Monday, 16 June 2014

Following Bhutto’s way: Religion above rights

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the former prime minister and president of Pakistan and the founder of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), still remains one of the most popular and most controversial figures in Pakistan. With the title Quaid-e-Awam (leader of the people), he is undoubtedly the most charismatic political leader Pakistan has ever seen.
 
Bhutto was also the first democratically elected leader to introduce the culture of using religion for political gain in Pakistan. In 1974, Pakistan’s parliament, under his premiership, adopted a law declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims.

For Bhutto, the move was purely political as he sought to appease religious conservatives. If this move was not political, would he have dared marrying the Iranian-Kurdish Begum Nusrat Ispahani, who was a Shia Muslim? Let’s avoid this question because some argue that the Bhutto family is Shia Muslim by faith themselves.
When Bhutto orchestrated, authorised and administrated the most ambitious scientific research on nuclear weapons, didn’t Bhutto know that his most senior and trusted science advisor Abdus Salam was an Ahmadi Muslim by faith? Salam played a major and influential role in Pakistan’s science infrastructure and was responsible for not only major developments and contributions to theoretical particle physics, but also promoted scientific research to a great extent in the country. As a science advisor, Salam played an integral role in Pakistan’s development on the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and he also directed the research on development of weapons in 1972. Because of this, he is regarded as the ‘scientific father’ of this programme by the scientists who researched under his umbrella.
But Bhutto, in a desperate attempt to buy off religious parties anxious for his departure, declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims.
Because of this controversial move, Pakistan lost the national treasure, Abdus Salam. He left Pakistan to settle in the United Kingdom in protest when he could have contributed much more to the development of science in Pakistan. In 1979 Abdus Salam, together with Sheldon Lee Glashow and Steven Weinberg ‘the American physicists’, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics:
 For their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including, inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current.
Salam holds the distinction of being the first Pakistani and the first Muslim Nobel Laureate to receive the prize in physics.
Bhutto’s injection of religion into politics didn’t stop there. In 1977, he banned alcohol consumption, again in an attempt to appease religious conservatives and distract the population from a less than stellar governance record – when in fact he was a drinker himself.
Bhutto had publicly admitted to drinking alcohol when speaking at a rally where he accused the religious political leaders of ‘drinking’ the people’s blood.
Yes, I do drink wine, but at least I don’t drink the people’s blood.
When General Muhammad Ziaul Haq overthrew Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a coup d’├ętat on 5 July 1977, Bhutto became a victim of his own winning strategy. Zia used religion against him and started the Islamisation of Pakistan to fight off Bhutto’s popular ideology.
Since then, using religion for political gain has been an integral part of Pakistani politics. This has seriously affected the country and gained ground for the cancer of religious fanaticism. Religious fanaticism has shown its face as sectarian violence, as we have seen serious Shia-Sunni discord and attacks on Ahmadis. It has also had an impact on religious minorities as they now live in fear under the blasphemy law. A country that is in crisis at every level is going up in flames.
The founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, envisioned the creation of Pakistan as a secular state and he made it clear in his Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11th August, 1947.
You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.

In fact, Bhutto was an opportunist who misused religion by stirring up the masses. He was the first to distort Quaid-e-Azam’s vision of Pakistan.
The Pakistan Peoples Party, the current ruling political party of Pakistan, following the footsteps of their founding leader, used similar tactics to handle the controversial blasphemy case of Asia Bibi, even isolating their own prominent PPP party leaders like Sherry Rehman and Salmaa n Taseer who spoke against the law.
Sherry Rehman submitted a private member bill to the National Assembly Secretariat seeking amendments to soften the blasphemy law after Asia Bibi was sentenced to death under the blasphemy law, which also sparked an international uproar.
Salmaan Taseer, a brave and outspoken secular politician, spoke against the law, calling it a ‘black law‘, and it exposed a deep rift between conservatives and liberals in the country.
The PPP instructed all its leaders including Ms Rehman and Mr Taseer to change their stance but Taseer stood firm to defend the rights of women and minorities in the country. One of Taseer’s last tweets was:
I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing.
The PPP government thereby distanced itself from Governor Salmaan Taseer after religious edicts were issued against him, and brought forward Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani to assure religious conservatives that the government does not have any intention to amend the blasphemy law. This move was again pure politics to stir up the masses to save their government as they have failed miserably to lead the country. Finally, governor Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard for speaking against the blasphemy law.
In Pakistan, unfortunately, religion is placed above its citizens, excluding them from equal rights. This was certainly not the vision of  our founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah

Monday, 9 June 2014

Terrorism alert: ‘Punjab is home to banned organisations’

Minority communities, activists suffered huge setbacks in 2011, beginning with the deaths of Taseer and Bhatti. 
LAHORE: The city witnessed two explosions in 2011 which left 13 people dead and 112 injured. More than 250 were killed in 18 terrorist activities in 2010.
In the first incident, on January 25, at Ghora Chowk, Urdu Bazar, a suicide bomber killed 10 people and injured 85. The second incident, on February 3, a bombing, killed three people and injured 27 near Haider Sayeen shrine.
Shahbaz Taseer, son of late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and US citizen Warren Weinstein were kidnapped for ransom during the year.
Shahbaz was abducted from Gulberg on August 27, while Weinstein was picked up from his Model Town residence.
Security officials have claimed that Al Qaeda operatives are behind both abductions.
The police have still no clue to the whereabouts of Amir Aftab Malik, son-in-law of Gen (retd) Tariq Majeed, who was kidnapped at gunpoint on August 25, 2010.
Some defence analysts hold the view that the operations in Tribal Areas have effected the network of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which had resulted in a lull in incidents of terrorism. They say there is no evidence to conclude that the terrorists have changed their policy permanently.
Prof Hasan Askari Rizvi said overall incidents of terrorism had decreased but noted that some high profile attacks had occurred. He said the reduction was due to the operations being conducted in Tribal Areas. Rizvi added that TTP apparently lacked training facilities as many suicide attackers had been arrested last year. He said recruitment of suicide bombers had likely been denied by the operations in Tribal Areas.
Rizvi said Aiman al Zawahri had claimed to be behind the kidnapping of Weinstein. He said it was evident that Al Qaeda and TTP were involved in these high profile kidnappings.
Rizvi noted that last year several banned organisations, like Sipah-i-Sahaba and Jamatud Dawa, were allowed to continue their activities. He said although these organisations were limited to the Punjab they could surprise and harm to the security establishment, which currently is patronising them.
He said because the Punjab was relatively more conservative and had more of an ‘anti-India’ element than other provinces, these banned organisations had settled here. He said intelligence agencies were using these organisations to put pressure on the US and the Pakistani government against drone attacks and granting Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India. He said these organisations were also opposed to the military for its role in the war on terror.
A Counter Terrorism Department police officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that terrorists had suspended operations in the settled areas. He said it was evident from intelligence reports that many TTP leaders and operatives were alive and in regular contact. He said even Lahore was not free of TTP operatives.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2011.

Minority rights: Silence, increasing intolerance make for another grim year

Minority communities, activists suffered huge setbacks in 2011, beginning with the deaths of Taseer and Bhatti.
LAHORE: Silence became the biggest atrocity against minorities in Pakistan this year. With the rise of the phenomenon of crushing the voice of minority advocates and increasing intolerance, 2011 remained a grim year for minorities in the country.
The year opened with the assassination of then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer by his own security guard Mumtaz Qadri in Islamabad on January 4. Taseer was killed for speaking against the blasphemy law and raising a voice in favour of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy.
Minority rights activists believe that the incident was a huge setback as not only did they lose a supporter, but the PPP-led government also distanced itself from those who supported amendments in the blasphemy law.
What was equally tragic, if not more, was the fact that Qadri was hailed as a hero by many. “The assassin of the governor who happened to be his guard was garlanded by a group of people. This raised many questions about the protection of minorities,” said Executive Council member of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Nadeem Anthony.
The second major setback followed closely, with the murder of late minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti on March 2 in Islamabad.
Bhatti also supported Aasia Bibi and had been playing a role in bringing amendments to the blasphemy law.
“The interior minister has said that the extremist group Sipah-e-Sahaba is behind his murder, yet they are still at large,” said Anthony.
Another tragic incident occurred in Mastung, Balochistan on September 20, when 29 people, mostly from the Hazara Shia community, were killed in two separate targeted incidents.
According to data gathered by The Express Tribune, from 1986 to 2011, at least 39 people booked under the blasphemy law have been killed before or during their trial. Of these, 18 were Christians, 16 were Muslims, two were Ahmadis, one was Hindu and two were unidentified.
Less killings, increasing Intolerance
“The situation of religious minorities in Pakistan progressively worsened,” stated the Working Group on Communities Vulnerable, established by the HRCP.
The group referred not only to violence against members of religious communities but also against the growing intolerance in society.
The group, in its report ‘Life at Risk’, noted that threats to religious minority communities have grown in direct proportion to a rise in militancy. “The factors for the rise in excesses against religious minority communities include not only the advance of militants and religious extremists but also the government’s failure to protect the basic human rights of these communities. No law can make anyone like a person, but if the law and the textbook label a citizen as inferior and another as superior, feelings of dislike increases,” the group maintained.
National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) Executive Head Peter Jacob told The Express Tribune, “The number of discrimination cases against minorities in Pakistan in 2011 isn’t as much as it used to be in previous years; however the scale is larger this year. The phenomenon to silence the voices that speak for minorities is more dangerous and terrible and this is what happened this year”.
Positive steps for minorities
In 2011, several positive laws for minorities were also made. The Hindu Marriage Act has been submitted in the National Assembly and the government is considering making it a treasury bill, Jacob said.
The draft of Christian Marriage and Divorce Act has also been reviewed and is likely to be tabled in parliament.
“For the first time, four seats have been reserved in the Senate for minorities for which election will be held in March,” said Napoleon Qayyum, a Christian rights activist.
Way Forward
The working group further suggested that the quota reserved for minorities must be strictly observed. The group suggests that the lack of tolerance for religious minorities stems from textbooks, which should impart knowledge about all religions in Pakistan.
It suggests that all discriminatory laws against minorities should also be abolished and the National Commission for Minorities should be developed into a body that is independent and powerful.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2011.

Harassment: Three Ahmedis accused under blasphemy laws

“298 Ahmedis had been charged under the blasphemy laws since 1984,” a spokesman for the Jamaat-i-Ahmediya.
LAHORE: The police have registered cases under the blasphemy laws against a student and his father in Khushab and a headmaster in Gujrat, all three of them Ahmedis.
Sajeel Ahmed, 18, of Khushab was accused of making derogatory remarks about the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) in a first information report (FIR) registered under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which carries the death penalty. The complainant is his classmate Waqas Nadeem, who said that Sajeel had tried to convert other students and made remarks that hurt their religious sentiments.
Sajeel’s father Hakim Jameel was accused of describing his son as a Muslim in his school admission form, an offence under Section 298-C of the PPC with a penalty of up to three years in prison. The complainant in the case is Qari Saeed Ahmed, who submitted that “the Muslims of Khushab are worried about the increasing number and activities of Qadianis in the city”.
Mujahid Ahmed, Sajeel’s brother, said that the police had registered the cases under pressure from religious leaders. “They have been making announcements at local mosques against Ahmedis and taking out protest rallies,” he said. He said that Qari Saeed had a long-term dispute with his father over property. He said that Saeed’s own son, a former teacher of Sajeel, had given police a statement in support of Sajeel. Previously, Jameel had said the charges against them were baseless.
Meanwhile in Gujrat, the police registered a case against Basharat Ahmed, headmaster at Government High Schools Kang Chanan, Gujrat, under Section 295-B of the PPC. He is accused of defiling the Holy Quran, an offence that can be punished with life imprisonment.
Ahmed allegedly snatched Arabic books from students who were cheating during exams at his school and threw the books in a pond. The complainant, Qari Mazhar Zargar, accused him of defiling Quranic verses written in those books.
Mubarik Ahmed Chaudhry, the brother of the accused headmaster, said that no one from the school had joined the case against his brother. He said that Zargar was being directed by people who had a property dispute with his brother.
“The teachers have all given statements to the police backing my brother. The police have been put under pressure by clerics here. The case has been registered six days after the alleged incident,” he said.
Sub Inspector Akhtar Shah, the investigation officer for the case, said that the headmaster had been arrested and investigations were ongoing.
A spokesman for the Jamaat-i-Ahmediya said that the community faced “an organised campaign of hatred and persecution” in Pakistan. “The campaign of hatred has reached new heights where even educational institutions are not safe for Ahmedi students and teachers,” he said.
“Such baseless cases against Ahmedis will not deter us,” he said. “This is not the first time that such cases have been registered against Ahmedis and will not be the last one. As in the past, these cases will also be proven false.”
He said that since 1984, 298 Ahmedis had been charged under the blasphemy laws.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 24th, 2011.

Blasphemy charges: Out of fear, Ahmadi family on the run

Teenager accused of making derogatory remarks against Holy Prophet (PBUH).
LAHORE: Blasphemy allegations continue to haunt minorities in Pakistan.
Aalmi Majlis Tahafuz Khatm-e-Nabuwat (AMTKN) activists alleged that 16-year-old Sajeel committed blasphemy by making derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his father, Rana Hakim Jameel, had done the same by portraying Sajeel as a Muslim in his school admission form.
Denying that he ever put down Islam as Sajeel’s religion and all other allegations levelled against his son, Jameel’s was a different tale.
According to him, the allegations stemmed from a school fight.
The school principal overheard some students abusing Sajeel and beat them up. The students later accused Sajeel of telling on them and beat him up. When Sajeel actually went to the principal to complain, he learnt that the students had “made up a story, telling the principal they had attacked him because he had made blasphemous remarks”.
Later, Haji Aslam, the school principal, expelled Sajeel.
Fearing their safety, the two have been on the run ever since the charges emerged.
While the police have yet to register an FIR against the accused, they have already started conducting raids for their arrests.
A member of the accused family, Rana Asfandyar, 18, was arrested by the police, who allegedly pressurised the young student to reveal his brother’s whereabouts, Asfandyar’s older brother, Rana Mujahid told The Express Tribune.
At local mosques, various religious scholars were fuelling a hate campaign against Ahmadis, Mujahid alleged, adding that evoking such hatred among the public could prove dire for his family.
However, Khushab police station SHO Raja Arshad told The Express Tribune that since the family refused to tell them about Sajeel’s whereabouts, the police had brought Asfandyar in to record his statement at the DPO’s office. Arshad denied that they had detained the boy.
Mujahid alleged that religious scholars Qari Saeed and Waqas Ahmed were producing “false witnesses” before the police.
SHO Arshad said that they were still in the process of recording the statements of witnesses, and hence, were unable to conclude their investigations.
Meanwhile, Jameel alleged that a property dispute could also be a reason behind the accusations.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2011.

Blasphemy charges: Out of fear, Ahmadi family on the run

Teenager accused of making derogatory remarks against Holy Prophet (PBUH).
LAHORE: Blasphemy allegations continue to haunt minorities in Pakistan.
Aalmi Majlis Tahafuz Khatm-e-Nabuwat (AMTKN) activists alleged that 16-year-old Sajeel committed blasphemy by making derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his father, Rana Hakim Jameel, had done the same by portraying Sajeel as a Muslim in his school admission form.
Denying that he ever put down Islam as Sajeel’s religion and all other allegations levelled against his son, Jameel’s was a different tale.
According to him, the allegations stemmed from a school fight.
The school principal overheard some students abusing Sajeel and beat them up. The students later accused Sajeel of telling on them and beat him up. When Sajeel actually went to the principal to complain, he learnt that the students had “made up a story, telling the principal they had attacked him because he had made blasphemous remarks”.
Later, Haji Aslam, the school principal, expelled Sajeel.
Fearing their safety, the two have been on the run ever since the charges emerged.
While the police have yet to register an FIR against the accused, they have already started conducting raids for their arrests.
A member of the accused family, Rana Asfandyar, 18, was arrested by the police, who allegedly pressurised the young student to reveal his brother’s whereabouts, Asfandyar’s older brother, Rana Mujahid told The Express Tribune.
At local mosques, various religious scholars were fuelling a hate campaign against Ahmadis, Mujahid alleged, adding that evoking such hatred among the public could prove dire for his family.
However, Khushab police station SHO Raja Arshad told The Express Tribune that since the family refused to tell them about Sajeel’s whereabouts, the police had brought Asfandyar in to record his statement at the DPO’s office. Arshad denied that they had detained the boy.
Mujahid alleged that religious scholars Qari Saeed and Waqas Ahmed were producing “false witnesses” before the police.
SHO Arshad said that they were still in the process of recording the statements of witnesses, and hence, were unable to conclude their investigations.
Meanwhile, Jameel alleged that a property dispute could also be a reason behind the accusations.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2011.

ANALYSIS: Persecution of Ahmedis in the Islamic Republic

The basic premise on which we won ourselves Pakistan was that a permanent majority cannot and should not dominate a permanent minority on account of numeric strength. Yet contrary to that founding logic, Pakistan is today legally a totalitarian fundamentalist theocracy
A fresh round of hate has been unleashed against the hapless Ahmediyya community once again. A young woman has been expelled from her university for daring to stand up to hate speech against her community on campus in Lahore. In Rawalpindi, ignorant and boorish mobs have been agitating to close down an Ahmedi ‘place of worship’ for being ‘unconstitutional’. In other words, practising their own faith in their own space is deemed unconstitutional by a mob that has probably never opened the constitution. All the while this community goes on praying and fasting for Pakistan, where a majority continues to persecute them for believing differently.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great American Judge, wrote in his dissenting opinion in Abrams vs United States 250 US 616 (1919): “When men have realised that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” If the Ahmedi beliefs are so patently false and ridiculous as our ulema (Islamic scholars) say they are, then why be so insecure as to shut them down completely? Why not allow them to be ridiculed in the marketplace of ideas?
Every citizen of Pakistan has the unfettered right to practice and propagate his or her religion and every religious denomination and sect thereof has the right to establish its places of worship and educational institutions according to Article 20 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973. These rights are paramount. Unlike other articles, this Article — the cornerstone of religious liberty in our country — is not restricted by reasonable restrictions but is subject to law, order and morality alone. This means that religious freedom and freedom of conscience cannot be restricted. Ahmedis might be non-Muslims for the purposes of law and constitution under Article 260 but that does not mean that they are not Pakistanis. Unfortunately, time and again the judiciary in Pakistan — whose basic function is to safeguard marginalised sections of our society — has upheld retrogressive laws that target the Ahmedis.
To begin with, let us put a popular notion to rest that if an Ahmedi calls himself a Muslim, he is violating the constitution. The most one can stretch Article 260, which is a definition clause, is to say that the state of Pakistan does not agree with an Ahmedi if he calls himself a Muslim and that laws and provisions specific to the Muslims will not apply to the Ahmedis. When Article 260 is read with Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and Article 20 (freedom of religion), it becomes clear that there is no constitutional bar against an Ahmedi citizen calling himself a Muslim, even if the Pakistani constitution and law does not agree with him. In these circumstances Ordinance XX of 1984 is a clear violation of the fundamental rights of an entire community to any sane and reasonable mind. However, two judges on a three member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Zaheeruddin vs the State 1993 SCMR 1718 did not think so. They felt — incredibly enough — that Ahmedis purporting to or even thinking themselves to be Muslims is a violation akin to violation of intellectual property rights. One of these judges went so far as to declare that it was reasonable for a Muslim to be outraged and therefore attack the Ahmedis on this ground. This is our Supreme Court for God’s sake. Check your religious biases on the door, Lordships. You cannot be partisan judges serving communitarian interests of the majority. You are justices of the superior judiciary of Pakistan, tasked with safeguarding fundamental rights of every citizen of Pakistan, whatever his faith maybe. The clearest duty on part of the Pakistani Supreme Court is to stand up for every citizen of Pakistan, be it an Ahmedi, Shia, Christian or Hindu. If you cannot be unbiased or if you cannot stand up or are too afraid to stand up for every citizen of Pakistan, then I implore you to resign and let men made of sterner stuff replace you.
Last but not the least, the history of Ahmedi persecution is as sordid as it is surreal. The anti-Pakistan Majlis-e-Ahrar-ul-Islam, which had opposed the Muslim League in the 1940s, enflamed passions on the Ahmedi issue to hit back at the Muslim League, which had many prominent Ahmedis in it. One particular Ahmedi target for this party was Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan who was Pakistan’s first foreign minister and in the words of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the most able Muslim in his team. Jinnah himself would have been horrified at the persecution of the Ahmedis. He had dismissed appeals by the mullahs in his lifetime. saying that anyone who professes to be a Muslim is a Muslim. It was this statement that won him the eternal animosity of the Majlis-e-Ahrar-ul-Islam and other religious outfits. These religious organisations are today claimants of the protectors of Nazaria-e-Pakistan (Ideology of Pakistan).
The basic premise on which we won ourselves Pakistan was that a permanent majority cannot and should not dominate a permanent minority on account of numeric strength. Yet contrary to that founding logic, Pakistan is today legally a totalitarian fundamentalist theocracy. It will lead us to a dead end from which there will be no way out. It is time the Muslims of Pakistan halted and thought about where they intend to take this much abused, much maligned and much misunderstood Islamic Republic.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He is also a regular contributor to the Indian law website http://mylaw.net and blogs on http//globallegalforum.blogspot.com and http://pakteahouse.net. He can be reached at yasser.hamdani@gmail.com