Pakistan’s Nobel Laureates – united by the tragedy of militancy

My article for Scroll.in today about how “Takfiri” thinking drove physicist Abdus Salam out of the country, and keeps Malala Yusufzai away from her home. 

Malala: "I decided that I would speak up. Through my story I want to tell other children all around the world they should stand up for their rights"

Malala: “I decided that I would speak up. Through my story I want to tell other children all around the world they should stand up for their rights”

There is no escaping the irony that the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 has gone jointly to two child rights advocates from Pakistan and India – 17-year old Malala Yousafzai and 60-year old Kailash Satyarthi — while the armies of their countries trade bullets and kill innocents across the Line of Control in Kashmir. Continue reading

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Zarteef Khan Afridi: The tribesman who showed the way

Zarteef Afridi's latest photo. Courtesy: HRCP

A tribute to the human rights activist Zarteef Khan Afridi who was shot dead recently – my article in The News on Sunday. Latitude News earlier published a shorter, different version titled In Pakistan, an unlikely hero dies for his cause. Also see my earlier article: Pakistan’s ‘enlightenment’ martyrs

The tribesman who showed the way

There was the letter from an anonymous writer saying he was going to hunt down and kill her. And then there was the letter from an Afridi tribesman offering to come down and protect her.

This was in the mid-1990s. The recipient of the letters was the fiery human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir, under threat for having taken on the case of Salamat Masih, the illiterate Christian boy sentenced to death for ‘blasphemy’ for having allegedly written sacrilegious words on the walls of a village mosque. Continue reading

Pakistan curriculum urgently needs change

The findings of the report “Connecting the Dots:  Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan” are dire, but not new (Summary at press release below, forwarded to me by The Mirror, a publication of the Pakistan National Commission for Justice and Peace). Pakistani academics have long been pressing for a reform of the curriculum, for example through reports like The Subtle Subversion (SDPI, 2003). The jihadisation of the curriculum includes inane prerequisites like religious studies for medical students – the Supreme Court recently provisionally allowed a Hindu student to sit for the medical college entry test. All this must change. But lest we forget, the idea of Jehad was incorporated into the Pakistani curriculum after the start of the Afghan war, because it suited Washington, and Pakistan to encourage and glorify the “Mujahideen” (holy warriors) in the war against the Soviets. An American institution of higher education was asked to formulate textbooks for Pakistani schools accordingly. “The institution was University of Nebraska at Omaha, which has a center for Afghan studies which was tasked by CIA in the early eighties to rewrite textbooks for Afghan refugee children. The new books included hate material even in arithmetic. For example, if a man has five bullets and two go into the heads of Russian soldiers, how many are left, kind of stuff. This was exposed in a research thesis from the New School, New York in about 2002,” says Dr A.H. Nayyar, one of the co-editors of the SDPI report, quoted in my article Jehad and the curriculum,’ 2004. Continue reading

Moving out of the downward spiral

@salmaantaseer: I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing

I wrote this on Jan 5, 2010 for Tehelka (published today as ‘Salmaan Taseer’s death is liberal Pakistan’s loss‘), the day after Salmaan Taseer was gunned down in cold blood by his own bodyguard whose cowardly action of firing at the Governor’s back has deprived us of a man of courage and conviction, wit and wisdom. ST, you are not “the last man standing”.

Moving out of the downward spiral

Beena Sarwar

“There are no less than 24 groups as of now supporting Qadri on FB and 1 against what he did, that says it all. #salmaantaseer”.

So went a tweet from a fellow Pakistani early morning on Jan 5, the day after the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who took a courageous stand against religious extremists in Pakistan.

The facebook pages cropping up don’t quite say it all. Facebook is usually quite slow to take action against pages that users consider abusive (unless they have to do with Israel). In this case, many of those pages (mostly started by young men who like western shows like Sex and the City, support Pervez Musharraf and say they follow Islam – any contradictions here?) were taken down within 24 hours – which means that enough people reported them as abusive.

When it comes to religion, there is confusion in people’s minds in Pakistan. This confusion has been building up over the years, particularly since America, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and their allies took up cudgels against the Communist threat in Afghanistan and injected religion into the Afghans’ war of liberation against the Soviet invasion. Calling it a ‘jihad’ or a holy war enabled them to draw in Muslim fighters from around the world. The late Eqbal Ahmad warned against this long before the horrific events of 9/11 and US President Bush’s immature response sent the world into a downward spiral of violence, especially Pakistan, the frontline state in America’s war first against the Communists and then against extremist Islam.

The questions arising from Taseer’s assassination indicate that some forces in Pakistan are continuing along the old trajectory.  The assassin, 26-year old Malik Hussain Qadri, was assigned to the elite force guarding the Punjab Governor. It now emerges that he had been removed from the Special Branch because he was perceived as a security threat – so how did he end up on the security detail of a Governor who was already receiving death threats?

According to the post-mortem, he fired 41 bullets into Taseer’s back while the Governor was getting into his car. He then threw down his weapon and raised his arms in surrender.

Standard operating procedures in VIP guard duty require the other guards to immediately open fire even if the assailant is one of them, explains my military analyst friend Ejaz Haider. So why did the other guards not follow the SOP?

Chillingly, Qadri has revealed that he had told his colleagues what he was going to do and asked them not to open fire, as he would surrender. Which means that he was confident of getting away with it.

“Now the judicial process will take over,” predicts Haider. “The judge/prosecutors will be threatened, and the murderer will be declared a hero.”

This is of course already happening, as the facebook pages show. Some of them have referred to him as a ‘ghazi’ (conqueror) and are justifying and glorifying his murderous act – including several religious organisations. In fact, some have gone so far as to say that because he was ‘guilty’ of ‘blasphemy’, no Muslim should lead or attend his funeral prayers.

Qadri’s smiling face was flashed on television channels, along with his comments that “Salmaan Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer”. He is reported to have told interrogators that the Governor had called the blasphemy laws ‘black’ and had defended Aasia Noreen, the Christian woman sentenced to death for ‘blasphemy’.

Taseer’s role in highlighting the Aasia Bibi case, as it came to be known, was significant although some have criticised his high-profile visit to her jail cell and his promise to obtain a presidential pardon for her, which circumvented due process. According to due process, the President’s pardon would have been sought after the Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence following the High Court’s confirmation of it.

The Pakistani state has not executed any blasphemy convicts because so far, the High Courts or the Supreme Court have acquitted those accused under this law (295-C, imposed by Gen. Ziaul Haq to add to 295-A that existed since British times). Yet the mere allegation of ‘blasphemy’ has been enough to incite the murder of over 30 people so far. Taseer’s is the most high profile such murder.

Given the current climate, it is unlikely to be the last. For things to significantly change, ‘deep state’ will have to change its policies of support for ‘jihadis’ and jihadi mind-sets.

Meanwhile, those who have been opposing the blasphemy laws and other injustices perpetuated in the name of religion will continue to protest, as they have been doing for decades.

(ends)

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