Nawaz Sharif just dealt an important blow to extremism

Muhammad Abdus SalamPrime Minister Nawaz Sharif has dealt an important blow to the forces of obscurantism and extremism today by renaming of Quaid-i-Azam University’s (QAU) physics department to the Professor Abdus Salam Center for Physics and creating a new programme named the Professor Abdus Salam Fellowship to grant five annual fellowships for Pakistani PhD students in the field of Physics.

Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam is a national hero, though he has been treated very badly and nearly forgotten only because of his religious sect. By openly recognising Dr Abdus Salam in such a public and lasting way, PM Nawaz has dealt an important blow to extremism in the country. It is a first step only, but it is a crucial one to undoing the normalisation of hate and sectarianism that has taken root in so much of our society.

 

Building Pakistan’s Future

Mumtaz Qadri MosqueFew things tell as much about a society than the physical space itself. America’s Statue of Liberty, London’s grand palaces, the pyramids of Egypt, the canals of Amsterdam – each of these gives a glimpse into the heart and soul of the society. In Pakistan, too, our architecture tells our story. You cannot know Pakistan without knowing Lahore Fort, Shalimar Bagh, Islamia College, and Mazar-e-Quaid. Architectural landscapes change along with societies, though, and what we are building today is a glimpse into where we are headed tomorrow.

In Pakistan, the future we are building is usually discussed in terms of transportation infrastructure. Whether the controversial Orange Line Train in Lahore, or game changer CPEC, we are told stories about development that will usher in a bright future for the country. However, these are not the only projects taking place, and they may not even be the most important ones.

Jamia Hafsa, the infamous Lal Masjid madrasseh whose students swore allegiance to Daesh, has been granted 20 kanals plot in Sector H 11-4 Islamabad for construction of new facilities.

Across the capital, Faisal Mosque is getting competition from a newer construction – the mosque built to honour the convicted murderer Mumtaz Qadri. This mosque has proven so popular that it has raised funds to double its size.

Religious extremists are not the only ones expanding their space in the country. There has also been an rapid growth of building by DHA, one of the Army’s construction companies. DHA has even spread outside of its usual areas, announcing new developments in Balochistan also.

While religious extremists and the military expand their presence across the architectural landscape of the nation, secular political offices are being bulldozed. This is not a defence of Altaf Hussain, but nobody suggested bulldozing PMA Kakul when a COAS was charged with treason.

Projects like Orange Line Train and CPEC will make it easier to travel and transport both in major urban areas and across the nation. But it is what is being built for people to travel to that that will define our future.

A is for Allah, B is for Budget

PMLN has been trying to pull the wool over the country’s eyes in Balochistan by claiming that the education budget has been raised. In basic terms this is not an incorrect statement because the amount of funds has been increased. However as education watchdog Alif Ailaan pointed out, this is only trying to hide the fact that education funding as a percentage of the budget actually decreased since last year.

Students in Balochistan may still be better off than students in KP, however, as that province is handing over hundreds of millions from the budget to Maulana Samiul Haq’s extremist madrassah that has been termed as ‘University of Jihad‘.

Even for those who do not attend madrassah, though, the lines are being blurred. Government is working on a new plan to turn students into parrots as whole of education system will be dedicated to memorising Quran in Arabic. The new proposal would make Quranic education mandatory for all schools.

Already Pakistan has sunk to the bottom of global education rankings, scoring only 9.2 points out of 100 in a recent survey compared to India who scored 60.9. The whole country is suffering from negative effects of religious extremism, and still government is giving hundreds of millions to extremist seminaries. How can we expect anything to improve if we continue to follow the failed policies of the past?

There is no shortage of religious instruction in this country. What is missing is critical thinking. Teaching students how to think will not only improve our education rankings in the world, it will also help to counter extremism and sectarianism because people will not be so easily fooled.

The Ugly Face in the Gulshan-i-Iqbal Mirror

Gulshan-i-Iqbal

Something has bothered me about the deadly Gulshan-i-Iqbal blast but I could not put my finger on it. Yes, the senseless killing of children at a park is almost too horrible to imagine. And, yes, the fact that the attack was carried out in Lahore and not some remote area brings the war closer to home. However, still there was something else that was lingering in the back of mind. After reading Asif Aqeel’s piece in The Friday Times, today, I think I have finally figured out what has been bothering me so much.

Actually, it was the title of Aqeel’s piece that first hit me hard. ‘Bombs do not discriminate between Muslims and Christians’. This is something that I heard many people saying after the blast. I was told over and over not to call it an attack on Christians because more Muslims were killed in the blast. It wasn’t until this headline showed up in my email that I realised what bothered me so much. It was a simply question: What if bombs did discriminate?

The evil behind the Easter blast was easily understood as the dead were mostly innocent women and children. When asked about this, the Taliban spokesman said women and children were not their target it was the male members of the Christian community. The women and children were ‘collateral damage’. What if the Taliban had been successful in their plot to target only male Christians? Would we still be as horrified?

What if the bombs did not kill any Muslims? Would Army still be talking about Punjab operation? Killing of Christians is not new. Are we only reacting to this attack because the bomb did not discriminate? Are we only angry because we believe that we are not being spared? Are we willing to sacrifice our Christian brothers to save our own skin?

The answers to these questions make me as scared as the possibility of being in the wrong place during the next jihadi attack. We know that bombs don’t discriminate. What scares me now is that I’m not sure we don’t. So what does that make us?

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.