One month since Sehwan blast and already we have lost plot

Hundreds of innocents killed in a new wave of terrorist attacks, a new military operation announced, and within weeks we have already lost the plot. In just the past few days we have seen Islamabad High Court and Interior Ministry announce possible new social media ban to crack down on alleged problem of ‘blasphemous content’. This was followed by a petition against Zara Hut Kay for daring to question the IHC Judge.

Soon after, some of our so-called ‘journalists’ selectively read an article by former Ambassador Hussain Haqqani about American politicians meeting Russian diplomats and somehow managed to turn it into an admission that he helped capture Osama bin Laden. Only in Pakistan is helping capture the world’s most wanted terrorist considered treason, but this is our reality. However this interpretation doesn’t even match what is in the supposed confession. Haqqani says that he brought a request to Islamabad (which was his job) and that American intelligence agents were operating in Pakistan (this is no revelation or have we forgotten that ISI was working with CIA in Pakistan at the time?). The important line that nobody seems to have read is when Haqqani notes that “the United States kept us officially out of the loop about the operation”. Never mind the facts, though, as PPP grasped at the opportunity to disown their former Ambassador, something they do once a year as part of their desperate attempts to slow their slide into political irrelevance.

Meanwhile, COAS Bajwa has met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Army has announced new operations will defend Saudi Arabia from cross border attacks. This news has broken only two days after Chinese media reported that Pakistan Army Chief has also promised to protect Chinese workers and investments in Pakistan. It has not been clarified where Pakistani citizens come in the priority, but some are speculating that the current list is:

  1. Chinese investments
  2. Saudi Princes
  3. Kashmir-based ‘freedom fighters’
  4. Cricket tournaments
  5. VVIPs

Operation Raddul Fasaad was launched on 22 February. Less than four weeks later, we find our selves in essentially the same chaotic mess that we have remained leading many to ask if Raddul Fasaad and the national ‘unity’ is anything else but a facade.

Bhensa, Blasphemy, and the Role of the Court

After several liberal activists including a professor of Fatima Jinnah University mysteriously disappeared, state security agencies once again found themselves facing negative international attention. Critical statements from international human rights NGOs and foreign governments began pouring in. Then came the ultimate trump card. The ‘Ace of Spades’. Blasphemy allegations.

The allegations began from right-wing hyper-nationalist websites and social media accounts like so-called ‘Pakistan Defence’.

defence.pk postThere is no proof that any of these missing are responsible for any blasphemy. There is not even any proof that any of these activists is behind the ‘Bhensa’ account that is being accused! Actually, they were originally accused of being anti-Army, not anti-Islam. Now that the blasphemy accusation has been made, though, it has also been formalised under the law as application has been submitted to register blasphemy cases against the missing activists.

However, this could be a test case not only for the democracy but for blasphemy law as well. Civil Rights activist Jibran Nasir is calling for arrest of Pakistan Defence admins for inciting violence against the activists. At first it sounds like fantasy, but on second thought there may be something to his thinking. No less than Chairman Pakistan Ulema Council Tahir Ashrafi has called for extreme care in handling of blasphemy cases and has even called for death penalty for those leveling false allegations. I personally do not support death penalty, but Maulana Ashrafi’s view shows how serious the issue is. Therefore, everyone can agree that such cases should be decided in court based on all the evidences.

In order for a court to evaluate, both the accused and the accusers should be made to appear before the Court to be questioned. The disappeared activists must be produced and also the admins of Pakistan Defence and other social media accounts that are making such serious allegations should be produced before the Court also. Otherwise, isn’t it those leveling such allegations from behind anonymous accounts who are making a mockery of the Court as well as the blasphemy law?

Perhaps there is someone who has committed blasphemy. We cannot know unless the case is heard by an impartial Court. There is also the question whether someone has tried to misuse blasphemy allegations in order to distract attention and cover their tracks. This also cannot be known unless all the actors and evidences are examined by the Court.

Pakistan Negotiating Terms of Surrender

Federal Ministers meeting with Religious Party LeadersWhile government and military leaders promise a fight till the end against religious extremists, the reality appears to be carefully working out the terms of surrender. PM Nawaz and his Cabinet have agreed not to carry out any counter-terrorist operations in Punjab after the deadly suicide blast at Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park in Lahore on Sunday. According to the PM, “There is no room for any [military] operation in Punjab as there are neither any safe havens of terrorists here nor a territory is controlled by militants”. While PM is taking responsibility for this decision, there is little doubt who really makes such calls. GHQ has decided that militancy and extremism will be permitted to spread in Punjab.

While the militants remain free to spread their poisonous ideology and prepare fresh attacks, the state is also taking its marching orders from religious extremists. This was recently shown when Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah permitted Ulema to re-write a women protection law that after it was passed by the people’s elected representatives. Now it appears that surrender has once again been the result of religious extremists using threats to hold the nation hostage.

After supporters of a convicted killer seized the capital, government has reportedly given in to a series of their demands:

‘1. All arrested during the sit-in will be released.

2. All cases against various Ullema will be reevaluated.

3. Section 295-C of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law will neither be changed nor reevaluated.

4. No person involved in blasphemy will be spared.

5. Ministry of religious affairs will be told about the implications of Nizam-e-Mustafa (SAW).

6. The schedule list will be evaluated and the names of innocent will be extracted from the list.

7. All cases against protestors will be annulled’

Pressed with questions about the surrender, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar did not deny the agreement, only responded that there has been no ‘written’ agreement. Nisar further explained why saying that “No one has the authority from the government to finalize any deal in writing.” Interior Minister appears to be trying to fool the people by speaking vaguely while actually giving everyone the understanding that the agreement was actually made verbally as per the statement of the extremist leaders.

More and more analysts and experts are recognising that military operations alone are not enough to rid the nation of the scourge of terrorism. The extremist mindset must be addressed also. However, just as the state has ruled out military operations against terrorists in certain parts of the country, the state also appears to have decided to give in to the demands of unelected clerics and extremist religious party leaders. Let us call this strategy by its name: Surrender.

Events show how deeply extremism has rooted in society

Mumtaz Qadri supporters

When militants carry out attacks, we tell ourselves and the world that they are not Muslims and religion has nothing to do with their barbaric acts. When a Pakistani like Tashfeen Malik is involved in an attack overseas, we point out that she spent time in Saudi Arabia. When a Pakistani like Saad Aziz is involved in attacks in Pakistan, we say that he must have been influenced by RAW. Maximimum Pakistanis are moderate and peaceful, we say. And I am desperate to believe it. But two events this week have shaken my confidence.

The first is the case of the 15-year-old boy who cut off his own hand and delivered it to his Imam after accidentally raising his hand when asked who had stopped praying. Raising one’s hand at the wrong moment is an honest mistake that every schoolboy has made at one time or another. Instead of understanding the boy’s predicament and comforting him not to worry, though, the crowd quickly accused him of blasphemy leading him to cut off his own hand and deliver it as apology. This is horrible enough, but what came next made me fear for our country.

Ahmed said that he has seen a video in which the boy is greeted by villagers in the street as his parents proclaim their pride.

No complaint has been made, he said, so no police report has been filed and there will be no investigation.

This what we have let Pakistan become. A country where children cut off their own limbs out of fear of being labeled a blasphemer, and their parents and villagers praise them for it.

I know what you are thinking. This is a terrible thing, but these are poor ignorant people. They are backwards and uneducated and do not represent Pakistan. True. And I was happy to shake my head in sadness for this poor boy as another evidence of need for more education. Until I saw this.

This video is Capt (r) Muhammad Safdar MNA son in law of Nawaz Sharif giving speech in favour of Mumtaz Qadri. This is not a 15-year-old boy who knows no better. This is not a backwards villager or an uneducated mullah. He is a retired Army officer who was educated at MCJ. He is elected Member of National Assembly. And he is a member of Prime Minister’s family. In other words, if the poor boy who cut off his hand represents Pakistan’s poor, Capt Safdar represents the elite. And here he is proudly praising an extremist murderer and I am reminded of the crowds of lawyers showering a killer with rose petals, and a passage written by another lawyer Feisal Naqvi hits me like a brick.

So far as I have been able to tell, there is a very small supply of enlightened Muslims and a very large supply of unenlightened Muslims. More importantly, the social credibility of the enlightened portion of the Ummah seems to run a very distant second to fire-breathing idiots who demand that we should stone sinners to death.

I am a middle class liberal Pakistani. I pray. I fast. I pay zakat. And I also believe in tolerance and moderation and have no need for hatred and extremism. I have always believed that I was not alone. I was part of the ‘silent majority’ of Pakistanis who also do the same. Right now, that belief is shaken and I am worrying more that I am actually a member of shrinking minority. For the sake of our country, I pray that I am mistaken.

Justice Khosa U-Turn on Rule of Law?

Justice Asif Saeed KhosaOnly a few months ago, Supreme Court of Pakistan maintained the conviction of Salmaan Taseer’s killer Mumtaz Qadri and even re-included terrorism charges so that there can be no doubt of his crimes. Heading the bench, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa gave a strong statement about the importance of respecting rule of law especially on sensitive matters.

“Will it not instil fear in the society if everybody starts taking the law in their own hands and dealing with sensitive matters such as blasphemy on their own rather than going to the courts,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had later asked.

Quoting instances such as the lynching of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan, Justice Khosa had asked whether an individual has the right to act on his own in such matters without even first ascertaining the facts.

Justice Khosa was praised at the time for his bravery in making this statement, but now there are questions about whether Justice Khosa’s courage has reached it limits as the justice appears to have made a massive U-turn on the importance of rule of law.

According to media reports,  a Supreme Court bench has denied bail to the publisher of 102-year-old Ahmadiyya publication Al-Fazl despite that he has been rotting in prison for three years on blasphemy and terrorism charges even though the police had yet to submit the case’s challan in trial court. Here is what Justice Khosa reportedly said this time.

Justice Khosa observed that unfortunately when matters pertaining to religion were under consideration one had to ignore the law.

In one case, Justice Khosa bravely states the importance of rule of law. Few weeks later, a complete U-turn and he justifies ignoring the law if matters of religion are under consideration. Isn’t this the same justification used by TTP terrorists?

This is a dangerous precedent if a respected Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared that law may be ignored if matters of religion are involved. There must be an investigation and explanation provided by the Court. President Mamnoon Hussain should take notice of these reports and if necessary refer Justice Khosa to Supreme Judicial Council for review. Otherwise, a Justice of Supreme Court may have declared any illegal acts can be justified if matters of religion is involved.