stance of Mian Nawaz Sharif against the military intervention in politics. Three times prime minister Nawaz Sharif aspires to end Pakistan Army’s control on civilian government. He is openly criticising army generals; he talked about the military and its agencies as the “State above the State”. He was among the few civilian leaders to hold friendly relations with the military establishment. But that did not get him anywhere. He ended up getting deposed General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. He was put on trial for corruption and went in exile. In 2013, he became prime minister for the third time. He is alleged to have told his confidantes that he would curtail the role of army and ascertain the supremacy of civilian governments in Pakistan forever. He is locking horns with military establishment at one time again. 

Can he push back a military that is deep-rooted in power politics, today? Can he sustain the pressure?

Despite being an optimist, I believe NO.

If an intelligent and the most popular first elected Prime Minister like Bhutto, who was the founder of Pakistan’s atomic bomb programme, lost his grounds to military, then Mian Nawaz Sharif has no chance. Looking at Mian Nawaz Sharif’s own history, even in the recent past, he has been compromising with the establishment time to time. Opposition’s alliance may force the sitting government for early elections, but as a matter of fact it wouldn’t change the current status of military establishment.