HRCP: Human rights in Baluchistan

The media situation in Baluchistan is “alarming” according to Pakistan’s human rights watchdog, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). At a press conference in Quetta, veteran human rights activist I.A. Rehman “regretted that the so-called mainstream media gave Baluchistan the same treatment as the state media did. “The government of Pakistan has always treated Baluchistan as a conflict zone,” he said, adding that’s why truth did not come out of Baluchistan.”

At the provincial launch of its State of Human Rights in 2018, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted “that, in a year of general elections, it was perhaps inevitable that the progress and observation of human rights issues might be suspended, if not forgotten altogether. The elections themselves were plagued by allegations of pre-poll manipulation and vote rigging as well as some appalling outbreaks of violence, notably in Mastung and Quetta, which left at least 180 people dead. The report notes that sectarian violence in Baluchistan has disproportionately targeted the Shia Hazara community. In Quetta, they remain confined to Hazara areas: their movement is restricted as is their access to markets and schools. The state’s response has been to establish security convoys that accompany members of the community when they leave Hazara areas, but this does not guarantee their security and is, arguably, a short-term solution to sectarian violence in the province.”

Further, “citing the Baloch Human Rights Organization and Human Rights Council of Baluchistan, HRCP’s report states that at least 541 partial reports of enforced disappearance had surfaced in 2018. In August 2018, the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances said that ‘merely 131 cases’ of missing persons in Baluchistan were being heard. The lack of more comprehensive official data on enforced disappearances – and the Baluchistan media’s apparent powerlessness to report on these – is a poor reflection on the state’s political will to eliminate this searing problem. The report also notes that malnutrition is still a serious threat to children’s health in the province, to the extent that a nutrition emergency was declared in Baluchistan in November 2018 by the provincial health minister. While a Nutrition Cell was established to address chronic malnutrition, the state must prioritize and sustain its efforts to protect one of Baluchistan’s most vulnerable segments.”

Also, the report highlighted “the alarming frequency of mining accidents in Baluchistan, HRCP’s report documents at least three major accidents in 2018, in which at least 57 miners were killed in 2018 alone. It also points out that, in September, the Supreme Court asked the Baluchistan government to file a reply on a petition moved to highlight the deaths of over 300 mine workers since 2010. Despite this, there has been no concerted effort to monitor and enforce occupational health and safety in Baluchistan’s mines.”

‘Imran Khan’s Mr. Clean Image Takes Hit with Sister’s unexplained Fortune’

Imran Khan ran his campaign and has been trying to run his government under the image of Mr Clean. While we at New Pakistan have always been skeptical of such claims, the story of Mr Khan’s sister, Aleema Khan needs to be discussed.

In October 2018 a report submitted by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to the Supreme Court revealed that “Several prominent political figures and government officials, including Prime Minister Imran Khan’s sister Aleema Khanum, own benami properties in Dubai.”

On November 30, 2018, then Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar during the hearing of a suo motu case pertaining to foreign property holdings of Pakistani nationals had inquired from Chairman FBR “if the premier’s sister owns any property in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and further inquired if she had benefited from an amnesty scheme.”

In early January an investigative report in The News proved that Ms Khan “owns expensive property in the United States. According to Ahmed Noorani, Aleema Khan owns three flats of a four-story building in New Jersey, while her business partner owns a single flat. The current worth of Aleema Khan’s New Jersey property is over Rs45 crore, Noorani said, adding she holds 75 percent of the property.”

Subsequent investigations have revealed that Ms Khan owns considerable assets within Pakistan as well. “Aleema Khan, Prime Minister Imran Khan s sister who has been accused of concealing her assets, owns a company named Cotcom Sourcing Pvt Ltd, according to data available with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), which is the financial regulatory body in Pakistan. Dunya News has obtained documents which reveal that she is presently the CEO of the Cotcom Sourcing Pvt Ltd, whereas her sons Shahrez Azeem Khan and Shershah Khan are directors of the company. Besides, her company is also included in the Active Taxpayers List (ATL) of the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR). According to the documents, the company paid Rs18,27000 tax for the financial year 2016, Rs32,82000 for the financial year 2015, Rs24,90000 for the financial year 2014. For the financial year 2013, Aleema Khan paid Rs20,62000 tax, Rs1,58000 for the year 2014, Rs1,86000 for the year 2015 and Rs1,30000 for the year 2016.”

When questioned Ms Khan argued that she had bought the Dubai and US properties “through her export business and assets transferred from her father. “I am a businesswoman for the last 20 years and nothing was hidden from the concerned authorities. I have declared everything in my wealth statement, she responded when questioned whether she is benamidar of PM Imran Khan.”

What we at New Pakistan find interesting is that Ms Khan claims she inherited lots of property from her father and she used that to become the businesswoman that she is today.

However, Mr Khan always claimed that his father di dnot have enough money, that he and his sister were raised poor and that the reason he decided to build a hospital in his mother’s memory was because she died and their family did not have enough money for her treatment.

We wonder what the truth really is.

Kartarpur corridor is not the opening chapter in a new India-Pakistan relationship

We at New Pakistan have always supported the need for good relations between Pakistan and all its neighbors, including India. However, the Kartarpur Sahib corridor opening is not the opening chapter to a new relationship between India and Pakistan. The corridor is being hailed by some as a good step and by others as hypocrisy.

The Gurudwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur is a gurdwara in Narowal District, Punjab built on the site where Guru Nanak assembled a Sikh community and where he breathed his last. The gurdwara is close to the India-Pakistan border.

For decades, Sikhs have demanded that India and Pakistan collaborate to build a corridor linking Kartarpur Sahib with Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district. The Kartarpur corridor involves a road link for Sikh pilgrims to visit the famous Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan, which is around three-four km from the International Border.

On Wednesday November 28, Prime Minister Imran Khan performed the ground-breaking ceremony for the the four kilometre-long Kartarpur Corridor.

What we want to ask the Prime Minister and his government is what is the rationale for your support for the corridor? Is the reason economic – Pakistan desperately needs money and so you want Western countries and India to provide aid and investment and support at international institutions?

Or are you genuinely interested in improving ties with India?

If the latter then at least say sorry and apologize to all those Pakistanis who for decades advocated for normal relations with India, including people like Asma Jahangir, who is no longer with us.

Further, if Naya Pakistan of Imran Khan really wanted to improve relations then they would act on the issue of terrorism. It was the 10th anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks this week and action against the Lashkar e Taiba and other affiliated terrorists would have affirmed the desire for normal relations much better than a pilgrimage corridor for just one community in Indian Punjab.

What is also interesting is that the Urdu population of Sindh that has family in India has for decades demanded a corridor with India but there is no sign that one will be built on that border.

So the only people the establishment will build open the border for are Sikh pilgrims coming to Punjab? Why?

In this context the presence of Gopal Singh Chawla, the pro-Khalistani leader, who “had earlier stopped Indian officials from visiting a Gurudwara in Lahore to meet Sikh pilgrims who had travelled from India” confirms this suspicion. Mr Chawla was seen conversing with General Qamar Javed Bajwa on the sidelines of the ground-breaking ceremony.

Could it be that a new deception game is being played where Pakistan once again wants to support Khalistan and create problems for India.  If that is so then nothing has changed.

Lahore’s Trendy Elite Hijacks Faiz’s Memory

‘Bol ke lab azaad hain tere’ is no longer true or fashionable in Naya Pakistan. The recent Faiz Festival demonstrated this reality to all of us, both inside and outside of Pakistan. This Fest too appears to have gone the way of the Lahore Lit Fest and other such ‘Festivals’ whose primary purpose appears to be to give the elite of Lahore an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that all is well in Pakistan and liberal-progressive ideas are thriving, even though the reality is the exact opposite.

 

The recently concluded 4th Faiz Festival has come under a lot of flak by leading Pakistani intellectuals and artists.

 

Fayaz ul Hasan Chohan, the firebrand PTI leader and Culture and Information minister for the state of Punjab, was the chief guest at the Faiz Festival. Chohan visited Mumtaz Qadri’s shrine, the same Qadri who killed Faiz’s wife’s nephew and the son of his friend, Dr. M.D. Taseer –Salmaan Taseer, former Governor of Punjab.

 

While Chohan could speak at the festival, Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) leader and Member National Assembly (MNA) Ali Wazir, along with academics Dr Ammar Ali Jaan and Dr Taimur Rahman as well as former editor of Daily Times Rashed Rahman were barred from speaking at the Faiz International Festival. Apparently, ‘someone’ told the organizers that they could hold the festival as long as these speakers, whose names were in the program, did not speak.

 

Clearly, organizers of the Faiz festival including his family members think it is better to yield to the powers-that-be to commercialize Faiz’s name and poetry. That is a travesty in the name of the poet of resistance who faced imprisonment several times and, in 1965 and 1971, refused to oblige Pakistan’s deep state with poetry extolling the virtues of the country’s soldiers because he disagreed with the wars they were waging.  

 

In a Facebook post Dr Taimur Rahman referenced the censorship undertaken during Zia’s era:

 

““Back in the Zia period, editors published newspapers with black marks of censor on the print copy. This was their method of complying with state censorship while also protesting against these violations of democratic freedoms. In the same way, some chairs were left empty during the Faiz International Festival. These chairs marked the absence of Ali Wazir, Rashed Rahman (my father), Dr Ammar Ali Jan and myself. The four of us were prohibited from speaking at the festival. With great difficulty, I was allowed to perform but not allowed to speak.”

 

It is clear that the younger members of families of resistance poets of yesteryear does not want to struggle, while enjoying the limelight and commercial benefits of their forbearers’ name and effort. They have sought the easy way out, joined the pretense liberal elite that holds festivals, and events but is unwilling to push back on the ugly reality of Pakistan’s military-intelligence state.

 

Faiz’s children and family are content running a well-funded Faiz Foundation that sponsors made-for-TV festivals; The son of Ahmed Faraz –the poet dubbed ‘traitor’ by the Pakistan establishment — is a PTI Senator. Shibli Faraz doesn’t even flinch when PTI trolls frequently cite a couplet about seeking praise abroad while criticizing the motherland. The couplet was originally directed at Ahmed Faraz who spent most of the Zia era in exile!

 

Amongst those who pushed back against what happened at the Faiz festival –at least on Twitter — were Reema Omer, International Legal Adviser for South Asia for ICJ, Human Rights activist Marvi Sirmed, activist and sociologist Nida Kirmani and one of Pakistan’s most well-known writers, Mohammad Hanif.

 

We can do better than Rashed Rahman’s ‘Dark times ahead’ blog on this incident: “I am feeling quite chuffed while writing these lines. I want to express my thanks to the powers that be for forcing the organisers of the Faiz Festival held in Alhamra Arts Council Lahore on November 16-18, 2018 to ban my and two others’ participation in discussion panels.The mind fairly boggles what catastrophe would have ensued if all three individuals were allowed to participate.”

“The issue is not of one or two individuals. It is far broader and encompasses by now both the mainstream and social media. The former has been emasculated by heavy leaning on acceptable and unacceptable content, shrinking of government advertising by 70 percent and private by 50 percent. This has led to one TV channel closing down and many others, big and small, teetering on the brink of collapse. Managements have embarked on ‘right-sizing’ (which actually means downsizing), with hundreds of journalists across the country being thrown out of their jobs and many more on their way out or threatened with redundancy. Mainstream media outlets are also complaining of the heavy but invisible hand of the censor. Working journalists are out in protest at Press Clubs throughout the country against limits on freedom of the media and the financial crunch that is losing, and is likely to lose more, jobs in the industry.’

“In our case, the education system having been virtually reduced to degree-awarding factories without heed to the intellectual development of the system’s charges, i.e. young minds, leaves them vulnerable to the saturated news and information cycle of the internet and social media without the intellectual tools or capacity to sift right from wrong, true from false. There are by now many instances of how social media lends itself to hate speech, instigation to violence and other such anti-social trends. The answer to this conundrum is lost in the din and pace of our times, which may rightly be dubbed ‘The Age of Distraction’.”

“Revisiting the lines with which this column began, bans and severe limitations on freedom of the media and expression lead to the conclusion that we now live under a controlled democracy that the deep state wishes to micro-manage in order to dominate the national narrative by means subtle where possible, worse where necessary. Dark times indeed.”

We end this post with these words by Dr Mohammad Taqi

Extremists Cultivated by Pakistan Disrupt Peace Over Blasphemy Acquittal

As Pakistanis and as champions of freedoms of various hues, we at New-Pakistan welcome the landmark judgement by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to finally acquit 47-year old Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to death. However, we are deeply concerned about the environment created over the years that has allowed the misuse of blasphemy laws not only against religious minorities but against anyone who seeks to speak up against them. The protests against this verdict and the challenge to state authority led by the latest Frankenstein monster, the Tehreek e Labaik Pakistan, are worrying and troublesome.

As the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stated in a recent statement “while there is every reason to be relieved that Aasia Bibi has been acquitted after eight years of incarceration in the perpetual shadow of a death sentence, that Pakistan should have come this close to executing a woman for ‘blasphemy’ is a sobering thought.”

Further, “with at least 40 other people reportedly on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy, both the state and civil society need to introspect. From a human rights perspective, the Supreme Court’s detailed judgment underlines several of the most problematic aspects of applying the blasphemy laws. The presumption of innocence is too easily buried by moral outrage, which invariably pits the vulnerable and underprivileged against those in majority. Moreover, the evidence of extrajudicial confession cannot be allowed to hold any legal worth.”

Pakistan has seen the continued rise of new radical groups that preach hatred and violence against anyone who disagrees with their point of view. The Tehreek e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, has street power but has gained in political strength during the recent elections.

HRCP expressed concern over, “the vicious reaction of all far-right religious-political groups who have taken to violent protests and openly threatened the lives of those associated with this case. While we welcome the government’s stance that the rule of law must be upheld, HRCP urges the state to make it perfectly clear that any party’s incitement to religious hatred – notably that of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan – will not be tolerated and is punishable under the law. Moreover, while it is critical that the judges and lawyers associated with this and similar cases be provided adequate security, this is a short-term solution to a longer, harder battle. Ultimately, the state must consider reforming the blasphemy laws in the interest of applying the law to all its citizens fairly, irrespective of their faith.’”

Over the years Pakistan has lost political leaders– like Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti – lawyers and human rights activists – Rashed Rahman – and countless others still lie in prison or have had to flee the country.

This needs to stop and we need to take a collective stand.