Cleansing of liberalism in Pakistan

After the recent turn of events, a question that comes to mind is whether the liberals in Pakistan are being targeted. ANP, the left leaning political party of Pakistan was again targeted yesterday and at least sixteen people, include two children and six police officers, were killed and dozens more wounded in a suicide bombing targeting an ANP political rally in Peshawar on Wednesday. Following is the report published in Express Tribune:

PESHAWAR: At least 18 people were killed and 49 injured in a suicide blast in Peshawar near a Awami National Party (ANP) meeting on Tuesday, said officials.

The bomb blast took place in Yakatoot just after the arrival of senior ANP leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour.

“There were a lot of people present at the site for the ANP leader’s reception. The suicide bomber merged in the crowd and blew himself up near the driver’s seat,” said Inspector General of Police Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Liaquat Ali.

The driver was killed, while Bilour escaped the attack after sustaining minor injuries.

Responding to questions regarding security arrangements, the IGP said that the deaths of policemen in the incident prove that there was adequate security arrangement. “They [police] have borne the brunt of the blast first. We did all the [security] arrangements that were required,” he added.

The IGP said that there are security threats but the police are trying on a daily basis to avert them by conducting raids, picking up people and gathering information.

At least four police officials, including SHO Kotwali Abid Khan and two constables, were also killed in the blast.

“It was a suicide bombing,” senior police official Shafqat Malik told AFP.

Up to six kilogrammes of explosives along with splinters and ball bearings were used in the bombing.

“We have found the feet of the bomber,” Malik added.

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, but apologised for injuring Bilour, saying it had been targeting his nephew, Haroon.

“We apologise to Ghulam Bilour because we announced an amnesty for him,” Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

“Our target was Haroon Bilour,” he said.

The injured, including Express News correspondent Ehtisham Khan and several children, were shifted to Lady Reading Hospital. Emergency was imposed at the hospital.

ANP spokesperson Zahid Khan, talking to Express News, said that his party will continue to make sacrifices but it is the government’s responsibility to provide security. He said that an FIR will also be lodged against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for not taking enough security measures.

“We are screaming [about security] but the caretaker government is doing nothing. It has hijacked the ECP,” Khan added.

ANP chief Asfandyar Wali, while talking to Express News, hinted towards a concerted conspiracy against the his party. “They want us to get out of politics. They have removed security from all our members. If they are caretakers, they have to give us level playing field. It looks like to us that all of these are involved in this conspiracy.”

“If you know one political party is targeted and you take all the security away, what message are you trying to give that party?”

Wali asked whether this was a form of pre poll rigging. “Every party is allowed to conduct rallies, ANP is not allowed this. And the authorities are sitting as observers.”

Meanwhile, Haroon Bilour who was the main target of the blast, insisted that while there was no security lapse, ANP candidates needed fool-proof security. “There was no security lapse, since police suffered casualties. But the fears we had voiced that ANP is a target and that all security given to us was withdrawn.”

“The authorities should recognise this and all ANP candidates should be given fool-proof security.”

Nearby shops were also damaged in the blast.

The TTP had said that the group would continue to attack politicians from the ANP, MQM and PPP ahead of the elections. The group had also called upon people to stay away from the election rallies of the three parties.

It would seem that threats, attacks and rumours against PPP, ANP and MQM are part of pre-poll rigging to ensure these parties defeat and the Pro-Taliban and Terrorists parties can win easily.  Another cause of concern here is when the likes of journalists like Ansar Abbasi accuse an already right leaning Islamist party the PML (N) being “anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam” as explained by Dr. Pervez Hoodhbhoy in his article here:

Mayhem reigned inside the Punjab government after journalist Ansar Abbasi accused it of being “anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam”. In his Jang column of March 25, Mr Abbasi says that through “deceit, fraud, and treachery”, the PML-N government seeks to foist secularisation onto the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif’s crime was that he allowed the publication of a new matric-level Urdu textbook, the contents of which allegedly undermine the ideological foundations of Pakistan.

This tactic of  “Islam in danger”, while often used by Mr Abbasi, is particularly bizarre in this case. The PML-N is right wing and pro-Islamist, and has sometimes been criticised for forging electoral alliances with extremist religious organisations. But, in the twinkling of an eye, and without even attempting a defence, the state machinery went into a tailspin as its top officials humbly confessed guilt and offered their profuse apologies. The book is said to have been withdrawn.

Mr Abbasi tells us proudly exactly what happened and why. On Saturday evening, an unknown caller alerted him that a new book was now on sale at bookstores and its contents were highly objectionable. He promptly sent for a copy and compared it with the earlier one. To his horror, says Mr Abbasi, he discovered that all mention of Islam and its teachings had been expunged. Moreover, Allama Iqbal was totally missing (Allama Iqbal jaisay qaumi aur Islami sha’ir ko mukammal taur par ghaib kar diya gaya). This “dirty and sinister” effort to secularise Pakistan had happened under the watch of the Muslim League. Not even the Indian Congress could have done something so outrageous.

Mr Abbasi writes that his agony and anger led to a sleepless night. So just after his fajr prayers, he started pushing the right buttons. Only hours later — at 9.30am on Sunday — the Punjab secretary of information called up to say that the present book had been withdrawn and his suggested revisions would be incorporated in the forthcoming edition. Patting himself on his back, Mr Abbasi says he is proud that Allah had chosen him to perform this good deed. Of course, the hundreds of thousands of copies already printed would have to be destroyed. But he had saved Pakistan!

Seeking to understand what had distressed Mr Abbasi so much, I bought a copy too. It was easy to find the very same one that he found so objectionable. But what I found was a distortion of reality, and wild exaggerations. Here is what I saw, and which the reader may readily verify.

Contrary to Allama Iqbal being absent, the front cover has the poet in his classic pose, thoughtfully staring at a candle. The very first item listed in the contents is a hamd (a poem in praise of Allah) by Hafeez Jalundhri. The second item is a naat (poem in praise of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh) by Ehsan Daanish. The third centres around the high-culture surrounding the Urdu-speaking elite of Delhi, while the fourth is a kind of fairy tale (Paristan ki shahzadi). Other items are “Letters of Ghalib”, “A camel’s wedding”, “The tattle-tale”, “Celebrating Eidul Fitr”, “The story of Karbala”, “Thrive, thrive, Pakistan”, etc.

To claim that this is a dangerous book is the height of absurdity. My personal opinion is that it is rather insipid, has little contemporary relevance, the choice of essays and poems could have been better, and the end of chapter exercises ask for no more than straightforward reproductions. But other than this, it is scarcely worthy of comment.

So, what caused the violent condemnation from Mr Abbasi? How could the Punjab secretary of information declare the book unsuitable and withdraw the book on one individual’s complaint, and without a proper investigation? Is this how textbooks, published after years of effort and much expense, will be banished in the future as well? What makes the issue still graver is that the book had been published under the supervision of a new curriculum authority created by the chief minister himself who, in fright, overrode the recommendations of a committee that he had formed himself. The future of education in Pakistan will remain forever bleak unless one finds satisfactory answers to these questions.

At the outset, one needs to know that the withdrawn book was intended solely for the teaching of Urdu as a language, and should be judged on these grounds alone. Any book for teaching a language must introduce the student to great poets and essayists and delve into linguistic nuances and subtleties. It should not be just a supplementary text for teaching Islamic studies. Students use an entire, separate book for Islamiat.

This episode is important for only one reason: the new Urdu reader represented an attempt, albeit a feeble one, to remove the blinkers forced upon students by General Ziaul Haq’s education fantasia. The 1980s Islamisation of education meant that every subject — languages, geography, history, social studies, chemistry, physics, mathematics, etc. — could only be viewed through a narrow prism. All else was to be shunned and filtered out. It is this attempt to break loose that Mr Abbasi finds so terribly objectionable.

Pakistan’s educational system and the books used in schools unquestionably needs drastic reform. Our education does not prioritise the production of well-informed, socially responsible, thoughtful and civic-minded individuals. It does not ask for creating a mindset that can readily accept Pakistan’s diversity of religions, languages and cultures. It pays relatively little attention to what much of the rest of the world considers important: knowing and respecting the law of the land, preserving the environment, etc. Instead, what goes under the name of education here emphasises ritual, tradition and submission to authority. It is this which needs changing.

The shameful retreat of the Punjab government before the forces of narrow-minded intolerance and prejudice augurs ill for the future. It negates the good work done by Shahbaz Sharif in the education sector. Sadly, yet another generation of children will be deprived of their right to an unblinkered view of the world. We, the citizens, must not allow such blackmail by any individual or group to succeed.

 

The question to ask ourselves is this: Is all of this that is happening in Pakistan i-e the targeting of the liberal voices, calling them agents of Yahood-o-Nasara and agents who malign the “ideology of Pakistan” and the cleansing of such people,  is all of this not similar to the ethnic cleaning of Yugoslavia where Serbs committed the Bosnian Genocide and tried to cleanse the area the Bosnian Muslims and Croatians? Why is there no room for freedom of voice and opinions? More importantly why are such voices and opinions being targeted? And more importantly, why is our Pak Army doing nothing to resolve this situation which “journalists” like Ansar Abbasi and Orya Maqbool Jan propagate everyday in on our media. This is all the more worrisome because we see our brave sons of soil fighting against this very element almost everyday and giving their lives.

 

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