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.


Ansar Abbasi’s Poor Excuse for Terrorism

Ansar Abbasi appears on the front page of The News with a seemingly straightforward headline, ‘Rulers see long anti-terror war’. However, Abbasi’s article is actually a diatribe against the government and showing sympathy to jihadi militants.

According to Ansar Abbasi, a “source” claims that government officials see the war against terrorists lasting for a long time. This is, of course, plausible as the country has been infected with terrorists and is suffering attacks by terrorists almost daily. Actually, the same newspaper reported that police foiled an attempt to assassinate President Zardari which, whether or not you like Zardari, should be cause for alarm that someone would attempt to kill our president. It shows that these groups are directly targeting the state institutions. Or have we already forgotten PNS Mehran? CID office in Peshawar? Those brave Frontier Corps troops killed at Charsadda?

But Ansar Abbasi is not concerned with such inconvienient facts. Rather, he characterises fighting terrorists in terms of anti-Americanism.

Such is the dearth of a thinking process in Islamabad that it is blindly following Washington’s dictate to launch a military operation in North Waziristan against the pro-Pakistan Haqqani network in North Waziristan, ignoring Mike Mullen’s recent call to talk to Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Pakistan during the last ten years has not only sacrificed more than 35,000 lives in the US war on terror but has also lost US$68 billion worth of private and public property, installations, business and investment during the last ten years. What would be the impact of such losses if Pakistan is pushed to pursue the war on terror policy for next thirty-forty years is the question that the present rulers perhaps have not pondered.

While Ansar Abbasi may believe that terrorists would simply disappear if Rehman Malik invited them for tea, the facts perhaps suggest other wise. The government has tried to negotiate peace with militants, and at every turn peace agreements have been broken by the militants who insist on imposing their own ideology on the nation. This is the same poor excuse for terrorists made by Syed Munawar Hasan.

If terrorism can be countered through dialogue only, why have all the previous attempts to negotiate settlements with Taliban militants failed? The SHAKAI Agreement from 2004, Sararogha peace deal, Mirahshah peace deal, Kalosha in 2004…there is a long list of such dialogues that only ended in increased attacks by these same militants. How many ceasefires and truces have to be violated by extremist militants before we recognize that they cannot be trusted?

Next, if “extremist is the result of prolonged injustice and tyranny”, please let this man explain what is the prolonged injustice and tyranny that has been committed byAhmedis in Lahore? What is the prolonged injustice and tyranny that was committed by the Christians in Gojra? What is the prolonged injustice and tyranny that has been committed by Shias who have been the victims of extremist militancy? What is the prolonged injustice and tyranny that has been committed by people who are going toData DarbarAbdur Rehman Baba, or Baba Farid?

Actually the “prolonged injustice and tyranny” is being committed by TTP, LeT and other militant extremists against the innocent people of Pakistan.

Maybe Ansar Abbasi and Munawar Hasan believe that jihadi militants are angels being unjustly persecuted by Pakistan military. But the innocents who suffer their vicious attacks know the truth.

Exploiting Public Opinion?

The latest article by Ansar Abbasi in today’s daily Jang states that there is a huge conflict between the foreign office and the Prime Minister and the President of Pakistan, and he implies that the people of this nation have no more trust in the government, army and the security forces of the country. He then goes on and on about several assumption that he makes up himself and presents them as if they are the public’s opinions.

First of all, I am deeply offended by Ansar Abbasi’s cock and bull story supposedly portraying the awams representation when he says that people of Pakistan have no confidence in their military and security forces. My question here is: Who is Ansar Abbasi to speak for the awam? Has he ever seen the army environment? Or spent time with the families of army personnel who sacrifice so much everyday for their country? Or does he just want to sensationalize everything and make a name for himself?

I grew up in a military environment as my father served in the military. We moved all over the country every few years just like an average army family does. I have gone to Army Public Schools, shopped at C.S.D stores, and played sports in Services Clubs in various chaownis (cantonments) of my country. It will be an understatement to say that Pakistan Army personnel are the most patriotic people I have ever seen and simply because Pakistan Army’s and other security forces were absent from May 2nd operation does not render them useless and make them a cause for security concern.

Secondly, Abbasi’s entire story shows that he has no understanding of the way government works. Suggesting there is a huge conflict between the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister and the President of Pakistan makes no sense. The Foreign Office is under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is part of the same government as PM and President and there has been no difference in the statements between any of these three. Both the official statement of the Foreign Office and the statement by President Zardari all say the same thing–we support the fight against terrorists who threaten our own security and sovereignty more than any other nation. He implies that the reservations from Foreign office in contrast to the attitudes of President and Prime minister raise a question mark to the security of the country but this is not logical. Foreign Office speaks for the President and Prime Minister also. This is why each of their statements follows a similar theme.

Labeling the security forces as ineffective and incompetent is no way to be addressing an institution that has a long tradition of taking pride in their history, culture, identity and heritage. I watched Ansar Abbasi praising Osama on Geo and then today I read his slander against the military and I have had enough. No, Ansar Abbasi certainly does not speak an average citizen of Pakistan, and he certainly does not speak for me!

Anti-American Pathology

Syed Yahya HussainyPakistan’s political system is suffering from a debilitating illness. It is neither corruption, nor nepotism, nor most of the usual symptoms that our commentators point to, but a pathological anti-Americanism that paralyzes the nation and prevents us from achieving our potential.

The usual excuse given for this strident anti-Americanism is that we don’t hate the American people, we only hate the policies of their government. But this is a poor excuse, and it ignores the fact that we react differently to the same policies if the US or other countries adopt them. At every turn, American intentions are assumed to be anti-Pakistan, despite the fact that none of the predictions of American plans to clip Pakistan’s wings have ever come true. We readily accept that US policies are anti-Islam, while we turn a blind eye when Muslims adopt these same policies.

In many ways, America has been a fickle friend to Pakistan, that is true. They have been cozy with both our civilian leaders and the military dictators that overthrew them. The Americans were always there when they needed us, and then walked away when we were no longer useful to their policy goals.

But have we been a better friend to America? In 1979, we burned down the US embassy, killing two American diplomats following false reports that the US had bombed the Masjid al-Haram. These false reports came from Iran, and the street protests outside the Embassy were exacerbated by busloads of young people brought in by Jamaat-i-Islami. Islamic militants carried out the attack, yet we accepted the Iranian propaganda without question. We burned an Embassy and killed two people because of a lie.

In 1986, the US launched a retaliatory strike against Libya following acts of terrorism including the bombing of a Berlin discotheque. The response in Pakistan was fervent anti-Americanism, including large street protests organized by religious parties in support of the military dictator Col. Mommar al-Gaddafi. When that same dictator turned his arsenal on his own people this month, attacking pro-democracy protestors with air strikes, our religious parties were united in their silence.

In 1991, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded a Muslim country (Kuwait) and the Americans were requested to help stop his imperialist agenda. Nawaz Sharif sent soldiers to Saudia Arabia to fight alongside American troops, but the public reaction, encouraged by religious parties and the ISI chief at the time, Gen. Aslam Beg, rapidly turned anti-American and pro-Saddam. We blame the Americans for supporting Saddam in the 1980s, but we were in the streets loudly supporting him in the 1990s.

In 2000, when Nawaz Sharif sought reprieve from the punishment he was given under Musharraf, it was not America that bailed him out, rather it was Saudi Arabia that secretly negotiated his release and gave him sanctuary.

Saudi Arabia was also the new home for the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin where he lived in comfort until his death in 2003. It was this same Saudi Arabia that warned US President Barack Obama not to encourage the Egyptian people to overthrow their own dictator, Hosni Mubarak. If Raymond Davis was from Saudi Arabia and not the US, would we still be talking about imperial arrogance and support for dictators?

Actually, we have some clue as to the answer. In 2008, three gunmen from Hayatabad abducted Heshmatollah Attarzadeh Niyaki, a commercial attaché at the Iranian consulate in Peshawar. They killed his guard during the assault. After the Iranian diplomat was missing for two years, Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, announced last year that “the location where Attarzadeh was held was identified by Iranian intelligence agents, and through a series of complex operations he was brought home”.

Ansar Abbasi wrote that security has been tightened around Raymond Davis to prevent “a possible Hollywood Rambo-style sting operation”. But such a breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty, honour, and national security has already happened. Only it wasn’t American forces, but Iranian intelligence agents that crossed our borders, violated our sovereignty, and carried out covert operations without informing our own military intelligence agencies. And none of the religious parties or Ghairat Brigade spokesmen has been moved to say a word against it.

It was also in 2008 that Prince Muqran bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the chief of Saudi intelligence, visited Gen. Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif, and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain to “play its role in Pakistan’s present political circumstances”. And we learned from the American diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks that Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the US Adel al-Jubeir told American Charge D’Affaires Michael Gfoeller that, “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants.”

Far from being a slave to American hegemony, we have been a willing puppet of dictators in Muslim dress. The Americans may have short memories, unable to remember their overthrowing of Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, their support for Saddam Hussein in the 1970s, and their wavering on the Arab democracy movement. Our memories may be longer, but they are selective. How easily we forget our own support for dictators, our own complicity in the slaughter of Muslims and the imperialist ambitions of those same Arab dictators.

America may have been inconsistent in its relations with us, supplying our military with weapons and training but ignoring the much-needed development of our civilian institutions. But this is finally changing. Despite any imperfections in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, it represented a shift in American attitudes from using our military establishment to expand US power to investing in the long-term development of democracy and civilian infrastructure. Despite the threats of violence by our own right-wing, the greatest threat made by the US over Raymond Davis has been to reduce aid.

If the US cuts aid to Pakistan, it will weaken our civilian institutions – not the elite and the military establishment. The US will always keep close relations with the military and the ISI, an outcome those institutions are certain of. They know that their power in the country will be strengthened. The real victim of the Raymond Davis fiasco will be neither our sovereignty nor our pride. What is at risk is the very change that we have been demanding – a change in the relationship between our two countries that has been paralyzed by a pathological anti-Americanism. This is our revolution. The question is, are we willing to seize it?

The Roots of All Evil

As is well accepted amongst our middle class intelligentsia, the number one threat to our country is corruption. It is the primary cause of inflation, loadshedding, suicide bombings, assassinations, drug use, traffic problems, stale cigarettes, and tight shoes.

I must admit that though corruption certainly exists I have often doubted that it was the number one problem facing our nation. That was the past. MashAllah my eyes have been opened thanks to the unparalleled reporting of Ansar Abbasi Saab.

Off and on Washington reprimand Islamabad on the issues of corruption and transparency but it is interesting to note that scrutiny into the USAID sponsored projects show that US NGOs equally corrupt. It also raises question over the strict monitoring mechanism of the USAID.

And this is not peanuts that we are talking about, no sir. This is not some petty “fine” paid to police to get out of trouble or maybe a little “gift” to ensure that your package is not lost by the post office.

Initial findings by the inspector general’s office “reveal evidence of serious corporate misconduct, mismanagement, and a lack of internal controls, and raise serious concerns of corporate integrity,” [The Washington Post] quoted a statement from USAID. It was also reported that the AED has 65 contract awards from USAID worth roughly $640 million.

So you see, just as Pakistan suffers from corruption, also the US suffers from corruption. This is obviously why the US also is suffering from inflation, loadshedding, suicide bombings, assassinations, drug use, traffic problems, stale cigarettes, and tight shoes.

After all, if corruption is responsible for all our problems, surely it would cause those same problems in America also…