Trending in #Pakistan

Twitter trends

I am a Twitter addict. I can’t help it. I am glued to Twitter, every minute checking for new posts. There are people who I follow because I know that they are going to say something that makes me think, and there are people I follow because I know that they are going to say something that makes me angry. One of my favourite parts of Twitter are the “trends”. This is where Twitter tells you what some of the most popular terms that are being used at that moment. It gives an insight into what the collective voice of the country is thinking. Or does it?

Some trends are unsurprising. During elections especially, politics seems to dominate Twitter trends. During the recent elections in Karachi, hashtag #NA246 was steadily appearing on Trends. After Election Tribunal announced re-polling in the district, #NA125 began trending. Often though the hashtags that are trending do not just notify about a topic, but contain a specific political message. This is where things get interesting.

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Why is it easy to #BlameISI?

Justice for Sabeen

After the outcry over the killing of Sabeen Mahmud, a new Twitter trend #BlameISI appeared to make the point that it is too easy to blame agencies for everything under the sun. Point taken, but I couldn’t help but also wonder why it is so easy to blame ISI? One of  the most popular defences of ISI in Sabeen Mahmud case was included in a piece by Ali Afzal Sahi published by Daily Times:

Firstly, a fundamental rule underlying criminal law is that the primary suspect is that who benefits most from the murder. Treading along this line of thought, what can be clearly ascertained is that ISI has nothing to gain and everything to lose. Any sane person would have guessed that if she is hurt, ISI will be blamed.

This is fascinating. Think about what he is saying: “Any sane person would have guessed that if she is hurt, ISI will be blamed.” Why would any sane person guess that ISI will be blamed if a liberal intellectual who hosts a discussion of Balochistan is harmed? Shouldn’t this be the question we are asking?

Reading this left my head spinning. Then, I found what I believe is the answer in an opinion piece by esteemed lawyer and analyst Feisal Naqvi.

The first point is that the problem is not just that nobody knows the answer today: the problem is that we will probably never know who killed her. Just like we will never know who killed Saleem Shehzad. Or Wali Muhammad. Or Parween Rehman. Or Benazir Bhutto. Or Omar Asghar Khan. Or Hakim Said. Or General Ziaul Haq. Or Liaquat Ali Khan.

A few days ago, rumours began to circulate that an ISI sting operation had nabbed the killers and they would be exposed soon. I was relieved. Not just because I don’t want to believe that my own security forces would be willing or able to have a defenceless woman killed over a discussion, but because it would be a sign that things had taken a turn and justice would be carried out. We are still waiting for the announcement, and actually by now I have turned cynical for exactly the reason that Faisal Naqvi makes: Historically, we never learn the answers.

Politicians and Army spokesmen are prone to speaking in riddles. When explaining who is behind such attacks, we are told that there is insurmountable proof of ‘foreign hand’ or ‘known elements’ or ‘enemy agents’. Never a name, though. Never a photograph. There are vague insinuations, but never details.

Feisal Naqvi finally put into words what I have been feeling since long. So, with apologies to him, I am going to borrow his final paragraph:

I have no reason to doubt the DG ISPR’s sincerity when he condemns the murder of Sabeen Mahmud. At a personal level, I very much doubt that our agencies had anything to do with her death. But in the absence of any independent accountability or trustworthy form of dispute resolution, all we are left with are his words. And words really don’t go that far.

The best defence of ISI is not a social media trend or a threats against media airing hate speech against national institutions. A better defence of ISI is for our intelligence agencies to find the killers and expose them by making the detailed evidence public, no matter who the killers are. The best defence is for agencies to stop these killings before they ever happen.

Leading the fight for religious tolerance abroad, failing at home

Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat rally

Our diplomats achieved another notable success this week when the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution tabled by Pakistan on Combating Religious Intolerance and Discrimination. The resolution was presented on behalf of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an international organisation founded in 1969 consisting of 57 member states and has been presented as part of a broader effort to counter Islamophobia. Indeed, the resolution is an impressive achievement and worthy of praise. But we should be asking ourselves whether we are living up to our own demands.

Is is important to understand that the UN did not adopt a resolution condemning Islamophbia, it adopted a resolution condemning religious discrimination and intolerance. A full copy of the resolution is linked here so you can read it yourself.

It is worth noting that section 1 of the resolution:

“Expresses deep concern at the continued serious instances of derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief as well as programmes and agendas pursued by extremist organizations and groups aimed at creating and perpetuating negative stereotypes about religious groups, in particular when condoned by Governments…”

This could easily be considered a description of the situation in Pakistan. Setting aside for the moment the issue of terrorist attacks and target killings, before any shot is even fired there is “derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief.” Anti-Ahmedi conferences are held regularly which project hate and incite violence based on their belief.

Shia too are not only openly killed, but are openly defamed and stereotyped by groups like ASWJ that operate with impunity and some believe the support of the state.

The resolution tabled by Pakistan’s diplomats and approved by the United Nations is deserving of praise. Now it is time to prove whether our words are hollow.

Should we ban anti-Pakistan ideas? Or debate them?


When I was a boy, I was would hide outside the door and listen when chacha would visit and he and my father would spend hours discussing and debating politics late into the night. Chacha was a diehard Jamaati, and my father was an unapologetic socialist. It was always interesting to me to listen as the paths of their opinions and beliefs would easily come together and then just as easily part ways. It was like a dance of ideas taking place to the tune of life and society. One afternoon, I tried to impress my father by telling him about something I had heard Qazi Hussain Ahmad say and how it was obviously nonsense. To my surprise, my father took a stern look in his eye and asked me to explain myself. I repeated again what I had said before. For the next half hour my father grilled me with questions, all defending the Jamaati Amir’s position. I felt confused and on the point of tears when my father finally dismissed me.

Later that night, he called me in where he and my uncle were talking. “Beta,” he said, “have you thought any more about our discussion earlier?” I looked down at my feet and told him that I didn’t know what to think, that I thought he would have agreed with me. I could feel the men looking at me and I was burning with embarrassment. My father put his hand on my shoulder and said, “What I think is not the point. You put forth an opinion that wasn’t really yours. Even if you think you believe it, it will always belong to someone else until you understand not only why you believe it, but why someone else might not. Only then will you have fully embraced the idea, and only then it will be yours.” My uncle smiled and said, “Your father and I enjoy these talks so much not because we have any hope of converting the other. I gave up on talking any sense into him years ago.” My father laughed. “The point is we loved these debates because it is through debate that we understand each other’s point of view, and it makes us think more about what we believe and why.”

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Dr. Taimur Rahman Response to Ahmed Quraishi

Solidarity with TaimurResponse to Allegations by Express TV.

A number of accusations have been made against me on Express TV by the anchor Ahmed Quraishi. I would like to put on record that these accusations are completely false and constitute incitement to violence, hate speech, slander, and libel.

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