Whose Side Are You On?

This is a question that I get asked from time to time, usually when someone takes offense at my daring to take a point of view that goes against the Ghairat Brigade talking points. It’s a cheap trick – when you have no other answer, accuse someone’s patriotism. This question couldn’t help but come to mind again after the numbness following yesterday’s assassination wore off. Reading the reactions of people who I respect, people like Ahsan Butt who is despairing, and MSS at Cafe Pyala who is so angry, I realized that this question is often misused, but sometimes it is not entirely inappropriate.

In his anger at the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti Shaheed, MSS lashes out at the people whose own inactions and careful hedging on the issue of extremism clear the way for the violence, hatred, and intolerance.

I write that I condemn the spineless, self-preserving hedging about of the spineless, self-preserving f—wits swarming TV and newsprint. I write that I condemn the willful, witless intolerance seemingly decent people practice through their silence during bloodthirsty sermons delivered in mosques and drawing rooms. I write that I condemn those whose reaction to events like this is a diminishing of their personal and political engagement with the world around them rather than an expansion. I write that I condemn every parent, grandparent or caregiver who lets strangers dictate their child’s moral code.

Ahsan Butt independently makes the same complaint.

Please don’t give me any nonsense about allowing the political system to work, or letting institutions develop, or other claptrap. These are our institutions at work. We need to understand this. Our military spawned these nuts. Our society tolerates them. Our judiciary celebrates them. Our media excuses them. And our political parties are either beholden to extremist forces, or so intimidated and pusillanimous because of them, that they may as well be the same thing. When Rehman Malik says things like “I will shoot a blasphemer myself” and Babar Awan says things like “There will be no change to the blasphemy law” and the Gilani government doesn’t even provide a bullet proof car to its targeted ministers and also withdraws support from Sherry Rehman at a crucial time, that is our political institutions at work. And mind you, this is the “liberal, secular” PPP. Forget the Army or the ISI or the PML(N).

Both blogs will be accused of pessimism, both will be accused of despairing when we need a positive outlook. This is the line I would have taken in the past, too. But today I can’t help but think that they have a point.

MSS points also to a Dawn story that should be shocking to anyone who respects democracy and the rule of law, not to mention basic human decency.

THREE REMAIN SEATED: But many in the house and the galleries were surprised to see three bearded members of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman remaining seated in their chairs when the rest of lawmakers stood up to observe two minutes’ silence for Mr Bhatti.

There was no immediate explanation what motivated the JUI back-benchers, in the absence of their party leader, to violate a parliamentary etiquette, and a directive given by the chair, in agreement with some voices raised in the house, that members stand up to pay a silent tribute to their assassinated colleague.

Fazlur Rehman should be pressed to answer for his actions. Why did he choose to show such contempt and disrespect for the murdered Minister? This is not a question of blasphemy law, it is a question of BASIC HUMAN DECENCY. Fazlur’s action, consciously chosen, can be easily interpreted as sympathy for those who murder men in the streets when they disagree with their opinions. Is this what his action meant? Why does he not come clean and admit it?

What about Munawar Hasan, Abul Khair Muhammad Zubair, Sahibzada Fazal Kareem, and Maulana Ameer Hamza? Their immediate response is to blame CIA, Black Water, ‘Foreign Hand’ and all the other bogeys that provide cover for and distract attention from the jihadi gunmen who have already admitted guilt.

The question, ‘Whose side are you on?’ is typically used to accuse people’s patriotism by suggesting that they’re tools of the CIA, the US, or the West. But maybe it’s not the question but the assumption that is incorrect. We should be asking not whether people are loyal to Pakistan or the US, but whether people are loyal to Pakistan or the jihadis. There is no ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’. This lie must be stopped. Speaking against bogey men like Raymond Davis is cheap. It’s easy. If you are a real patriot, speak against TTP. Speak against LeT. Speak against SSP.

Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was a real patriot, and her blood has watered the soil of the country that she was loyal to. Salmaan Taseer Shaheed was a real patriot, and his blood has watered the soil of the country he was loyal to. Shahbaz Bhatti Shaheed was a real patriot, and his blood has watered the soil of the country that he was loyal to.

What about you? Are you on the side of Pakistan or of jihadis? Will you speak out against the real enemies of Pakistan? Or are you going to hide in your chair like Fazlur Rehman?

Fazlur Rehman

The question here is not meant to accuse anyone. It is meant as a serious question. Lets get it all out in the open, please. I am only asking because I truly want to know. Every day I am spilling out my own position. I am very open about it and yet it seems nobody can hear me.

But you…your silence is deafening.


Divided We Fall

Leftovers from yesterday’s establishment have us chasing shadows. An American with connections to the CIA shoots two armed men at Mozang Chowk and now we are regaled with stories of thousands of Raymond Davis’s acting as silent assassins stalking the streets. Jamaatis march in the streets demanding ‘blood for blood’ and making fiery speeches condemning the ‘foreign hand’.

Shaheed Shahbaz BhattiWhile this is going on, there are operatives planning and preparing to commit more murders against innocent Pakistanis. Only this time it is not thieves brandishing guns that will prematurely lose their lives, but government officials. It is not a claim of self-defense that will be made by the gunman, but a declaration of war. And the response is too often silence.

Of course, those responsible for killing almost 10,000 Pakistanis over the past years are not Americans. They are not Raymond Davis’s wearing grey shirts and carrying Glock pistols, rather they are wearing kurtas and carrying Kalashnikovs and suicide vests.

Is there any wonder why there is not outrage over these killers? Look at the cast of characters who are out whipping up the masses into an emotional frenzy over Raymond Davis, a lone gunman who shot two armed men. Whether he committed this act in cold blood or in self-defense, it was an isolated and bizarre incident that seems to involve the spy-vs-spy games of intelligence agencies more than any ideology or greater scheme.

Prominent among those who spoke on the occasion included former Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Gen Hameed Gul, Chairperson DHR Amina Masood Janjua, former diplomat Roedad Khan and former MNA from JI Mian Aslam. To show solidarity with the protestors, eminent human right activist Tahira Abdullah and world record holder in ‘O’ Levels Exams Ibrahim Shahid were also present on the occasion.

It’s this same crowd who after hearing TTP has claimed responsibility for killing Bhatti have blamed it on…CIA.

“Accepting the responsibility of killing the minister soon after the incident by ‘Punjabi Taliban’, as reported by media, is an ample proof that the CIA is behind this crime because the US spy agency had been staging such ‘dramas’ of ‘Punjabi Taliban’ after committing the crimes of same nature earlier,” [Chief of JI Sindh Chapter Asadullah Bhutto] said in a statement on Wednesday.

This is beyond unreasonable. It is deep into the territory of suicidally stupid.

Shaheed Salman TaseerThe assassinationa of Shaheed Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were not part of some CIA operation to undermine Pakistan. If it is, why does the JI never speak out against these crimes? They spare no resource for the glorification of Mumtaz Qadri. They are relentless in their cries of justice for Aafia Siddiqui. They can find nothing but forgiveness and excuses for Taliban militants who strap bombs to the bodies of children and send them to kill women in the market. But they can not shed a single tear for the thousands killed by jihadi militants. They can not say a prayer for the soul of a martyred soul if he is seeking to protect the weak and defenseless.

No. This is a war not against secularism. It is not a fight against moderation. It is more than that only. It is an attempt to silence the voices of the minorities and oppressed. It is an all out war on the founding vision of Pakistan as expressed so well by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1947.

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation.

Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.

These Taliban jihadis and the Jamaatis who facilitate and excuse their crimes would gladly tear the national flag into shreds, ripping from it the bold white bar that proudly proclaims the rights and protections of minorities in this country. They would have us abandon our own people.

Let us not forget that Pakistan was born to protect the rights of Muslims from mistreatment by a Hindu majority. It was this oppression that we were supposed to learn from, to rise above, and to wash clean as we built our own society. Again the words of Jinnah are a stinging reminder:

I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this.

The Taliban and their Jamaati sympathisers will speak every ill against India and Hindus. They will point to every instance of a Hindu oppressing a Muslim and say that it is their nature to do evil. But point the mirror back at these monsters and you will see that they are exactly what they preach against. They condemn BJP for facilitating violence against minorities in India, and yet they relish in the same evil.

Thankfully, there are some brave souls, some true Pakistani patriots who are willing to stand against these forces of evil in the country such as PM Gilani and MNA Farahnaz Ispahani.

Pakistani government leaders condemned the attack.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani visited the hospital and offered condolences to Bhatti’s grieving relatives.

“Such acts will not deter the government’s resolve to fight terrorism and extremism,” he said, adding that the killers would not go unpunished.

“This is concerted campaign to slaughter every liberal, progressive and humanist voice in Pakistan,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, an aide to President Asif Ali Zardari. “The time has come for the federal government and provincial governments to speak out and to take a strong stand against these murderers to save the very essence of Pakistan.”

This is a good start, but we need more. The voices of the people must be united to stomp out this virus, the infection of militancy and sectarianism that is killing us. As a united people of 180 millions, we cannot be overcome by this virus. Only if we allow ourselves to be divided against each other, if we allow ourselves to be placed into smaller groups such as Ahmadi, Shia, Christian, Sufi. Then it will further divided into Deobandi, Barelvi, Wahhabi and the killing will continue. Then it will divided further and madrassah will fight madrassah, mosque against mosque until finally there is no one left.

We can stop this madness, this descent into a cycle of murder-suicide. But only if we come together and refuse to be divided. We are all Deobandi, Barelvi, Wahhabi; we are all Sufi, Christian, Shia, Ahmadi; we are all Baloch, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pakhtun.


With apologies to Pastor Martin Niemoller…

First they came for the Ahmadis,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an Ahmadi.

Then they came for the Christians,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Christian.

Then they came for the Shia,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Shia.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Now or Never

Over and over again I see my friends shake their heads and say, “Yes, Qadri is a terrorist and should hang for his crime. But we should not be in the streets because how do you think the fundos will react? It will mean more violence.”

Perhaps they are right. Perhaps a strong showing of solidarity with Salmaan Taseer’s vision for a compassionate and merciful justice system would so enrage these brainwashed fundamentalists that they would strap bombs to themselves and blow themselves up in our mosques and our shrines. Perhaps they would be so outraged at our request for common decency and humanity that they would take to the streets with weapons and shoot down innocent women and children. Perhaps they would even be so bold as to make a direct attack against the state by gunning down government officials in broad daylight.

Oh, that’s right – they already are doing this.

I hear that supporters threw flowers to Mumtaz Qadri as he entered the courtroom. These jihadis are so brazen that they feel no shame, they fear no consequences for showing their allegiance to such evil in open public. Why would they? When was the last time a self-proclaimed compassionate liberal stood up for his principles?

Oh, that’s right – it was yesterday. And the jihadis shot him for it.

The difference between Salmaan Taseer and the rest of us wasn’t his famous glasses or his businesses or his political office. It was his willingness to live and die for his beliefs.

Jihadis are willing to die for their twisted perversion of religion. Do we not have the courage to stand up for ours?

This is when my more fundamentalist brothers ask me, “what, exactly, are your liberal principles.” This is a question liberals love to fight about, but I suggest that really its quite simple. Let’s start with the names of Allah…

الرحمن – The Compassionate

الرحيم – The Merciful

السلام – The Source of Peace

الغفور – The All Forgiving

الودود – The Loving

Salmaan Taseer died because he demanded compassion and mercy. Are these not two of the names of Allah? Are these not worth standing up for? I suggest that these are the principles worth standing up for openly, publicly, and without shame.

Dr Awab Alvi asks a good question in today’s Express Tribune: Have we given up on Pakistan? The good Doctor hopes that we have not. I share his hope, but the answer we must decide together.

Another question we must ask ourselves is: Are there more reasonable, right-thinking people than there are of brainwashed fundamentalist jihadi killers? If there are, we need to start acting like it.

I still believe in the goodness inherent in Pakistan. I still believe that inherent in the promise of Jinnah’s dream of an Islamic nation are those names of Allah – Compassion, Mercy, Peace, Forgiveness, Love.

I still believe that we are able to come together and sacrifice for the good of the nation. I have seen it only recently when we pulled together to help our countrymen who were devastated by the floods. Where is that same sense of loyalty and nationalism when it comes to defending our very sovereignty from violent attacks?

The 15 January protest against blasphemy laws has been canceled in light of yesterday’s events. While I sympathize with the thinking, I cannot help but wonder if this is the right decision. If we stand down every time the jihadis make a noise, we will be herded like sheep to our doom.

Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseeer’s security was infiltrated and he was gunned down by a brainwashed jihadi in the streets of Islamabad. The killer and his supporters have been openly unapologetic, even celebratory about this attack. This was more than simply an attack against one man for daring to demand compassion and mercy, this was an act of war on reason and on the state. Will we defend our homeland or will we lay down in our beds as the dream of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah is murdered in the streets?

Pakistan Zindabad.

Rest in peace, brave sir

Governor Punjab Salmaan TaseerThe bravest are surely those who have a clear vision for the future and work towards it, in the face of terrible danger. Governor Salmaan Taseer, Lion of the Punjab, was one of our best and bravest. His cruel assassination is a dark day in Pakistan’s history, and a terrible tragedy to befall the progressive movement.

He had unshakable principles that he categorically refused to recant. He believed in equality of all people, and his final days were marked with sharp criticisms of the brutal blasphemy laws that sentenced a woman to be executed. He believed in democracy, in the power of the people, and in the rule of law. For his courageous stands, he suffered the wrath of the religious right who would burn effigies and issue fatwas against him. Pakistani extremists are celebrating, while our religious parties are deafeningly silent.

However, we cannot afford to be silent.

Governor Taseer was outspoken against the mindset that accepts extremism. We have to continue his work; we must have a Pakistan at peace with itself and the world. Rest in Peace, Governor. Your message and your struggles have not been in vain.

Bhutto’s Legacy

Husain HaqqaniThis piece was published in The Wall Street Journal on 28 December 2007. It seems that only three short years after the loss, already people are trying to re-write the history. This piece is re-published today as a reminder of the circumstances at the time so that as we reflect we may see a lighted path forward.

by Husain Haqqani

Benazir Bhutto’s tragic assassination highlights the fears about Pakistan that she voiced over the last several months. Years of dictatorship and sponsorship of Islamist extremism have made this nuclear-armed Muslim nation of 160 million people a safe haven for terrorists that threaten the world. Bhutto had the courage and vision to challenge both the terrorism and the authoritarian culture that nurtured it. Her assassination has already exacerbated Pakistan’s instability and uncertainty.

Riots have been reported from several parts of the country as grief has fanned anger against a government that is deeply unpopular. As Pakistanis mourn the death of a popular democratic leader, the United States must review its policy of trusting the military-dominated regime led by Pervez Musharraf to secure, stabilize and democratize Pakistan.

The U.S. should use its influence, acquired with more than $10 billion in economic and military aid, to persuade Pakistan’s military to loosen its grip on power and negotiate with politicians with popular support, most prominently Bhutto’s successors in her Pakistan People’s Party. Instead of calibrating terrorism, as Mr. Musharraf appears to have done, Pakistan must work towards eliminating terrorism, as Bhutto demanded.

The immediate consequence of the assassination will likely be postponement of the legislative elections scheduled for Jan. 8. Bhutto’s party led in opinion polls, followed by the opposition faction of the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML), led by Nawaz Sharif. Immediately after Bhutto’s assassination, Mr. Sharif announced that he is now joining the boycott of the polls called by several smaller political parties. If Mr. Musharraf goes ahead with elections, it is unlikely that it would have much credibility.

In her death, as in her life, Benazir Bhutto has drawn attention to the need for building a moderate Muslim democracy in Pakistan that cares for its people and allows them to elect its leaders. The war against terrorism, she repeatedly argued, cannot be won without mobilizing the people of Pakistan against Islamist extremists, and bringing Pakistan’s security services under civilian control.

Unfortunately, at the moment Bhutto’s homeland (and mine) remains a dictatorship controlled through secret police machinations. Mr. Musharraf’s regime has squandered its energies fighting civilian democrats instead of confronting the menace of terrorism that has now claimed the life of one of the nation’s most popular political figures. His administration will have to answer many tough questions in the next few days about its failure to provide adequate security to Bhutto, particularly after an earlier assassination attempt against her on Oct. 18.

The suicide bombing on that day, marking her homecoming after eight years in exile, claimed the lives of 160 people, mainly Bhutto supporters. But the government refused to accept Bhutto’s requests for an investigation assisted by the FBI or Scotland Yard, both of which have greater competence in analyzing forensic evidence than Pakistan’s notoriously corrupt and incompetent law enforcement.

The circumstances of the first assassination attempt remain mired in mystery and a complete investigation has yet to take place. Television images soon after Bhutto’s assassination showed fire engines hosing down the crime scene, in what can only be considered a calculated washing away of forensic evidence.

Bhutto had publicly expressed fears that pro-extremist elements within Pakistan’s security services were complicit in plans to eliminate her. She personally asked me to communicate her concerns to U.S. officials, which I did. But instead of addressing those fears, Mr. Musharraf cynically rejected Bhutto’s request for international security consultants to be hired at her own expense. This cynicism on the part of the Pakistani authorities is now causing most of Bhutto’s supporters to blame the Musharraf regime for her tragic death.

In her two terms as prime minister — both cut short by military-backed dismissals on charges that were subsequently never proven — Bhutto outlined the vision of a modern and pluralistic Muslim state. Her courage was legendary. She stepped into the shoes of her populist father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, without much training or inclination for politics, after he was executed by an earlier military ruler, Gen. Zia ul-Haq.

She was demonized by the civil-military oligarchy that has virtually run Pakistan since 1958, the year of Pakistan’s first military coup. But she retained a hard core of popular support, and her social-democratic Pakistan People’s Party is widely regarded as Pakistan’s largest political party.

In 1988, at the age of 35, Bhutto became the youngest prime minister in Pakistan’s troubled history, and the first woman to lead a Muslim nation in the modern age. For her supporters, she stood for women’s empowerment, human rights and mass education. Her detractors accused her of many things, from corruption to being too close to the U.S.

During her second tenure as prime minister, Pakistan became one of the 10 emerging capital markets of the world. The World Health Organization praised government efforts in the field of health. Rampant narcotics problems were tackled and several drug barons arrested. Bhutto increased government spending on education and 46,000 new schools were built.

Thousands of teachers were recruited with the understanding that a secular education, covering multiple study areas (particularly technical and scientific education), would improve the lives of Pakistanis and create job opportunities critical to self-empowerment. But Pakistan’s political turbulence, and her constant battle with the country’s security establishment, never allowed her to take credit for these achievements.

For years, her image was tarnished by critics who alleged that she did not deliver on her promise. During the early days after Mr. Musharraf’s decision to support the U.S.-led war against terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11, conventional wisdom in Washington wrote her off. But Pakistan’s constant drift into extremism, and Mr. Musharraf’s inability to win Pakistani hearts and minds, changed that.

Earlier this year, the United States and the United Kingdom supported efforts for a transition to democracy in Pakistan based on a negotiated settlement between Bhutto and Mr. Musharraf. She was to be allowed to return to Pakistan and the many corruption charges filed against her and her husband, Asif Zardari, were to be dropped.

Mr. Musharraf promised free and fair elections, and promised to end a bar imposed by him against Bhutto running for a third term as prime minister. But on Nov. 3, his imposition of a state of emergency, suspension of Pakistan’s constitution, and arbitrary reshuffling of the country’s judiciary brought that arrangement to an end. He went back on his promises to Bhutto, and as elections approached, recrimination between the two was at its height.

Benazir Bhutto had the combination of political brilliance, charisma, popular support and international recognition that made her a credible democratic alternative to Mr. Musharraf. Her elimination from the scene is not only a personal loss to millions of Pakistanis who loved and admired her. It exposes her nation’s vulnerability, and the urgent need to deal with it.

Husain Haqqani is Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US. This article was published in The Wall Street Journal on 28 December 2007.